A Review of "My Plain Jane" by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
An Eyre of Merriment and Mystery
After their smash retelling of Lady Jane Grey’s story, the author trio of Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows has returned to revisit the classic Jane Eyre story in gothic tradition. If you thought Eyre’s tale couldn't get more astonishing, you’re in for a surprise.
These authors craft a retelling of Jane Eyre that is vivacious and exciting. Not only does it have humor, but it also has ghosts and friendship. Best of all, the authors prompt a world of possibility for Jane and Rochester to be together—with far fewer cringe factors. Charlotte Bronte’s own story even gets to have a happy conclusion for the author.
The Premise of My Plain Jane
In My Plain Jane, the author and character collide. Charlotte Bronte and her friend Jane Eyre live at Lowood, a school where the cruel Mr. Brocklehurst mysteriously dies. Enter Alexander Blackwood. His goal is to uncover more details about the headmaster’s demise. Through a series of coincidences, Blackwood suspects Jane Eyre is no ordinary schoolgirl. She may be an asset to Blackwood’s employers: a group called the Society.
Even more perplexing is her persistently pesky friend Charlotte Bronte. A notorious note-taker, few things escape Charlotte. She will stop at nothing to tell the story of Jane Eyre. What she never expects is that she will be the hero of her own story, even when she’s busy observing others.
Fueled by Fire, Fearlessness, and Fiction
Had they met, Charlotte Bronte would’ve impressed Jane Eyre. Bronte was unafraid to rattle the foundations of society. She sent her work to receive feedback at a time when female authors were scarce. She was also undeterred by rejection. Robert Southey, the poet laureate at the time, completely dismissed Bronte (Dominus).
This fortitude comes through in My Plain Jane. Alexander Blackwood’s persistent dismissal of Bronte doesn't faze her. Blackwood does not see any value in her as a candidate for his team. He even notes, “Oh, you didn’t know. Of course you didn’t. You can’t see anything.’” (170). Bronte refuses to be dismissed, much like her real-life self. After Jane shrugs off Blackwood’s employment offers, Charlotte says, “were you going to try recruiting her the same way you have three times already? Because none of those times have ended with success.” (119).
Charming Charlotte Bronte Comes to Life
Biographies can fail to highlight their subjects’ individuality. When they do depict it, it can come across as unrealistically glorifying. It is difficult to capture the essence of a person who is no longer there. Moreover, context is equally challenging to fully comprehend and capture.
By including Jane and Charlotte in a story, the author trio softens their characterization. It must’ve been tempting to create static and stoic characters. After all, they are iconic. Thankfully, the authors include feelings and insecurities. The characters' emotions are palpable. Charlotte’s eagerness to prove herself is particularly relatable. It feeds into her jealousy towards Jane Eyre, a girl who has many a man’s attention in the story
Jane Transforms From Stiff to Sympathetic
The eponymous character of Jane Eyre frequently strikes me as a stoic person. To an extent, Bronte justifies this aspect of Jane's character. Jane does not have the space to express her emotions or thoughts. Her time in the red room connotes her inability to free herself.
Jane is trapped throughout the book, in fact. She is shackled by her financial burdens. Her lack of familial bonds doubles the necessity of self-sufficiency. Plain, with few career prospects, Jane has little hope for her future.
Because of this, Jane is equally unsure of her worth. She settles for her first job offer without hesitation. Whenever something odd happens, she chooses to look the other way. This mirrors Jane in Bronte’s actual novel. She hears laughter in the hallways at night, rescues her employer from a fire in his home, and continues to work in that household. Her tolerance for weird things highlights the lack of career opportunities available to her.
An Ethical Eyre
In My Plain Jane, Jane stands up for various outcasts. She refuses to work with Blackwood, even if his offer could've granted her a more lavish life. Rather than take up financially lucrative positions, she sticks to compassion.
When she finally meets Mrs. Rochester, she does not blindly accept Rochester's description of her. She says, "I didn't find her to be [mad]. Frustrated, yes. Exhausted, yes. But mad?" (113). Jane contemplates the possibilities. Could they've had a conversation had she been given the time and space? Did Mrs. Rochester have more in common with Jane than what a first glance suggests?
Jane doesn't see a scary person. She sees beyond the claims pressed onto Mrs. Rochester's image. The story's supernatural element emphasizes this sympathetic part of Jane. When she's asked about her refusal of Blackwood's job offer, she says, "They make it their business to imprison defenseless ghosts, ghosts who’ve done nothing wrong but express themselves perhaps a little more enthusiastically than they should" (166).
Recommendations for Retellings
The Lizzie-Bennett Diaries
Percy Jackson series (and spin-offs) by Rick Riordan
A Very Potter Musical
10 Things I Hate About You
Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
A Tell-Tale Vlog (Edgar Allan Poe)
The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins
Bridget Jones' Diary
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
There's a New Jane in Town
The author trio behind My Plain Jane released another Jane’s story in June 2020. This time, readers are off to an adventure in the wild west with My Calamity Jane. Gunslingers, werewolves, and outlaws await us. Be sure to pick up the first two novels in the Janies series as well: My Lady Jane and My Plain Jane. If you are in for some laughter, love, and sass, you can also read your way through the authors’ individual written works, too.
Time Travel with a Typewriter
If you could rewrite the story of an author (or any historic figure), would you do it?
Dominus, Susan. “Overlooked No More: Charlotte Bronte, Novelist Known for Jane Eyre.” New York Times. 8 Mar. 2018. Accessed 6 Jul. 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/obituaries/overlooked-charlotte-bronte.html