Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010 12:03 am by M. in , , ,    4 comments
Our thanks to Éditions Bénevént for providing us with a review copy of this book.
Edward F. Rochester
by Christine Paris Bruyère
Editions Bénévent
ISBN : 9782756313320
Pages : 132
Publication : 8/2009
When Charlotte Brontë gave voice to a little, young, plain governess and invested her with revolutionary qualities normally associated with the (male) hero (courage, independence of thought, determination, honesty... ), she also created a counterpoint in the figure of the moderately dark, certainly broody and mostly Byronic, Rochester. In all probability when she was delineating his character it never even occurred to her that more than a hundred years afterwards there would be authors with the necessity to explore Jane Eyre's story from Rochester's point of view. After all, when the eldest of the siblings was imagining Jane in Manchester, Rochester's POV was the norm, the contemporary literary mainstream.

And we have seen Jane's story retold from Adèle's perspective, the French nurse story or even Céline Varens's misdemeanours(1). Works that walk the permeable frontier between fan fiction and literature. Sometimes so thin a frontier that the main difference between one and the other is not the quality but whether they have been published or not (a notion that the rising of the vanity publishers has begun to question). Rochester's views have been particularly cultivated in the fan fiction world(2) and his young voice was one of the narrators of that (angry) "fan fiction" masterpiece that is Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.

Christine Paris Bruyère's approach has, nevertheless, nothing to do with Jean Rhys's. She is not trying to vindicate any character (Rochester is in no need of redemption as Charlotte Brontë already redeemed him at the end of the novel). Her intention is to retell the known elements of the story from a masculine perspective. Her devotion to the story is so total that her Edward F. Rochester scarcely introduces new elements to the original narrative(3). She even respects the structure of chapters of the original novel (the ones were Rochester appears). Hardly a visit to the Eshtons (previous to his return to Thornfield Hall with the Ingrams and co.) or an escapade to London when Jane is attending the deathbed of her aunt do not add anything really important in order to understand Rochester's character. There's also no intention of explaining his life before Jane, besides what is already known from Charlotte Brontë's novel.

After reading this short but intense book, one realises that the author was not looking to explore any background but simply to picture Rochester's responses to his meeting with such a strange and inspiring creature as he perceives Jane Eyre to be. She does not try to mimick Charlotte Brontë's style. After all, Charlotte's writing is Jane's writing. Christine Bruyère's tries to reproduce Rochester's writing. Short sentences, always in present, addressed to an unnamed reader that at the end represents us, the actual readers. One wonders if this stylistic approach wouldn't be more appealing in English than in French where it sometimes sounds a bit forced.

The main problem is not that Christine Paris's Rochester could not be the Rochester imagined by the reader (one can disagree with Jean Rhys's vision of Rochester and, at the same time, recognise the enormous literary merits of Wide Sargasso Sea), the problem is that Jane Eyre's vibrant story transforms itself in a rather dull one from Rochester's perspective. Is this the Rochester whose love for Jane is expressed time and time (and time and time) again in a very unByronic way. His love for Jane does not only redeem him but transform him into a sort of hard-but-sensitive male avant la lettre.

Edward F. Rochester may not the book that captures Rochester and gives him a true entity separated from Jane. But Christine Paris Bruyère's effort is an honest, and not easy, attempt to tell his story not as we would love it, but as Charlotte Brontë's character would have written it. No more but no less.


(1) Adèle, Jane Eyre's Hidden Story by Emma Tennant (2000); La Bambinaia Francese by Bianca Pitzorno (2004) or Adèle, Grace & Céline. The Other Women of Jane Eyre by Claire Moïse. Talking about Grace Poole it's only fair to mention Pam Ferris's Grace Poole's story published on the BBC website of Jane Eyre 2006.
(2) For instance, AvinWaters's story A Wondrous Shock of Feeling (2007): Or the still incomplete: Team Guy of Gisborne's Jane Eyre Mr Rochester Side of the Story (2009) and
Edward Fairfax Rochester's Love for Jane Eyre (2008) by A True Janian Reply.

EDIT: Or the recently (vanity) published: Rochester: A Novel Inspired by Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" by J.L. Niemann.
(3) Nevertheless one wonders if the author isn't sometimes more faithful to some TV adaptations of the novel than to the real thing. For instance, just before the fire incident:
Un soir, mes pensées se sont tournées un peu plus que d'habitude sur la tour Nord, je me suis laissé aller à boire plus que de raison et la tête embrumée je me suis affalé sur mont lit, mes bottes encore au pied et ai sombré dans un sommeil lourd et plein de rêves fantasmagoriques.
Something that appears in the 2006 adaptation but not in the book. This fact was pointed out by C. de Villemer on The Inn at Lambton.

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  1. I didn't realise there was Bronte fanfic (of the online description) though it makes sense. Must check it out! I'm writing something myself actually. We shall see how it goes. I've had to research the blooming period of wisteria. :-/

  2. This is only to be found in French, isn't it? :( Thanks for the review! Will get J. L. Niemann's book next time I get an Amazon voucher through, as that seems to be better - not to mention, in a language I can understand!

    I was under the impression no one had written Rochester's side of the story, so I was thinking of writing it. Not that there's anything stopping me, just because someone else has done it. Christine Paris Bruyère writes JE from his perspective, and from the excerpts I can find from JL Niemann, so is that one. So neither of them have written his story leading up to JE. Excellent, I call dibs! :)

  3. Yes, the book is only available in French. We haven't read Niemann's book so we cannot judge it. Nevertheless, concerning Rochester's backstory it cannot be forgotten Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea which covered the West Indies years.

  4. There is a new book on called "Jane Eyre's Husband--the Life of Edward Rochester." It is a very comprehensive story of Rochester's life. I've only read about half of it so far, but it is excellent.