Melanie Jeschke is the author of the beloved “Oxford Chronicles,” a series that pays tribute to CS Lewis in a fictional plot. Similarly in Jillian Dare, Jeschke re-contextualizes Jane Eyre on a plantation in modern day Virginia. Jeschke specifies at the end of the book that she did not write this book to be a duplicate Jane Eyre — rather, she wished to capture the essence of the storyline, and I think she was successful.
I am not a classical purist — I will read and can enjoy contemporary adaptations (e.g., Debra White Smith’s “Austen Series”). I think the key to enjoying contemporary adaptations is to refrain from comparing the plot and characters too literally to the original, for it will always come out lacking. Instead, the book should be considered in the spirit of the storyline and how compelling the writing is.
In order to be successful, modern retellings must appeal and interact with the modern reader, which this book does. Jillian is thrown into a world so unlike her own, filled with glamor and prestige, yet she remains relatable to readers with her fears and aspirations. Ethan’s character is not overly romanticised as Jeschke has Jillian blatantly point out his faults, thus making him a more believable character. While the main characters thrive and grow emotionally and psychologically, the supporting characters sometimes appear to be mere props, and there is no connectivity with the audience. They are simple players in a larger picture, so their development is not integral to the success of the love story.
I appreciate how Jeschke does not stray away from discussing deep theological issues such as divorce, adultery, and forgiveness. She doesn’t merely recognize that her characters struggle with these issues, but she delves into the very core of the matter and draws her readers into the debate.
Jeschke is a lover of classic and refined literature, and this clearly influences her writing style. I enjoyed the sophistication of the writing, even if, at times, the dialogue seemed overly formal, especially for someone of Jillian’s upbringing and age. Jeschke does make a point to state that Jillian is self taught and a lover of books, which diminishes the polarization of her upbringing with her intellectual rhetoric.
Generally, the story has a natural flow, but there are a few large jumps in time period over the span of a paragraph and the conclusion seems a little haphazardly put together. Jeschke is very descriptive and articulate in setting the scene and making fictional places come alive. I thought it was clever for Jeschke to name the movie that Ethan produced Evasions, which is one of Jeschke’s books from the “Oxford Chronicles” (and worthy of a movie deal).
All in all, Jillian Dare is an enjoyable read that is perfect if you wish to lose yourself in a beautiful love story and sophisticated prose.