Book review: Mrs Rochester: The Sequel to Jane Eyre by Hilary Bailey (Simon & Schuster Ltd. Pocket Books, 1997)
‘To be your wife is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on earth’ – Jane Eyre’s words on accepting Edward Rochester’s proposal.
But how long can any earthly paradise last?
In the sequel to one of the greatest love stories in the English language, Hilary Bailey looks beyond the ten blissfully happy years Edward and Jane have already spent together towards a future that is already clouded with doubt.
From the ashes of the tragic fire that killed his first wife, Edward has recreated the splendour of his ancestral home. But the return to Thornfield brings Jane closer to the despair she once felt there as a young governess.
Closer to the nightmares that still haunt every room…
Mrs. Rochester is a brilliant new recreation from the author of Frankenstein’s Bride, the sequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Rarely do I throw a book away from me in disgust – well, unless they contain a spider – but this one got hurled from the bathroom into the hallway, much to Mr T’s surprise: “What was that?” he said. I replied passionately, “A crime of fiction!” And then proceeded to take it with me to bed to finish the book suffering once and for all.
Dear, oh dear.
“Is it really that bad?” you ask. Primarily yes. I didn’t have to keep a pen and paper handy to jot down all the inaccuracies in order to keep track of them, and it didn’t have me cringe straight away. In fact, I could live with Jane’s uncharacteristic behaviour up until about page 50 when it started to get a bit too overbearing.
The book starts at Ferndean, where the Rochesters have lived their Happily Ever Afters for the past decade. Then Mr Rochester decides to rebuild Thornfield Hall, so they can move there instead. Immediately, Jane turns into Mrs Angst because she never liked the place and it brings back sooo many dreadful memories, and angst angst angst, she prefers staying at Ferndean, where she’s got a little garden with a veg patch going on.
Let’s make this perfectly clear: Jane loved Thornfield. Yes, Bertha was a downside, but as Thornfield was the place where she finally felt like she was home and had friends, it never was a place that she would have dreaded returning to. Remember the bit in the original about sneaking up on a sleeping lover only to find out they were dead? That’s not an “OMG I hate to return, but I have to because I miss my lovely Edward”, it’s a “soon I will be reunited with my beautiful home and my lovely Edward and – OMG IT’S A BLACKENED RUIN!” No. Screw you, Bailey!
Jane and Edward have a son, Jonathan, and he stays with some friends around there, because they have a tutor, and Jane is pregnant. And despite her being overbearingly anxious about moving back to Thornfield, they do. And it’s downhill from there.
If you’re bothered about spoilers, you should probably stop reading now. On the other hand, my sincerest recommendation is that you refuse to read this book, in which case, it won’t matter. Read the bits below to see exactly why you shouldn’t suffer the pain it would cause you. I’ve read this book so that you don’t have to.
Meanwhile, a mysterious French lady arrives in Britain, and she takes up residence in Hay, the village nearest to Thornfield. I thought this would be Céline Varens, but alas, it isn’t. It’s much, much worse. Madame Roland is a friend of Céline’s, but she’s also – get ready to cringe – a previously totally unknown (and sane) sister of Bertha and Richard Mason. If that’s not bad enough, she’s come to get money off Rochester – because there was some sort of pre-nuptial agreement that if Bertha were to die without leaving a heir, her dowry would go back to the Mason family. Seeing as how Bertha died childless and under Suspicious Circumstances (Rochester is accused of having started the fire himself, and he keeps on being very fuzzy on the subject whenever it’s brought up, which doesn’t help) and the Masons happen to have come into financial difficulties, they’re trying to get their money back, and Rochester ain’t giving.
I seriously doubt any arrangement of the sort would have been made, and I even doubt the very possibility of something like that would have been lawful back in the day, when women immediately forfeited their money upon marriage. It was no longer theirs, it was their husband’s.
Second Third issue I have with it is that Rochester is gone for most of the novel, and when he shows up, he’s a cold brute. This is the same man who is so passionately in love with a woman he’d commit bigamy to be with her? It doesn’t add up. There’s only like one scene in the book where he’s anywhere near what he realistically should be like as the loving husband of his soulmate. And then he buggers off again without a word to say where he’s going!
