The Flight of Gemma Hardy
The Flight of Gemma Hardy is less a remake of Jane Eyre than it is a variation on a theme. As such, it braves the same dangerous ground as any adaptation: comparison with the original. I admit upfront, Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, one firmly grounded in the Dickensian triad of bildungsroman, social commentary, and Gothicism. It’s the story of a manifestly compelling heroine’s search for affinity in human connection: deeper than a need to be loved, the need to be loved and understood. Livesey’s Jane (Gemma), removed from 1840s England to late 1950s Scotland, also embarks upon this search. Orphaned Gemma loses all human connection with the death of her beloved uncle. Her aunt and cousins turn on her, then send her permanently away to school, where she’s even more unloved and ill-treated. Out of options, she accepts a position as au pair to a wild young girl in the Orkneys, niece of the sardonic, mysterious, Mr. Sinclair.
To say more would constitute a spoiler for those who haven’t read Jane Eyre, but suffice it to say that a major element of the original plot is missing in this adaptation. Though Gemma is determined, she has more naiveté and far less moral fortitude than the original Jane. The way in which she pursues her destiny also differs — what Livesey calls in her foreword making her “fit…the possibilities of her time.” In this way, something is lost from the original. But there are also gains: a deeper examination of Gemma’s relationship with her uncle, new and appealing themes, and much greater three-dimensionality in subsidiary characters. Livesey’s prose is polished and sure, her dialogue crisp, and her sense of place adept. Though the story lacks the original’s pervasive Gothicism, Livesey does add touches, including a ghost. For those of us who love Jane Eyre, this novel may prove an interesting, but slightly disappointing, read. If considered without benefit of the original, this is an engrossing look at a young woman’s search for acceptance and fulfillment. Either way, it is recommended.