You likely know Aline Brosh McKenna for her work as co-creator of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or as the screenwriter for The Devil Wears Prada, but now it’s time to acquaint yourself with Aline as an author. Her latest project is the graphic novel Jane, illustrated by artist RamÃ³n K. Perez and based on Charlotte BrontÃ«’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre. In Aline’s version, Jane is an aspiring artist who moves to New York City to pursue her dreams and escape her unpleasant home life. She takes a job as a nanny for the daughter of a mysterious, wealthy man named Rochester who she can’t help but feel drawn to despite the fact that he’s keeping tons of secrets. Here, Aline talks about why she chose to adapt Jane Eyre, what she wanted to keep from the original, and how she put her own 2017 twist on a classic.
When you were thinking about starting this project, why did you decide to adapt Jane Eyre?
It’s something that I always loved. I wanted to do something that captured the character Jane Eyre and her moral goodness and her quiet characteristics â€” to take that idea of the more plain-seeming girl who wouldn’t stand out in a city environment, and transpose that into a contemporary setting.
This was going to be a film project at some point, right?
Yeah, we started working on the book and then we sold the film rights and I worked on it as a film for a few years. We never quite cracked it to everyone’s satisfaction, but luckily I was still working on the book so it got to live its life as a book and not just as a movie that didn’t happen. That was great because often when movies don’t work out youâ€™re not really left with anything. Right now it’s not under option anywhere and could potentially be a movie someday soon, but it was nice to have it come to life in exactly the way I wanted it without the more necessary compromises of making a studio film.
How did you approach updating Jane’s relationship with Rochester for 2017?
The main thing I wanted to maintain is that even though she’s not very worldly and she is a little bit sepia-toned in her personality, she has this goodness that really inspires him, and that’s in every Jane Eyre story. The heart of their relationship is always that moment in front of the fireplace where you understand that he’s intrigued with her for reasons that have nothing to do with her looks or her social status or any of those things. It’s also a little bit of wish-fulfillment fantasy, for sure. But he is sort of the ultimate challenge in a way, and he is very unknowable to her and in the face of that she really stands her ground. That’s what I always really loved about it, is that she refuses to bend her will and her moral code to his. He bends to hers.
One of the biggest changes from the original is the fate of Rochester’s wife, who’s always been a controversial character. How did you figure out what to do with her in this version?
I wanted to have him in the grip of an intense love that he still felt. In the original he has very ambivalent, negative feelings toward Bertha. In terms of creating opposition to [Jane and Rochester’s] romance, if he still had an idealized love for [his first wife in this version], that would make it seem more impossible. Sheâ€™s so idealized, sheâ€™s this kind of treasured object of his, so that creates more of an obstacle between him and Jane.
What was the most difficult part about adapting a lengthy, classic book like this into a graphic novel?
The hardest part was really trying to make it contemporary and trying to make it about what a young woman would be facing in that time in her life, but also maintaining the timelessness of the relationships. There’s a story inside the story about a young artist finding her voice. She’s somebody who uses her art in the beginning to escape a painful domestic situation and then when she comes to New York she feels like her art is uncool and the people at art school are way more sophisticated than she is. That for me was very much a personal story because I always loved writing, but the kind of stuff I was interested in was based in reality, much in the way that Jane sketches the world.
When I was in college, the kind of fiction that you were encouraged to write and were praised for was more experimental, avant-garde, maybe literary fiction, which is not really my forte and also not what I consume. Jane finds her voice in doing something autobiographical and pretty photo-real, and I feel like what I’ve done in working in film and television is similar in some ways because it’s also about rendering real life and it’s not avant-garde and it’s not literary. I wanted to capture that feeling that you have when you start out your career, like, “Am I groovy enough? Am I cool enough to be an artist?” Because I think there’s a huge barrier where you feel like what you’re doing is not buzz-worthy in some way. I really felt like that when I was a young woman, and until I found my genre I felt like I was going to be hopelessly un-hip.
What’s your favorite film adaptation of Jane Eyre?
The Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version is scorched into my brain. It’s the first one I saw and it made a big impression on me. It’s Hollywood-y in many respects, but I think that Orson Welles really is that enigmatic, distant, bruised genius. He is my movie Rochester.