Book review: Adele Grace and Celine: The Other Women of “Jane Eyre” by Claire Moïse (Virtualbookworm.com Publishing Inc., 2009)
In Jane Eyre, the reader is told that Rochester took responsibility for Adele, who may be his daughter, because Celine, his former mistress in Paris, died. The premise of this novel is that Adele is indeed Rochester’s daughter and that Celine, who wanted Adele to have the life of an upper class English lady, had friends tell Rochester that she was dead in order to make that happen. After a year she becomes frantic for news of Adele and remembers Rochester mentioning Grace Poole, a servant he would trust with his life because she knows how to keep secrets. Celine writes to Grace, crazy Bertha’s keeper in the attic of Thornfield, and thus begins a secret twenty-year correspondence.
Wrapped in a flashback of then-octogenarian Adele, rediscovering the letters during World War I, the narrative begins shortly after Celines death. Her dying wish was that Adele be given the ltters. As she reads them Adele remembers her childhood and youth and learns about her mother’s life. The reader learns what happened to the characters in Jane Eyre after that novel ended – Grace’s return to the world and to life, Rochester and Jane’s children, and Adele’s life. Adele attends the first blue-stocking girls’ school in England and Bedford College for Ladies at the University of London, and goes to Crimea as one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses. She then marries a Baronet and goes to live at Drayton Abbey, his family estate in Shropshire.
Claire Moïse lives in New York City. This is her first novel.
My problem with the above text, taken as usual from the back of the book itself, is that it gives away far too much. Too much information. We could just as well have learned from reading the book about Adèle’s studies and marriage and so on. But anyway. There are glaringly obvious mistakes in the first two sentences, namely the fact that the only person under the impression Céline is dead is Adèle. Rochester knows she is alive and well, it’s just that she dumped her child on him and buggered off to Italy with some bloke she had taken a shine to, and since it’s quite harsh on a child to learn that their mum couldn’t be bothered with them, Adèle is told that her mother is dead.
Oh, and the author hasn’t even bothered with the little bits above the e:s in the names anywhere in the text. BrontëBlog could perhaps excuse one of them, because Adèle is being raised in England (thus, Adele), but I think it’s just because American (and British) keyboards don’t come with the ability of easily doing acutes and graves (or whatchamacallems) so she just hasn’t bothered, or done a “replace all” in the editing phase. Sloppy! (I heart Swedish keyboards.)
Anyway, as the whole premise of the book is wrong, namely that Rochester thinks that Céline is dead and that Céline wanted Adèle to grow up as a lady and not just dumping her on a rich ex lover who is likely to care enough about the child to not just put her out in the street as most of them probably would have done. That’s why I had issues with the letters between Grace and Céline. They’re written so that Grace sounds quite unedumacated (took me quite some time before the voice in my head switched from US Deep South to a Yorkshire accent) and Céline sometimes struggles to find the right words (I can relate, yay) so it adds authenticity in that way, as their respective voices are clear.
I just find them writing to each other highly improbable. Did Céline even know English? I don’t think she did. We know Rochester is very good at French, and as most people would say about the French – they’re not exactly known for passionately embracing the English language – so why would a simple opera dancer know a foreign language at all? In those days? Would Grace Poole even know how to read and write? Which almost takes second place in my list of pet peeves because it also says she was there when Rochester grew up and that they’re old friends of sorts, which is wrong – she’s a hired hand from the Grimsby Retreat (which is most likely a mental institution). Moïse is not the first one to make that error, however, but still, a fairly basic study of the original would reveal these things so that they could be corrected before publication. Except that would of course completely destroy the whole book, as those are the foundations upon which the narrative is built.
So by now you’re thinking okay, gotcha, the book sucks.
Actually, no, it doesn’t. I quite enjoyed it. For once the characters’ personalities weren’t horribly distorted (unlike some other “sequels” we don’t talk about), and that alone made me like the book! Adèle is actually a rather agreeable lady and not a psycho, so we’re getting closer to Brontë’s view of the girl, post-Jane Eyre. Another thing “sequels” tend to get wrong is the distances between Hay, Thornfield, Millcote and Ferndean. While Hay and Thornfield seem fine, Millcote seems about as close to Ferndean as it is to Thornfield, which is incorrect. Even if Ferndean was the other side of Millcote (there’s nothing to say it is or isn’t), it would still be at least twenty miles from Millcote.
It took a while to get into the book. The chapters (twelve in total) are quite long, and the first one seemed to drag on forever with the letters. BrontëBlog thought the book was best when it came to the letters, which is what most of the first half of the book consists of. As I’ve already mentioned, the obvious errors and the whole implausibility of those two women writing to each other (and keeping it secret for twenty years) takes away my enjoyment of the letters a great deal. There are bits I rather like about them, and especially how Adèle reminisces around the events mentioned in them, but I actually preferred the story of Adèle’s life.
A young woman of questionable parentage raised as a lady, and an unconventional one at that, is quite interesting, and I rather enjoyed hearing about her herb garden, pregnancies, neighbours and dinner parties. So even if it started out slow, it definitely grew on me and I was drawn in more and more.
The book is full of historical facts that feel well-researched (I haven’t a clue personally and I haven’t checked, nor do I have plans to) but there are so many of them that at times, I feel like I’m being beaten about the head by a history book rather than being told a story. Some add a flavour of the times, other just feel like the author is trying to show off. (“Look, I can do history, me!”)
Toward the end there is a situation that is very sad but so important in order to remember what the Victorian times were actually like. Things weren’t as rosy as we might think from the romanticised versions we normally read. Think Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall – it’s not “nice”, it’s tragic. Women had very little choice in some matters. Well done for bringing it up and for showing us what it must’ve been like.
The ending is a bit too abrupt. We’re treated to long memories of the past and then it comes to a baby and all of a sudden it’s a quick wrap-up and a “and they lived happily ever after” type thing to which I felt like saying, “hey, where did the book go?! I was reading that!” and felt a bit disappointed, because I wanted it to go on for a bit longer.
But yeah, I quite liked it. I perhaps wouldn’t have thought that the true daughter of Paris would have grown up to be so conscientious and kick-ass to go to university and be a nurse in the Crimea and all that, but, oh well, at least she’s not a psycho … and I have an easier time swallowing her being a nurse than I have her being the one that started the fire that killed Bertha Mason. While not being of a very high tempo or being “about” a lot, it’s nice. And it’s well-written. There are some editing mistakes toward the end, but live and let live. Claire Moïse, you’ve whetted my appetite. Please do continue writing, even if it’s not Jane Eyre related! 🙂
3 out of 5 bluestockings.