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Web Series Review: “The Autobiography of Jane Eyre” Has Achieved Far More Than It Set Out To

Recommended to me after the conclusion of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, The Autobiography of Jane Eyre follows in its footsteps as a transmedia production that adapts a classic novel and takes it to the small screen as a Youtube web series.

Jane herself  in the very first episode (played by co-creator Alysson Hall), talks of being inspired by Lizzie Bennet (as the group of Canadian graduates and students that made AOJE were) before the production that takes the classic novel of Jane Eyre and throws the characters into the 21st century truly begins. But besides the shared concept (AOJE has multiple Twitter accounts and a Tumblr for Jane herself), there isn’t much else that connects the two series.

From the very first episode, The Autobiography of Jane Eyre feels darker, heavier and more introspective than Lizzie Bennet. And although they both share the same giddy anticipation leading up to meeting the starring men of their productions, AOJE gets that part of things over with quickly, so as the show can move on with the drama – and the tragic reality – that Rochester’s character brings with him. He’s arrogant, handsome and a bit of a reckless mess. One that Jane learns to love at a faster pace than Lizzie Bennet, but has to go through more emotional twists and turns with because of this.

Both productions are about personal growth. But while Lizzie’s feels accidental, mistakes being made along a journey she didn’t intend to make, Jane Eyre (both in the novel and its adaptation here) sets out seeking change from the beginning of her recording. The series chugs along with less humor, and more earnest confessions: something that turns Jane’s character into less of just that, a fictional character, and into more of something else: a friend. As the episodes became more and more numbered, comments increased, all worried for Jane’s well-being and safety as if she were a real vlogger on YouTube, because that’s what these videos feel like.

That’s partly due to what started out as a budget of nothing (an Indiegogo campaign then quickly raised eleven thousand dollars out of a mere five thousand dollar goal) but also because of a deliberate decision on the part of the writers. Video diaries, more consciously than any other media vehicle, usually tell the story and stories of one person. Other people may flit in and out of the narrative, but when you have a character consistently speaking to the camera and addressing the audience, a shift occurs in whom the story (and the audience) naturally focuses on and cares about.  Something that the series never tried to get away from, anyway.

AOJE, more so than any other Jane Eyre adaptations, never got lost in its romance. Sure, the tumultuous relationship between Rochester and Jane pulled people in, but these viewers stayed because they fell in love with Nessa Aref and Alysson Hall’s version of Jane Eyre. She became a friend to the viewers, and her growth throughout the series- from a lonely graduate to a fulfilled young woman, secure in her faith and her family and her place in the world- is an immensely satisfying one. The resolution between Jane and Rochester isn’t quite as grand as it could have been (the original actor left the production near the end), but their faceless and soundless resolution makes sense in the world where Jane turns off the camera, and retreats into an unrecorded life, now that she doesn’t need to question her own place anymore.

Because as Jane herself says, signing off for the last time: “Dear viewer… I made a home.” 

The Autobiography of Jane Eyre is and was a small production, but it achieved far more than it ever set out to.

Best Episode: “The Truth,” an incredible twenty-six minute video (that’s longer, keep in mind, than the average sitcom) where Rochester’s secrets are revealed, and Jane deals with the consequences in heartbreaking fashion.

You can watch the entire series here, and vote for The Autobiography of Jane Eyre in the Streamy awards here.