The Time-Honored Tradition of Retelling
Guest Post by L.K. Rigel
“Read it to me again!”
We said it as children, and we still do in different ways today. Tropes and traditions speak to us, whether in romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, cozy mysteries, Regencies—you name it. We fall in love with the elements of a story, and we want to experience them again, to hear, read, or see the same story—but different.
Out of that desire, genres were born.
There’s much of Cinderella in the movie Working Girl. Clueless is a fantastic retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. We love to watch and compare all the different film and TV treatments of Pride and Prejudice. Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter) and Rufus Sewell (The Pillars of the Earth) turned The Taming of the Shrew into a fractured modern fairytale in the 2005 British Shakespeare Retold series. Broadway made Romeo and Juliet into West Side Story, a musical about forbidden love and warring New York street gangs, and the Coen brothers transplanted The Odyssey to Mississippi during the Depression in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Jane Eyre is probably one of the most remade and retold classics on film, from the gothic Orson Welles 1943 version with its dark shadows and Welles’s barking Rochester to the more recent 2011 version directed by Cary Fukunaga featuring an irritating fractured timeline and Michael Fassbender’s near-perfect Rochester.
For years I griped over different remakes. Some messed up Jane’s childhood or made Rochester too sympathetic. Most left out Rosamond Oliver, a crucial contrast to Blanche Ingram. Jane Eyre is a study in contrasts and oppositions, and Rosamond shines a light on the importance of motive in a lover’s actions.
Brontë’s Rochester wants Jane with wild, passionate abandon, and because of that he can’t let her go. St. John Rivers feels the same way about Rosamond, and because of that he rejects her! When we know this about St. John, it makes his pursuit of Jane all the more repugnant.
Michael Fassbender’s Rochester is wild and passionate enough, but his emotion is met with Mia Wasikowska’s too-self-contained Jane. The 1943 version leaves out the St. John Rivers segment altogether. Every filmed version ignores Brontë’s skewering of harsh religion—and the fact that Jane and Rochester are both quite devout.
I decided my only recourse was to write my own “remake.” I wanted to retell Jane Eyre and leave out none of the parts—even to explore the erotic bond between Jane and Rochester only hinted at in the original. I wanted a modern setting to allow for the sexual relationship, but I needed a world where women were limited in their choices and divorce was illegal.
So I leapt into the future, to North America near the end of this century, two generations after the Second Civil War and the Great Secession. The red states have built a new country called New Judah, a utopia founded on biblical principles, rejection of technology, and reverence for women. Divorce is illegal as well as birth control.
It’s not really that unimaginable. In the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court this session, an employer has argued under religious grounds that it has the right to exclude birth control from its employees’ health care coverage. The underlying implication is that using birth control is sinful—and the corporation wants to use sin (or the avoidance of it) as a justification in law for its practices. Many people think Hobby Lobby could win. I don’t think the New Judah of My Mr. Rochester is too far-fetched.
And that’s part of the fun in a retelling. We take the familiar, put it in a new setting…and see what happens.
About My Mr. Rochester
LK has graciously offered up a box set of her My Mr. Rochester for a giveaway *pauses for cheers.* All you have to do is fill out the rafflecopter below. Good luck!