Book review: Jane Rochester: A Novel Inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre by Kimberly A Bennett (Writer’s Club Press, 2000)
Do you remember me? I am now Jane Rochester these past fifteen years. You may have known me as the obstinate though obscure English governess, Jane Eyre … I peer back through the linear scope of time and am compelled to record fully the first years of my marriage to Edward Fairfax Rochester. There was a short time when my fate and fitness for the role of friend, nurse and wife were suspect.
First off, this book was sent to me by a kind blog reader (in case she wishes to be anonymous, I won’t mention any names – you know who you are, and please also know that YOU ROCK!). Thank you ever so much, I am eternally grateful to you! 🙂
On to the review:
In the “about the author” section at the end, it says Kimberly A Bennett is a “consulting editor” amongst other things. This concerns me. The let-down of the book isn’t the content (for once) or how it’s written, it’s let down by how poorly edited it is. Quotation marks missing, commas lacking spaces afterwards, misspellings, wrong words and names, you name it. It’s on at least every other page of the book, and just looks shoddy. If you’re going to sell it, as opposed to just publishing a copy for own use, would it kill you to proof-read it first? Trying to find the cover picture, I spotted there’s a “revised edition” from 2002, which has a slightly different cover. Hopefully the revisions include reading through it and correcting all the mistakes. I found the mix-up of Mary and Diana in St John’s letter (chapter 11) particularly confusing, until I realised “Mary” should’ve said “Diana” in one crucial place.
The book itself, what about it? Why are people trying to sell it for ridiculous amounts of money on eBay and Amazon? Is it really that amazing? Yes and no. It’s definitely not £200 worth of amazing, but it’s the best Jane Eyre spin-off I’ve read so far. Bennett actually gets the characters’ personalities and has obviously read the original book and knows it very well, not to mention having checked the facts. Those things alone gets it two thumbs up.
Adèle is a coquette but sweet and loving girl (including to Jane), which is a relief, considering Bailey and Tennant and their shameful distortions of her character. She’s not in the book a lot, but when she is I can see the character Charlotte Brontë wrote about. Bennett also brings back Blanche Ingram (okay, that’s one thing she didn’t double-check, because she keeps referring to her as “Ingraham”), who is now married and seems to have picked up a heart on the way. Interesting, and I don’t mind it.
Jane? Sometimes a bit too angsty Mrs Angst (again) but Bennett pulls her back and lets her kick some butt (hooray!) because Jane in the original is a kick-butt kinda gal and not some silly weakling. Rochester – oh, the angst – is loving and caring and what you’d expect the guy from the original book to be as a married man. The two together? They tease, they kiss, they argue, they love each other. They also misunderstand each other a whole lot and have miscommunications galore to the point where I feel like shaking them both and ordering them to just sit down and bloody talk to one another for a change.
The book begins where Jane Eyre ends – with their wedding – and follows the couple primarily through their tumultuous first year of marriage at Ferndean (it ventures into the second toward the end). You think it was all happily ever after? Not quite. Rochester is brooding over his injuries and Jane is having difficulties adjusting to her new role in life. She was a prim and proper Victorian governess (though with very modern views) whose “experiences” are restricted to kisses, and suddenly she’s married to an experienced man who wants and expects more of her than that. Fascinating, I thought, because in these modern times we might not think about it much, because (let’s be honest) totally abstaining from sex until marriage is pretty rare these days. Not so back in the 1800s, and Jane had very little experience of dealing with men in general, not just sexually. Unsurprisingly, she’s startled and confused, but her darling husband is tender and patient and – swoon – wonderful.
If you’re expecting saucy sex scenes that go on for pages, you’ll be disappointed. While the book definitely has some sexy parts to it, it’s tasteful, fairly brief, and not too graphic. Nor does it ever feel out of place. I wouldn’t say that it’s arousing to read, because it’s not meant that way and the book’s written from Jane’s perspective anyway, and she’s not exactly a lewd little lady. The sex scenes are just a natural extension of the relationship between husband and wife rather than something that’s been squeezed in for the sake of it. I much prefer Bennett’s approach in this area.
The only thing that is out of place is the repeated use of the word “husband”, which got on my nerves a wee bit. Here are some examples found by just opening the book at random: “placed it in my husband’s hand”, “After my husband’s cigar was lit”, “I have much to learn from you, dear husband”, “my husband provoked my body to lean against his”, and so on. We know you’re married to Mr Rochester now, Jane! Give it a rest!
The dialogue often feels a bit stilted, but one could argue that the dialogue in the original doesn’t exactly sound entirely natural to a modern ear either. On the plus side, Bennett is more concise than Brontë and manages to tell the whole of her story in under 250 pages, which I like. I never felt like taking out a pen and writing “cut for pace” in the margin, which (it pains me to admit) I feel like doing with the original.
Overall impression of Jane Rochester is positive. There is a madwoman (an erotomaniac, fascinating concept in itself), but it’s not Adèle. (Hooray!) There is no returning Grace Poole, Céline Varens or previously unknown Mason relatives. There were still some question marks regarding the distance between Morton, Whitcross, Thornfield and Ferndean, but all in all, I got the impression that Bennett got it right, or at least very nearly right. Jane Austen is mentioned on several occasions, both Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice show up, which is rather funny, considering Charlotte Brontë’s views of Jane Austen as an author …
I enjoyed the gothic elements and the nods to the original and the frequent use of dreams, I really liked seeing the Rivers sisters again, and their husband-finding was delightful and – cough – Austenesque. (I mean that in a good way!) Less keen on St John’s hidden passion for Jane, but while I think it’s improbable he nurtured such feelings for her, it’s not entirely implausible. The religious motifs are not to my personal taste, but they are definitely in keeping with the original.
Most of all, I enjoyed reading a Jane Eyre sequel that didn’t suck, and not just that, it’s really rather good. Sure, the editing mistakes are annoying, but it doesn’t take away the fact that this book was written by someone who clearly is passionate about Jane Eyre and the characters within, and who tries her best to keep in line with it with regards to personalities, events and tone as set out by Charlotte Brontë. And she actually succeeds. While not 100% perfect, it’s still the best unofficial sequel I’ve read so far, and I think Charlotte Brontë would be fairly happy with it too, and that’s saying something!
3.8 of 5 delighted fangirl squees.