The larger problem, though, is that Gemma is a plainer plain Jane. She rails and she rages, but she never attains the volcanic fury of her predecessor, which, after all, is what makes Jane so hypnotic. Writing anonymously on the Yorkshire moors, Bronte appeals directly to our sense of victimization, our smothered superiority. Why are we not loved? Why don’t people recognize us for who we really are? How long must we endure this “ever-torturing pain”? These are the broiling adolescent questions that “Jane Eyre” gives voice to in such full-throated cries. The novel allows us to luxuriate in our wounded sense of others’ unreasonable disregard for how wonderful we really are. And that same tone of emotional extravagance is reflected in the marvelously gothic plot of “Jane Eyre” that finally bursts into flames and consumes everything.
By modulating all those elements of Bronte’s classic, Livesey has produced a novel that’s far more reasonable, but what more withering thing could someone say about a well-written story? The thunderstorm romance that crashes through “Jane Eyre” is about as disruptive in these pages as a passing cloud. The sizzling eroticism of the 1847 novel makes the tepidness of this modern book’s sexuality all the more baffling.