Jane by Robin Maxwell

Title: Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan
Author: Robin Maxwell

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1900s / Victorian England / New Woman / Africa / Adventure / Pulp / Anthropology / Human Evolution / 'Noble Savage' / Colonialism)
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books (9/18/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- I raced through this one!
One-sentence summary: Victorian 'New' Woman Jane Porter embarks on an expedition to Africa with her father, and discovers love, adventure, her soul mate, and the missing link.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Victorian

Do I like the cover?: I don't mind it -- I like it has the pen-and-ink style I associate with Tarzan and other classic stories

I'm reminded of...: Carol K. Carr, Sandra Gulland

First line: Good Lord, she was magnificent!

Am... I fascinated by the process that lead Maxwell to be the first woman to write an authorized Tarzan novel?: YES. She shares some of that in interviews with folks on the tour. (I'll be sharing an interview with her tomorrow!) A mix of fate, chance, and the muse, it seems!  Maxwell has also done a series of articles for Tor about Tarzan and her book which I again recommend -- fascinating stuff!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like Victoriana, adventure novels, and historicals with great heroines -- even if you're unfamiliar with Tarzan!

Why did I get this book?: I was desperate for it, pretty much since I heard about it in the early spring.

Review: I was, for some reason, unabashedly excited for this book the moment I learned about it. Even though I hadn't read any of the Tarzan novels (until last month), the idea of Jane's story, through her eyes, immediately grabbed imagination.

Briefly, this book and I got off to a rocky start. The novel's opening sentence -- Good Lord, she was magnificent! -- about our heroine Jane did not endear the book to me, I admit. (I hate it when authors are overly in love with their heroines.) When the character thinking about how awesome Jane was turned out to be none other than Edgar Rice Burroughs, I just about threw the book down.

Thankfully, I didn't, and around page 17, the story really started. Jane, sharing her tale with Ed Burroughs, begins in Africa, when she wakes up in a nest made by a gorgeous man of European descent, savage and wild. Flashing back to how she ended up in Africa, and her growing relationship with the man she comes to call Tarzan, we meet a woman striving to find her own identity, indulged and encouraged by a brilliant father, interested in science, anthropology, and evolution. A chance meeting with an American adventurer leads her and her father on an expedition into Africa which changes her entire life.

Maxwell hit all the right notes for me in evoking Jane as a Victorian 'New Woman' and I'm grateful she had Jane embrace that radical identity (rather than, say, have Jane be conservative but feisty, blah blah). In chewing over what Jane Porter might be like, I immediately thought of Mary Kingsley, and to my delight, Maxwell has Jane being a huge Kingsley fangirl. Jane is a woman of privilege who both relishes her privilege -- it gets her into Cambridge -- and bristles at it -- she loves to fight her mother about getting married. She's both curious about sex and dresses modestly (sans corset, of course!). She has contradictions, strengths, and shortcomings that felt authentic to me, and yet embodied the kind of larger-than-life ideal of the pulp world she came from.

This is a Burroughs estate authorized Tarzan novel, and I was a little nervous it might suffer from a sunny, cheesy tone but to my surprise (and relief), there is some darkness, an awareness of the thorny, problematic setting and mores of the era, and unabashed sensuality. (Jane's lingering, longing, lustful admiration of Tarzan's body was a bit lost on me, but I have friends who love cheesecake and I think they'll appreciate Jane's feelings.)

Unsure if I needed the background, last month I went ahead and read Burroughs' first Tarzan novel, which was a fine but not a favorite read for me. I will say I don't think you need to have read the Tarzan books to enjoy this one -- it very much is a standalone novel that is set in a universe familiar to many, but with new twists, angles, and arcs. It is both an homage to a pulp hero and mythos as well as an original historical novel.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer TWO copies of Jane to lucky readers! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US, Canadian and European readers. Ends 10/26. See my interview with Robin Maxwell tomorrow for another chance to enter!


Comments

  1. This actually looks fascinating! I love Tarzan stories, but I have never read one from Jane's POV. Looks really interesting!

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    1. Maxwell really rescued Jane, too -- I know this isn't how Burroughs saw her but I love that the Burroughs estate did!

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  2. You know I love literary cheesecake! Can I pretend Tarzan looks like Hugh Jackman? Mmmm...

    Wait, I came here to say something productive. I'm so glad the book moved on from Edgar Rice Burroughs thinking about how magnificent Jane is and that we got to know Jane as a complex, flawed person. I can't stand those 'flawed' marysues. *cough*Diana*cough*

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    1. I could possibly see a young Hugh Jackman as this Tarzan -- dark and burly! You'd love it. There's even sex!

