Monday, August 25, 2008

Jane Eyre's Daughter - A review

Our thanks to Sourcebooks, Inc. for sending us a review copy of this book.
Jane Eyre’s Daughter
By: Elizabeth Newark

Product ISBN: 9781402212376
Price: $12.95
Publication Date: September 2008

Elizabeth Newark first published this novel in 1999. Now Sourcebooks republishes it with both a beautiful new cover and very nice artwork - not illustrations - in the inside, before each chapter, as well as an appropriately chosen quotation from one of the novels by Charlotte Brontë.

The book opens with Jane Eyre's daughter recalling a moment of her mother's life: Jane Rochester (née Eyre) is in church with her two children but, as the Reverend Pimlico-Smythe insists on expounding on the necessity of women bringing 'forth [their] children in pain', she takes them by the hand and leads them calmly out of the church. This episode acts as a prologue, it introduces us to this new, mother-of-two Jane, whom we left writing her memoirs after her marriage and - to our knowledge - with only one child who looked like his father.

But Jane Rochester has left the spotlight in this new novel, and save for this episode and a few others, it is her daughter, Janet Rochester, who is at the forefront of the narrative. When we meet her, and she tells us her story firsthand, just like her mother did before her, she's on the cusp of womanhood, takes after both her parents, and is about to go to a finishing school in London. When Janet speaks of her mother, it is quite remotely. She says her mother has always been a distant figure to her, more preoccupied with her brother Oliver than with her daughter. It is this and other small things that make us think that Elizabeth Newark either didn't like the character of Jane Eyre originally or she has portrayed her erroneously - at least as far as our perception of this heroine goes. But that isn't of much importance as this is her daughter's tale.

Despite the title, Jane is, as we say, barely there. The book would have been more appropriately called - and equally marketable - Rochester's Daughter. For it is Edward Rochester who is closer to his daughter and certainly it is his daughter who truly idolises him, to the point sometimes of nursing a certain degree of Electra complex. We all like Mr Rochester, even if he's maimed and blinded, but there are things we would rather not hear his daughter say! This middle-aged Agamemnon is now an enthusiast of landscape gardening, which falls in nicely with the fact that he was an avid botanist in Jane Eyre 2006.

Janet struggles to find her role in her tightly knit family and thus - although she goes reluctantly - will derive much benefit from attending a finishing school and developing her true character. It is when she's free from her parents and brother and - on another level - when Elizabeth Newark lets go ever so slightly of the well-known characters when the narrative gets better. Janet's story is not without its intrigues and adventures and, though certainly not similar in style to its parent book, these chapters of Jane Eyre's Daughter make for some quick, entertaining, grabbing reading.

In a similar vein, it is our opinion that the book would have actually benefited from a further detachment from the original novel. Sometimes the amount of characters (or characters related to characters), places, parallels and sentences lifted from the original is a little too overwhelming. And there are also a few nearly subliminal references to other Brontë works. But, as before, it is the episodes which are freer from the influence of Jane Eyre which are, in our humble opinion, best of all.

Jane Eyre's Daughter can be read from several perspectives. We suppose it's being sold as a sequel, given the characters and sequence of events, but a large part of it also reads like a retelling. Lovers of Jane Eyre will be able to amuse themselves by tracing parallels with the original novel. But it doesn't stop there. The book can also be read as fan fiction, of course. Up until now, and with a few - very few - exceptions, Emma Tennant has reigned supreme in the field of Jane Eyre romance-oriented sequels. And both these writers - Emma Tennant and now Elizabeth Newark - have opted for following an almost exclusive romantic approach in their books, with just a few lazy stabs at something a little deeper in their novels. And, less unexpectedly, as a 'sequel' to Charlotte Brontë's juvenilia. We are unaware whether Elizabeth Newark had this in mind when she put pen to paper, but many instances of Jane Eyre's Daughter - some of the characters and their relations to each other, some of the settings, some of the actions, some of the personalities and trains of thought - are highly reminiscent of Brontë's juvenilia. And this, strange as it sounds, is the most interesting, as well as our favourite, viewpoint to approach the novel.

It all boils down to this: if you like Jane Eyre and don't need your reads to be all highbrow all the time, if you're looking for the kind of book which you can read in one sitting accompanied by an endless supply of hot tea, then this is it.

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Comments :

4 comments to “ Jane Eyre's Daughter - A review ”
Chris said...
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You know I had similar thoughts on this one. It was fun but not deep.

Cristina said...
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Yeah, we agree on a lot of things about it - I was nodding non-stop when I was reading your review.

Anonymous said...
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i saw it in barns and noble bookseller and start to read the first pages but i think that will be bad for jane true character to be use for another person who didnt created her so i didnt read it all. i will never read it if jane is not good as i think she was after her wedding and before

Traxy said...
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Would be an interesting read at some point. Right now, I'm trying to get through "The French Dancer's Bastard" by said Emma Tennant - it's godawful! - and have started "Mrs. Rochester" by Hilary-something. At least with that one, I've made it as far as chapter two without howling in pain. So I can see why this book works better when it's being separated from the original! I mean, either you follow the original like it should be followed, or you detach from it as much as possible, but that includes characters as well. Not just having the same characters and have them behave completely out of character and without taking facts from the book into account.

Oops, I'm rambling. Sorry.

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