Eve Sinclair tells Mini Anthikad Chhibber that reinventing a classic through an erotic retelling isn’t a bad idea.
Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, featuring a masterful Byronic hero and an innocent ingénue, has been called many things including a seminal feminist text and at the other end of the spectrum, providing the template for every romance ever written. In the millennium after Jane battled vampires in Sherri Browning Erwin’s Jaen Slayre, you have Jane exploring her sexuality in Eve Sinclair’s unashamedly raunchy Jane Eyre Laid Bare (Pan Books).
“It was meant to be a fun project,” the UK-based Sinclair says over the phone. “I have had this idea for some time. It was meant to be a quick project. I remember reading Jane Eyre and being struck by the smouldering sexuality between Jane and Rochester. Every school girl who has read Jane Eyre would’ve been struck by the sexuality between the two.”
In Jane Eyre Laid Bare Sinclair shares writing credits with Brontë. Were they very big shoes to step into? “I am an enormous fan of the original and revisiting the book was beautiful. The idea is to not replace the original. I have stayed true to the text but given it a twist. It was fun to play with the text. It is irreverent. I have added the naughty bits in a serious way.”
Of the die-hard fan who would be upset with the book, Sinclair says: “I have mainly used Bronte’s prose. I wanted it to be a page turner. I was reinventing a classic through an erotic retelling. I used the middle of the book because that is the love story. The tough part was cutting it.”
Sinclair describes Jane Eyre as “a seminal feminist text. Brontë was saying shocking things for her time. Aristocrats behaved terribly and lived completely secret debauched lives. Let’s face it, Rochester did a terrible thing by keeping a mentally ill woman locked up.”
Sinclair’s twist, apart from the erotic one, is radical — with the mad woman in the attic, Rochester’s first wife, playing an important role in the proceedings. She, rather than Jane, is truly emancipated. “Yes, I love that idea!” Sinclair laughs. “And yes, you’re right, she is a symbol of emancipation, although, that said, the reveal happens quite fast, so there are unanswered questions about the logistics of how she’s been living up there all the time. Perhaps there’s a whole other novel right there. The reason I took that decision is because the plot device in the original — of Jane hearing noises in the attic and ignoring them at first and then gradually getting intrigued — works brilliantly as we’re desperate to know what’s up there, especially as Rochester is so slippery in his explanations. I decided to tease the reader one step further and make the real Mrs. Rochester a dominatrix because it made perfect sense of Mason’s injuries and the way Rochester behaves and his broodiness towards Thornfield Hall. It amused me that she was calling the shots and wanted Jane for herself.”
Jane Eyre has been adapted to film and television innumerable times, including the highly popular mini series featuring Timothy Dalton as Rochester. Last year there was a film version directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, starring Mia Wasikowska as Jane, Michael Fassbender as Rochester and Judi Dench as the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. And there have been many retellings and spin offs, including Jasper Fforde’s Eyre Affair.
“It is a classic fantasy,” says Sinclair of the phenomenon. “Of a woman playing with fire and being consumed by it, of being overpowered by a tall, dark stranger — and we live in a postmodern age where mashups are popular. Fan fiction is the order of the day. Look at 50 shades of Grey...”.
So is smut getting respectable? “It depends what you mean by respectable. If you mean that there’s less taboo about reading erotica — even in public, then yes. And a good thing it is, too.”
Now that there are talks of a movie version of 50 Shades…, what about a bodice-ripping film on the shenanigans at Thornfield Hall? “Wouldn’t it be fun?” asks Sinclair with a laugh. “It would be interesting because after 9-1/2 Weeks, there hasn’t been an erotic movie. It would be interesting to see how women react to seeing erotica rather than reading it. I don’t think men ‘get’ erotica the same way women do. Generally speaking, men like porn. They like the visual stimulation of nameless people getting down to it on screen. This whole explosion in erotica has happened because women are finally standing up for themselves and saying that generic porn is not what does it for us. We want to read about sex, but within the context of a story. We want the emotional ups and downs, the slow build, the anticipation. For women, it has been suggested by scientists that it’s their imaginations — their brains — that fire up their sexual organs, not the other way around. If you stimulate the mind, then you stimulate the body. I haven’t had Hollywood agents battering my door though.”