Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 12:33 am by M. in , ,    6 comments
Our thanks to Virtualbookworm.com for sending us a digital review copy of this book.
Adele, Grace & Celine.
The Other Women of Jane Eyre.

by Claire Moïse
ISBN 978-1-60264-501-1
322 pages.
Adele, Grace & Celine. The Other Women of Jane Eyre(1) explores these three women tangential to the story of Jane and Rochester. Three female characters which Charlotte Brontë uses as little more than archetypes and hardly develops. Adèle is probably the only one that evolves from the stereotype of the young French girl eager for glamour and obsessed with her toilette but affectionate and easily pliable to a docile, good-tempered, and well-principled English young lady. Charlotte Brontë, nevertheless, hides from us this evolution and attributes it to a sound English education correcting her French deffects. Grace Poole is presented as a character with virtually no past and no future who is only there to provide the adequate dose of Gothic epitomising mystery and the hiding of a terrible secret(2). Finally, Céline Varens is only used as the background to Rochester's immoral past when he was entangled with, of all women, a French opera-girl. An immoral, unprincipled, foreign woman, just one step above from prostitution.

Claire Moïse's intention is to provide a background for these characters within the framework created by Charlotte Brontë in her novel. To explore their motivations and satisfactorily explain their personal evolutions. The novel revolves around Adèle's life and covers a long span of time. From the events of the original Jane Eyre novel until the First World War. But we are not dealing with an epic novel because the main action is concentrated on a brief period of time when Adèle and her husband move into their farm house and she fights hard to combine her personal aspirations with life as Lady Gresham, wife of a baronet. Both the windows to the past and the future are open through the bunch of letters that Adèle discovers that Grace Poole and her mother, Céline Varens, were exchanging unnoticed by all.

And this epistolary exchange constitutes the most interesting part of this novel. Because the author makes a considerable effort in order to preserve the Grace's popular, vulgar English with Céline's bad English. This gives authenticity and transpires truth. Not only for things said but for many of the things that are left unsaid or are just hinted at. It's the author's merit that we reconcile and sympathise with Grace and that Céline's motivations, not being entirely unobjectionable, are understandable.

Adèle's story, being the main framework of the novel, is regrettably less interesting. It is unquestionable that the author has carried out a lot of research and presents Adèle's experiences perfectly contextualised within the socioeconomical, cultural and scientific background. And, though it is hard to imagine the Adèle that we know from the pages of Jane Eyre becoming a woman interested in the scientific discoveries of her time (Darwin's evolution theory, for instance) or adventurous enough to become a nurse at the Crimea war, it is not altogether impossible to see her in those roles. A good sound English education can work miracles, Jane would say(3). The problem with the whole Adèle segment in Drayton Abbey is that it is beautifully described but too plain and uneventful. Interesting elements as the presence of Lisette, Adèle's ward, who seems to be an impossible cross between a young Adèle and the young Jane Eyre, are briefly explored and later abandoned.

For the Brontëites around there is plenty to enjoy: Rochester and Jane make occasional apperances in the narrative. They are well characterised and, particularly Jane, very well delineated. The Brocklehurst family also appears and, with one exception, it seems that the sins of the grandfather (the infamous Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood School) are not going to be repeated. There is a very funny sequence involving Rochester scandalised by Adèle reading that immoral book Wuthering Heights. The nice detail of naming two of Rochester and Jane's children Helen (after Helen Burns) and Maria (after Maria Brontë?)... and so on(4).

This reviewer enjoyed the time spent with the Greshams. It was nice to be received into their home, sit in their drawing room and listen to the latest gossip in the county while sipping our afternoon tea while peeping into their daily lives. Not really so thrilling as a stay in Thornfield Hall but well worth a visit. I will call again.


(1) Why Adele or Celine are consistently not written as Adèle or Céline is difficult to understand. It may be understandable in Adèle's case as she grows up as an English woman and becomes a perfect English lady, but Céline Varens's is harder to accept.
(2) Nevertheless, Charlotte Brontë gives Grace Poole an intriguing, creepy statement because of the timing with which it is delivered:
(...)but I always think it best to err on the safe side; a door is soon fastened, and it is as well to have a drawn bolt between one and any mischief that may be about. A deal of people, Miss, are for trusting all to Providence; but I say Providence will not dispense with the means, though He often blesses them when they are used discreetly. (Chapter XVI)
(3) Fortunately this is not a novel along the line of Emma Tennant's Adèle. Jane Eyre's Hidden Story where the characters rather than subverted were perverted.
(4) However, there are several things that could be clearly improved. Grace Poole is presented as a lifelong friend of Rochester's (her father was gamekeeper at Rochester's father's estate). But Grace Poole according to the novel was hired from Grimbsy Retreat (apparently a mental institution) to take care of Bertha. Also according to Claire Moïse's narrative Grace Poole's marriage was short and she had no children. Charlotte Brontë nevertheless clearly wrote:
I'll give Mrs. Poole two hundred a year to live here with my wife, as you term that fearful hag: Grace will do much for money, and she shall have her son, the keeper at Grimsby Retreat, to bear her company and be at hand to give her aid in the paroxysms. (Chapter XXVII)
Céline Varens, according to Rochester's narrative in Jane Eyre, left Paris for Italy following a musician or singer, leaving Adèle behind. Nevertheless, in the present novel the event is told differently. Céline writes to Grace that she made Rochester believe that she had died so that he agreed to take care of Adèle. We wonder if Ms Moïse was not thinking of the musical adaptation of Jane Eyre by Gordon & Caird.

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  1. I have not heard of this one! Thank you for the review! I appreicate the notes at the bottom!

  2. If you are interested, we are hosting a "March Madness" style tournament of great novelists at http://logiosdolioseriounios.blogspot.com/

    Both Emily and Charlotte Bronte have advanced to the second round, with Emily matched up against Jane Austen, and Charlotte against Terry Pratchett.

  3. So far, I actually enjoy the bits from Adèle's perspective more than the letters between Grace and Céline! :) Nice review!

  4. I am reading Moise's novel for a women's writers class at University of Delaware. The first line of the novel does great damage to Moise's credibility, stating that Adele was 84 years old in 1915. From my fact-checking, life expectancy for those born in the 1830's was around 40 years. Was she writing a fairy tale?

  5. I may have misunderstood your question but no, living to 84 in 1915 was no fairytale. It certainly wasn't as common as it is today, but it could and did happen. The low life expectancy was partly due to the high infant mortality rate.

    The father of the Brontës, Patrick, was born in 1777 and died in 1861, which makes him exactly 84, like Adèle in the novel. The Brontës' servant, Tabby Aykroyd died at 84 as well in 1855, only weeks before Charlotte Brontë herself.

    Life expectancy at Haworth was 25, yet these people (as well as the adult Brontë siblings, even if they all died very young anyway) lived past that age.

  6. Thanks, Cristina, for this correction of my erroneous post. I misunderstood how those life expectancy statistics work, and I stand corrected. I'd be happy to have my post removed, if you see fit! Best, Tracy