Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Jane Eyre read by Juliet Mills - a review

The staff at Blackstone Audio were so kind as to provide us with a copy of their Jane Eyre audiobook, read by Juliet Mills.

  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio Inc.; Unabridged edition (February 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143320956X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433209567
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 5.4 x 1.9 inches
16 CD LIBRARY 1-4332-1355-7 $120.00
16 CD RETAIL 1-4332-0956-7 $29.95
Jane Eyre is available in all sorts of formats and versions: films, comics, paintings, music, plays, handbags, etc. Yet what about the unabridged and untouched novel read by a British female voice? Now this was a new thing for BrontëBlog, apart from a few samples.

Juliet Mills does a brilliant job(1). At first, however, and this might vary from listener to listener, it caught us unawares. We should have known what to expect yet we were expecting to hear a younger voice read that famous first sentence, 'There was no possibility of taking a walk that day'. But not to worry, Juliet Mills's flexible, musical, soothing, calm voice soon captures the listener.

Her voice is also prodigiously expressive and seems to capture every nuance imparted by Charlotte Brontë on the text, to the point of taking the listener to whole new places never visited before in such a well-known narrative. The different characters are clear-cut without needing to alter her voice completely. A different tone, a different rhythm, all suffice to define characters so divers as Mrs Fairfax or Robert Leaven. We are aware that there are other editions, read by several people or dramatised nearly to the point of sounding like radio-plays. This one-woman performance, however, suited us just fine. Juliet Mills's voice never once becomes monotonous, it is always full of live and spirit and much in accordance with the fragment of the novel being read at that moment.

Reading Jane Eyre aloud is no easy matter. The sentences are usually long, many of the words are not part of our day-to-day vocabulary. There are other obstacles, too, as a French-speaking girl, who Juliet Mills conquers just fine: it's not a native accent, but the results are certainly decent. Also, as many 19th-century writers tended to do, Charlotte Brontë avoided some place names and used hyphens instead, locating Thornfield Hall in ---shire and sending Jane Rochester's trunks to --- Hotel, London. Juliet Mills 'reads' all these most naturally, not disrupting the narrative in the least.

The audiobook is divided into 16 CDs, distributed in 3 individual cardboard cases for easier use, which are all included in a big cardboard box which has a blurb on the back just like books do. An insightful synopsis of the book ('the story. . . trascendes melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than that accorded to her by Victorian society.') and Thackeray's words on it (which Charlotte would have loved) as well as brief accounts of both Charlotte Brontë and Juliet Mills. All contribute to enhance the audiobook itself. Yet if we could ask for something else we would be happy to see a booklet - the sort you find on CDs - with all this inside in a longer version as well as pictures and, who knows, maybe some sort of notes on the text just like books have.

(1) This reading previously appeared as audio casette in 2002, edited by New Millenium Audio. Juliet Stevens also appears as reader in another, abridged, recording of the novel published by Dove Audio in 1996.

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