Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rochester. A Review

We are very grateful to Trafford Publishing for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Rochester
A Novel Inspired by Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre"
by J. L. Niemann
Published: 2010
Trafford Publishing
ISBN: 978142691639 /ISBN: 9781426916403
Although examples of fan fiction can be traced throughout the history of literature (not the less significant are the stories written by the young Brontës themselves borrowing from real life characters like the Duke of Wellington and sons(1) or Jean Rhys's prequel Wide Sargasso Sea using characters and plot elements from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre), it is with the fast popularization of the world wide web where this literary phenomenon has achieved visibility and has become widely available. What was once the material of  fantasy or sci-fi fanzines and had a very limited distribution is now easily obtainable. Of course, this has increased the quantity of fan fiction stories that can be found on almost every imaginable subject matter. The Brontës are no exception as a visit to FanFiction.net (one of many platforms devoted to the world of fanfic) would easily prove.

These new writers create the story not entirely for or by themselves, but in a sort of cooperative way. Of course the materials are taken from another literary/cinematographic/whatever source but as the story progresses it is commented, sometimes criticized, by the immediate readers. This feedback changes and mutates the literary creation process and evidently conditions the final result. The critical study of fanfiction created in such conditions is still to be written(2).

The present book, J.L. Niemann's Rochester was born this way. On a fanfic board devoted specifically to stories related to the 2006 Jane Eyre adaptation with Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester and Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre: http://z9.invisionfree.com/Toby_Stephens_Info/index.php This adds another loop to the complicated intertextuality threads between Charlotte Brontë's original text, Sandy Welch's adaptation and Susanna White's conception of the series. Variations among variations inside of variations, the rococo-like lasts gasps of post-modernism. After sixty chapters (which in the present printed version have been grouped in thirty chapters) and a strong reader base, the author was able to publish the book(3).

J.L. Niemann's Rochester thirty chapters and 325 pages are in fact the first installment of a projected trilogy. This literary and narrative exuberance does not always work in favour of the book, as the story will clearly profit from an expurgation cutting the numerous repetitions and revisitations of similar situations that don't help the story advance but often cause a stagnation of the narrative fluidity. Far too many times we are reminded of the immense/huge/unconditional/life-affirming love of Rochester for Jane which at times borders dangerously on the barrier of a Federico Moccia derivative. Far too many times the story unfolds itself only to be again ensnared in a circularity which probably works better in a serial novel (or a serial fandom story). Nevertheless, the attention to detail in the part of the author in describing foods, dresses creating a sensitive image that connects the reader with the story in a physical way is noticeable.

These rythmic problems affect the effective reworking that J.L.Niemann does with the original novel by Charlotte Brontë. She doesn't try to adopt a Rochester perspective of the story, but reworks the story itself playing with the characters and changing the order of events or introducing new elements of intrigue and a whole fascinating Jamaican background, following the backstory provided by Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea. Some elements work better (like the Blanche Ingram-Richard Mason subplot(4)) than others but overall the changes manage to kindle interest to a narrative that the Jane Eyre reader will find familiar but not predictable.

The Edward Rochester of the novel is a considerably less broodier version of the original Brontë one. He drinks a lot and can be rough sometimes, but he is also desperately in love until the point of crying of desperation. He is a protofeminist and basically much nearer to the Rochester which the Jane Eyre hardcore aficionados will want to imagine than the Byronic antiheroe which Charlotte Brontë created(5).

And of course we have the erotic scenes. If we can forget the high implausibility of them (both in the social context and in the story itself) and we place them in a sort of dreamy (and steamy) parallel reality of the actual Jane-Rochester relationship, they can be quite enjoyable. Problems, nevertheless, arise when the author tries to integrate them in the logic of her own novel.

J.L. Niemann's Rochester fails in maintaining a convincing discourse between its reelaboration of the story and its erotic content, but if we judge them separately both elements can provide great fun and generate, at least for this reviewer, considerable interest for the new installment of the trilogy: Rochester: Consummation.

Notes
(1) Precisely these days the British Library organises an exhibition about curious Sci/Fi which features the Brontës' juvenilia: Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it
(2) With some exceptions, like The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context by Sheenagh Pugh, Seren Books, 2005
(3) And this is another interesting trend of fanfiction which is now in full bloom. The expansion of the vanity publishers first and the new ways of self-publishing via etexts: Kindle and other formats are changing the way in which fanfiction writers are stepping out from the cloisters of their specialised boards. Only in the Jane Eyre domain we can name Jane Eyre's Husband-The Life of Edward Rochester by Tara Bradley or An American Heir: A Modern Retelling of Jane Eyre by Chrissy Breen Keffer .
(4) That reminds us of those imaginative (prefanfic?) theatre adaptations of Jane Eyre of the late 19th century which Patsy Stoneman covered in her Jane Eyre on Stage, 1848-1898 and which also reworked those characters changing their fates according to the most varied reasons.
(5) There's even the possibility of Rochester's first marriage not being legal, which would free Rochester from the accusation of bigamy.

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Anonymous said...
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Do you know where we can get the next book Rochester consumation...

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