The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey

ImageI found this to be more interesting than good, and some of the changes Livesey made to the original story were baffling to me. Full-on spoilers for Jane Eyre and The Flight of Gemma Hardy ahead!

I’ll start with the changes I liked.

I loved everything to do with Iceland.  It made for an interesting backstory for Jane and a great way to incorporate the international travel aspect with St. John/Archie.  And even though I’ve read that ending before, I’m a sucker for it.  I liked the setting on the Orkneys, and that it was so much a part of the story.

I liked that St. John/Archie’s sisters were now lesbians, and thought that that storyline was dealt with well and reasonably historically accurately.

Changes I am unsure about:

While I think it is certainly possible to move Jane Eyre to the twentieth century, I don’t know that it works here.  The age difference is a lot more troublesome in a more modern context.  There is no real reason for it.  It would have worked well enough if he had been thirty.  I watched the movie An Education recently and thought it had many of the same elements (older man, teenage heroine, they get engaged, he has a secret, takes place in the ’60s) and the movie shows how some of the same themes can successfully be moved to the ’60s.

Making Mrs. Fairfax/Violet 27 years old. It’s just an odd choice.

Changes I disliked:

Really?  Instead of the wife in the attic, he pulled a Don Draper twenty years ago?  I felt like Bert Cooper.  “Who cares?” indeed.  I had wondered, in removing Jane/Gemma’s faith, how they were going to make her leave.  Jane left because they could not get married and they could not go back to how their relationship was before the revelation.  There is no reason for Gemma to feel the same desperation. This lack of desperation means that when she runs away and promptly loses all her money and her suitcase Gemma looks stupid rather than distraught.  Also, she is all “How dare you have lied to every one you met about your identity for years?” and two days later decides to become “Jean Harvey.”  Jane’s entire character was built around her extraordinary sense of who she was and her unwavering moral compass.  Gemma seems to lack that entirely.

Sinclair in general is a poor substitute for Rochester as a character.  Making Nell his actual niece instead of the possible product of a liaison means that his past is scrubbed of its dissoluteness, and also the quirk of honorableness he had in taking in his illegitimate child.  Sinclair is barely moody, let alone rageful.  Granted, he would have far less excuse to be rageful without the wife in the attic.  His lack of tragic flaw also means that he has little need for the redemption he doesn’t get.  Rochester needed to be humbled, and lose his wife, before he and Jane could be together.  Sinclair doesn’t really change at all.

Their relationship lacks the almost mystical rightness that Jane and Rochester had.  It also lacks most of the conversations they had to reveal that rightness.

Giving Jane other friends in town.  One of the reasons the original worked was the complete isolation at Thornfield.

Instead of the delicate thread of bird metaphor in the original we are beaten over the head with it like Jane/Gemma by their cousins.

A lot of the sharp edges have been blunted.  None of the characters are as mean to Gemma as their counterparts were to Jane.

Taken on its own, it’s fine, although Gemma’s flight seems inexplicable.  Taken as a retelling of Jane Eyre, the first half is really good, but after the almost wedding, the motivations of the characters are confused.  I’d sooner recommend reading the original.  I like the metaphor in this review, comparing Gemma to a bad cover song.


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