Friday, November 18, 2005

Jenna Starborn

Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

Or, all things Jane Eyre book number 3.

Jenna Starborn is a science fiction retelling of Jane Eyre. In our story, the titular heroine is a created human (does that just sound weird to me, or does no one get that? I'm not sure how else to put it). Sophia Rentley, like many women of her time period, had fertility issues (possibly an homage to The Handmaid's Tale?)so, she ordered one. She went to visit her developing child regularly in it's big glass incubating bottle, but also wound up conceiving her own child around this time. This made Jenna, her purchased property who she was responsible for.  However, because Mrs. Rentley did not officially adopt her, Jenna was not officially considered her child. Jerrett, Sophia's son was her favorite and she doted on him. When Jenna almost dies as a result of the neglect of her kind of, sort of, not really, but still, mother, social services removes her from the home and sends Jenna off to a technical school on another planet.

Jenna gets a good education and learns a trade that will keep her in demand for her skills. Just like Jane Eyre, she stays after graduation and teaches for a little while. Then, with nothing left to keep her at the school she seeks to make her way in the world. Jenna gets a job in charge of the power generator for a large estate, Thorastone Park on a distant planet.

At Thorastone she finds characters similarly named and positioned as in Jane Eyre. The most notable differences are the ward, Ameletta (ugh, sounds too much like omelet) and her tutor, Janet Ayerson, who replaces the nurse Sophie and gives us, strangely, two Jane Eyre characters. Janet Ayerson runs off to be ruined by a rich associate of Everett Ravenback, the owner of the estate. I think it's a bit heavy handed to use the same initials for the space age retelling, as in their Jane Eyre counterparts.

Considering that, in my commentary on the original, I stated that I thought Jane Eyre only worked in its own time period I found this to be an interesting undertaking. I stand by my contention that the original really was constricted to its time. The futuristic Jane Eyre didn't really work for me. Not that Ms. Shinn didn't cover all the bases, she certainly took great pains to do so and succeeded in making a situation for every instance in the original. I just didn't get how with all the progress the human race has made (I swear I am not being facetious), we could wind up like that. Of course, I can only use my American girl perspective.

I'm sure this isn't that much of a stretch in plenty of places on the globe, but here it's sort of far fetched. Sure, we've got that scary, practically a caste society thing happening. There's the crippling of the middle class, the way the difference between the impoverished and the wealthy continues to grow. I'm not really making my case here, am I? It's the citizen/half citizen classification that just doesn't work for me. I guess I'm just not willing to consider it. I get that way sometimes, I choose not to believe that we could go backward in that respect in the future. Therefore, it cannot be, just 'cause I say so, or because I think that's how it should be, or some other completely non-realistic and non-logical reason.

Maybe I'm just a Jane Eyre purist. I love that book and I had trouble with anyone messing with it. This was an interesting concept and if it wasn't a retelling of a classic, pretty much a flat out sci-fi copy of it, I might have enjoyed it more. I was really glad that she didn't tart it up, though. I think the chaste love between Rochester and Jane Eyre, accompanied by the sexual tension that can be palpably felt between the characters from the century between its original readers and the contemporary ones is perfect.

I recently watched the BBC Jane Eyre mini- series which was pretty much faithful to the book and just lovely. At first I wasn't sure that I could accept Timothy Dalton as Rochester. Way too pretty, right? Rochester is dark and brooding and Timothy Dalton, not so much, but I was wrong. He was really good. I think if they had the girl who played Jane Eyre in the version with William Hurt, it would have been perfect. She made such a good Jane Eyre.

Last weekend I watched a version with Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds and I didn't like that one at all. It wasn't true enough to the original and I didn't like Ciaran Hinds as Rochester at all. Everyone knows that he's completely Captain Wentworth anyway. I never got how Jane could have fallen for him. If it weren't for her voice-over claiming how much she loved him, I would've thought they completely changed the story.

I also wound up with an old old old version with Orson Welles as Rochester. I've discovered that Orson Welles movies put me to sleep so I didn't bother watching it. Citizen Kane? Best movie ever? Maybe, but I'll never know. It starts and within minutes I'm out cold on the sofa. Orson Welles as Macbeth - same story - pop it into the old VCR and even if I was brimming with energy, I'm out before old Duncan gets axed. I may have to keep that in mind for my next bout of insomnia. My sincere apologies to Mr. Welles and his critically acclaimed work.

Oops, sorry about the digression. I'll get back to the topic at hand. Am I being over protective of a dear old literary friend? or am I just a fuss budget who is resistant to change? Honestly, either one or a combination could be possible. I know there is always an ongoing argument about books and movies and which are better, or whether you should read first, view later or vice versa. How many times is a reproduction of a story whether in a different time period or from the viewpoint of different characters a good idea? In terms of movies, I definitely preferred Clueless to Emma. As far as Pride and Prejudice goes, I loved the book, the BBC miniseries (Colin Firth *sigh*), I was also a fan of Bridget Jones' Diary, the book and the movie (alright, the movie, mostly just because of Colin Firth *sighs again* and Hugh Grant was great as the lechy, womanizing boss). These weren't faithful reproductions, just the basic story line without the need for such close comparison to the source material. Anybody else want to weigh in on these dire, pressing issues?

1 comment:

Bibliophile said...

Retelling any story can be tricky, and it sounds like this one didn't quite pull it off. Having to please fans of the original must be rather hard on an author, especially across genres. This book sounds like it would probably appeal more to people who have not read the original, and might even nudge them into reading it.

I have a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice on my reading list that has been given good reviews. I'm curious to see if I like it, as I happen to be a big P&P fan.