Becoming Jane Eyre – Sheila Kohler

I meant to write a post about Becoming Jane Eyre last Friday, but alas, I did not finish reading it until this Monday (and what’s the point of writing a review if I haven’t finished reading it, y’know?).

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“The year is 1846. In a cold parsonage on the gloomy Yorkshire moors, a family seems cursed with disaster. A mother and two children dead. A father sick, without fortune, and hardened by the loss of his two most beloved family members. A son destroyed by alcohol and opiates. And three strong, intelligent young women, reduced to poverty and spinsterhood, with nothing to save them from their fate. Nothing, that is, except their remarkable literary talent. So unfolds the story of the Bronte sisters. At its centre are Charlotte and the writing of Jane Eyre.

Delicately unraveling the connections between one of fiction’s most indelible heroines and the remarkable woman who created her, Sheila Kohler’s “Becoming Jane Eyre” will appeal to fans of historical fiction and, of course, the millions of readers who adore Jane Eyre.”

First of all: yay, historical fiction!

Second of all: I wouldn’t say I adored Jane Eyre. Tolerated it, would probably be better. I think I had a lot of issues with Mr. Rochester and the age difference weirded me out (I’m pretty sure at one point she acknowledges that he is old enough to be her father and I was like “way to make it awkward, Janie”). Otherwise, it was a decent story.

Side note: I read a grreat “updated” version (Jane by April Lindner) shortly after reading the original. While it stayed true to its source material for the most part, Mr. Rochester was an ageing rock star…which meant I found their relationship easier to accept.

In this book, Kohler hints at ideas and experiences that ultimately helped Charlotte in creating Jane. The story starts with Charlotte tending to her recently blind father in Manchester before they rejoin her sisters and depressed brother at their home in Haworth.

Throughout the text, there are references to Charlotte’s past that call back to moments/characters/ideas present in Jane Eyre, personal experience that inspired her work: the professor with whom she almost-but-not-quite had an affair (who Mr. Rochester may be modeled after); the fire her drug-addicted brother sets in the house, etc. Her sisters help her work out her characters problems (sometimes unintentionally), all while trying to find a publisher for their own works.

I liked seeing the “rivalry” between the sisters: when Emily and Anne get an offer for their books (Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively) but Charlotte is overlooked – only to have Charlotte receive the biggest/best offer and become the literary sensation of their time.

I didn’t know much about the Brontes before, but now I have a better understanding of them: their (family) history, background, etc. I felt like there were moments when it moved too fast to have an effect: for example, towards the end, Charlotte’s siblings’ deaths are delivered in a handful of paragraphs. I’m not even sure what they died of, though I suppose the story focused more on Charlotte herself than on the others.

You don’t have to necessarily be a fan of Jane Eyre to appreciate this book; as an aspiring author, it was interesting to get into Charlotte’s head and follow her as she tried to piece her work together.

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