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  3. I passed this one up for review because it sounded kind of cheesy, but it turns out that it was great! I am happy to see it because now I can read it without fear of the cheesiness! I admit that the cover intrigues as well. Very awesome review today. I can't wait to read this one for myself!

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    1. It definitely wasn't cheesy -- like you, I feared that as well. It certainly has a hint of, I don't know, camp -- in that it emulates that Victorian adventurer style of fiction -- a little over-the-top -- but it works because that's the context of the story. I thought Maxwell did a wonderful job.

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  4. I also love the Cheesecake reference!! And I was happy that the Burroughs estate authorized it. I want to read this novel, but never thought about the need (or lack thereof) to read the original. Thanks for the awesome review!!!

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    1. It's especially interesting given that the Burroughs estate has not allowed many authorizations or spinoffs -- so Maxwell's endeavor is even more exciting. It really is a fun read!

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  5. It's interesting to think about Jane's perspective in this story. Sounds like an interesting read :)

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    1. In this case, Jane is not quite like Burroughs' original rendition of her, but I like what Maxwell has done -- really inventive and fun!

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  6. I can't wait to read this!! I was a Tarzan, Jane and Boy movie fan during my growing up years. I've never read Burroughs though and wondered if it was necessary before reading this one. You've sortof piqued my curiosity though with your comment that Maxwell's rendition of Jane is not quite like Burrough's...so I might have to check that out :)

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    1. Do -- Tarzan of the Apes is a zippy read and worth investigating -- as I said in my review of it, I was stunned to realize how much I conflated with The Jungle Book!

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  7. BAHAHA, I was reading your review, I got the first sentence and groaned. Then I read your comment on it. This is why I love your reviews. :)

    Page 17 isn't too long to wait for the book to reach awesomeness. I've stuck through hundreds before.

    Once in a history course, the professor read a chapter of Tarzan aloud to us for some reason (maybe something about colonization and the idealized native or some poppycock like that?) an I decided the book was not for me. More power to you though.

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    1. YAAAY I win at life!! :) Page 17 definitely isn't too long at all -- it's a storytelling device that is vaguely reminiscent of Burroughs and that era of storytelling ('I heard this from someone who heard it etc.') but it felt a leeeeeetle too twee for my tastes. Once we moved past that, however, the story rocked it.

      I can completely appreciate why you weren't wild about Tarzan -- it was a rough read for me at times -- and I'm not a fan of the 'but it was the attitude of the times' mentality because, well, whatever. So I couldn't be wild about Tarzan because of that but it had some fun bits. Certainly the idea of Jane was neat and Maxwell's evolution of her really satisfying. I just feel bad for anyone who reads all 8 Tarzan novels featuring her as I think she just stays the same -- and it is Maxwell who sees her as the adventuress, not Burroughs.

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    2. I generally find the mixing of the author with the characters device in a retelling highly obnoxious. There are umptillion Austen spinoffs that depict Jane Austen in a society made up of the characters from her novels. My reaction: you do realize that you're basically asserting she lacks creativity, and just wrote her life, right?

      My issue with just saying it was the attitude of the times is that some authors/stories manage not to come off as poorly. I don't know. Certainly, I'm less annoyed by racism or sexism from an 18th century book than from a modern one, but it doesn't mean I approve any more. I understand that they were ignorant, but that's only so much of an excuse.

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  8. Count me in regards interests, love the sound of her character, even if the author has made it personal. I haven't read any of the Tarzan books but know the basic story.

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  9. Hi all, Robin Maxwell here. So interested to hear all your comments, and good on Audra for going back to read the ERB original, TARZAN OF THE APES (the first of twenty-four novels). Just wanted to clarify one thing about Burroughs's Jane in the eight books in which she appears. In the first she not a character that many modern women would admire -- swooning, wide-eyed, fainting and accompanied to Africa by her mammy-like black maid.

    Even ERB tried to kill Jane off after the first book (but got overruled by his publisher and his wife). In the two last books where she plays a large role, she actually grows a spine and can fend for herself in the jungle without Tarzan. But I was working off that first novel -- setting up the story of how they met and how Tarzan came to be a feral child who grows up believing he's an ape.

    As for using the device of Jane telling the "true" story to Edgar Rice Burroughs, that was one of the aspects of the book that the ERB estate loved most of all. I actually couldn't believe that they allowed me that license.

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