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One of the most delightful things about literary novels is that they not only tell an alluring story, but their authors often engage in a conversation with literary figures of the past.The Independent asks presenter and novelist Fern Britton about her current read:
That is certainly the case with author Margot Livesey’s eighth novel, “The Flight of Gemma Hardy.” The Cambridge author reaches out to Charlotte Brontë with a re-imagined version of “Jane Eyre” set in Scotland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The germ of the idea for the novel came to Livesey after a book club discussion about the classic novel at Newtonville Books.
“The room was filled with readers and despite having very little obviously in common with Charlotte Brontë’s heroine, they all identified with ‘Jane Eyre,’ she says. “The key thing that emerged in the discussion with how most people when they first read the novel think that the reason Jane doesn’t get married to Rochester the first time is because Bertha’s brother breaks up the wedding.
But I think most older readers come to realize that the reason Jane doesn’t get married to Rochester the first time is because she really has to come into her own. She has to be more his equal before they can get married and that made me think about the central question of the novel, which is how can a woman with no family and no money make her way in the world. And I thought that is still a piercing question.
A few weeks after that discussion, Livesey put her copy of “Jane Eyre” on the highest shelf in her writing room and began writing her own version of the story, which has some elements that Brontë fans will immediately recognize and others that are completely original.[...]
Livesey not only drew on the novel “Jane Eyre,” but also on her own childhood in Scotland. She was inspired by the landscapes of her homeland as well as more personal and autobiographical elements. She had a very severe stepmother who was the model for Gemma’s aunt, although greatly exaggerated. Like Gemma, Livesey attended a boarding school in the Scottish Highlands that she found to be very difficult, which became the model for Claypoole in the novel.
“Those details helped to inform the novel,” she says. “And I think in a different way the feelings I had the first summer I came to America (at the age of 19) informed the novel. I was all alone in this foreign country and a lot of the times I was getting around by hitchhiking. No one knew where I was and no one knew who I was, so I had some of that sense of being really solitary that Gemma often has.”
Livesey very deliberately set the novel in the time period before feminism broke out in Great Britain and America because the feminist revolution and invention of birth control radically changed women’s lives.
“Growing up in 1960s Scotland, for middle class women there were really three jobs – nurse, teacher or wife – and once you had the third job you really pretty much didn’t do the first two,” she says. “So I thought it would be very felicitous to set the novel right before that period, so the reader would know these possibilities were opening up and coming even if the characters didn’t necessarily know them.”
What: Reading and book signing with Margot Livesey
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 28
Where: Wellfleet Public Library, 55 West Main St.
Info: 508-349-0310 or www.wellfleetlibrary.org (Laurie Higgins)
What are you currently reading? 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' [by Anne Brontë].Alison Flood looks back on her school texts marginalia in the Guardian Books Blog:
Looking back at old copies of my set school texts recently, I was shamed to see, amid copious yellow highlighting, some of the notes I'd made in the margins. "Romantic", I'd written, idiotically, in Romeo and Juliet by the balcony scene. "Adumbration", I'd scrawled, obviously pleased with myself at this new word, in Phèdre. "Passion", as Heathcliff dashed his head madly against a trunk in Wuthering Heights. And, rather plaintively, "comedy?" by one of the Fool's scenes in King Lear. I obviously wasn't too sure about that one.A Good Story is Hard to Find has a podcast on Jane Eyre. Book Babble and Gross Knowledge review Wuthering Heights while Bad Reviews of Good Books shares some 'reviews' of the novel.