Bailey makes Hay out to be full of suspicious paupers who have very little sympathy for the Rochester family. Even though the original says they’re “well liked”. Bah.
One of the things that angsty Mrs Angst goes into a hissy-fit about is the fact that Mr Rochester happens to come across Grace Poole on the streets of Manchester, and as she’s basically homeless and in a right state, he takes her back to Thornfield and appoints her the position as housekeeper, seeing as how Mrs Fairfax is old and retired and all that. Jane hardly dares speaking with Grace Poole, and she’s even bloody frightened of the woman. I never got the impression that Jane was ever actually scared of her. Weary, yes; frightened, no. She was worried by the mysterious laugh, but FFS, Jane’s a gutsy woman! She might be small, but she’s not a scared mouse who wants to cry and run into hiding just because they share the same roof.
Jane eventually ends up firing Grace Poole, on one of those occasions where Mr Rochester’s away, and as she’s walking through the snow to the church and is on the brink of exhaustion, someone familiar comes to her aid. My reaction to that was “don’t tell me that’s St John Rivers! Hang on … yup, it is, WTAF”. He decided to come back to Britain and has popped by to say hello. So, basically, his declining health and implied death are null and void. Not to mention his stubborn piety and cold personality. No, here he’s rather sympathetic and not despotic or anything. Godsdamnit! Gaaahhhh!!
What about little Adèle? OH THE HUMANITY! The little French girl hated Jane (HUMBUG, Bailey!) and for quite some time, I thought this would go the same way The French Dancer’s Bastard did, because the plots were very similar in parts. Adèle (in both books) is longing for her Maman and wants her to come back and marry Mr Rochester so they can be a proper family. (Not like they told her Céline had gone to the “Holy Virgin” in the book …)
Adèle has been to school in Switzerland and has come back, and she’s bored. Jane is as dull as ever, and Adèle prefers the company of the much more intriguing Blanche Ingram – who’s now the mistress of some big mansion because she’s married a wealthy man. Adèle wants to come with Blanche and her husband to London, and then she does actually go with them or something? Or runs away? One of those. She meets with Rochester and Céline (who’s in town because she’s all famous now), and they play happy families for a bit, which Jane finds out about (through Blanche) and goes incredibly broody over to the point of making me want to gag.
Adèle was never pleased when Jane came along all those years ago, especially not when she discovered she’s in the way of her Happily Ever After. Bertha, however, is the real problem. She’s Rochester’s wife, and if Rochester’s married, it means he can’t marry Céline Varens. So she has to be removed from the equation somehow … sooooo: Guess who set fire to Thornfield! Go on, have a guess. Take a wild stab at it. Bertha Mason Rochester? You’ve set the bar too high, try again. Adèle Varens? Mais oui, certainement! *bangs head on desk*
And Rochester knew this! That’s why he’s been so fuzzy every time the subject came up! Céline Varens shows up in the end, only to find the true daughter of Paris on her death bed, because she’s only tried to set fire to Thornfield once again. *bangs head on desk again*
It’s absolutely DREADFUL!
The writing as such isn’t bad, but Hilary Bailey has got the characters completely wrong – ALL of them – and the story is so implausible if you look at who the characters in the original are and what they would do that Mrs Rochester should make any Jane Eyre purist want to cry. I felt physical pain reading the bloody thing, and hurling it across the landing didn’t quite make up for it.
The whole “the sequel to” bugs me. THE sequel? For that, it would have to be written by Charlotte Brontë, or at least it would need to fit in as a logical extension of the original, and it doesn’t. It clashes with it terribly, nauseatingly, offensively and a bunch of other similar adverbs you might care to throw in there. It’s just WRONG.
As a book, fair enough, it’s alright. As a Jane Eyre sequel, let alone “the” sequel? Hell no. It would make Charlotte Brontë cry with despair over how her darling characters were treated. Hilary Bailey, I’m afraid you deserve to be locked in the Red Room for life, with only the ghost of Uncle Reed to keep you company.
1 out of 5 cuddly St Johns.