Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Wednesday, June 01, 2011 12:05 am by M. in , ,    11 comments
Jane Eyre's Husband - The Life of Edward Rochester
Tara Bradley
Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 1101 KB
Publisher: Kindle Publishing; 1st edition (February 21, 2011)
Guest reviewer: Traxy Thornfield, Jane Eyre enthusiast (among many other things) who blogs at the non-only-but-quite-Brontë The Squeee.

If you love Jane Eyre just the way it is, you will find it difficult to read derivative (fan) fiction. Invariably, the author will get the characters' personalities wrong, misunderstand their intentions or just make a mess of the plot one way or the other. Needless to say, I downloaded this Kindle e-book expecting yet another disappointment, because Mr. Rochester is a notoriously difficult character to get right. To my surprise, it didn't even take half a chapter before I was both hooked and intrigued. Disappointed? More like ecstatic!

Jane Eyre's Husband, like J.L. Niemann's Rochester, is a version of Jane Eyre told from the perspective of Edward Fairfax Rochester, but it's so much more than that - it's truly the life of Mr. Rochester, like a biography, only much, much more interesting to read.

The novel is split into three distinct parts, so if printed, it would work best as a trilogy, as each section equates to over 300 printed pages. Part one is a prequel, stretching from before the birth of Edward Rochester, through his upbringing, his time on Jamaica and with his mistresses on the continent and ends just as the events we know from Brontë's original are about to begin. Part two is Jane Eyre, but seen through Mr. Rochester's eyes. Part three is a sequel, dealing with what happens to the couple during their happily ever afters.

Part one begins with establishing the marriage between Rochester's parents, Elizabeth and John, and then moves on to the birth of little Edward, or "Neddie" as he's known, and his wetnurse. When the wetnurse's own baby was revealed to be called "Grace", my first thought was "don't tell me it's Grace Poole - WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING?!" However, one thing that Bradley does very well, is to avoid the clichés every other sequel writer falls into (from not understanding distances to rebuilding Thornfield). Yes, as it turns out, little Grace does indeed grow up to become Grace Poole, but the way it's handled and is explained makes perfect sense as opposed to being gratuitous. In fact, while "Neddie" goes away to school, the story follows Grace for a while, and the story of her life could easily make for a whole separate novel, because it's just as interesting and heart-wrenching as that of her childhood best friend.

When Edward is forced to go to Jamaica, he's under the impression he's there to learn about the plantation business, but of course he isn't. There are echoes of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea for various reasons, but where Rhys got a lot of details wrong, rubbing purists the wrong way, Bradley get them right and they make sense. Perhaps Bradley's acute attention to detail is because she's a Jane Eyre purist herself, and that's one of the things I love about this novel, and what makes it work where other derivatives struggle. It fits in perfectly with the original. We get the story of the sham marriage as Charlotte Brontë actually described it - a young, innocent man being lured into union with a mentally ill woman, because of their fathers' greed. Not, as Rhys had it, a brutal and harsh Englishman forcing himself on a pure little rose of a woman.

For me, the most interesting parts were the events that weren't included in the original novel, or only briefly talked about, such as the time on Jamaica, his former mistresses and what happened during the fire. The level of details of Rochester's injuries after the fire were gruesome and stomach-turning, yet realistic. In fact, any description of illness and injury feel well-researched and therefore believable.

Storytelling-wise, chapters often begin with a short overview of events happening, such as (paraphrased) "During the next three months, Edward tried to adjust to the hot climate of Jamaica and got to know Richard Mason better" (yes, it's written in third person, and the focus isn't always on Edward), I'd think "aww, I wished she'd gone into more detail about that" - but then that's exactly what happens. The details are filled in, in a similar way to when you get "coming up in this episode" on TV and then you watch the show and see those things played out in full. Some people might find that style of writing annoying, but as long as the the details were there, I really didn't mind. There were some parts that I wish had been elaborated on rather than only mentioned in passing, such as Edward's time at school, but you can't fit exactly everything in, I suppose.

The biggest selling-point of the novel, aside from being purist, well-written and a really good read regardless, is that the man Bradley writes about is the same Edward Rochester (not to mention Jane and Adèle!) I see in Brontë's novel. He's a good-natured young man who was dealt a harsh blow by life, which led him to years of bitterness and seeking redemption where there was none. We get to read about Céline Varens, Giacinta and Clara, and the very different relationships he had with each one. Perhaps it's wishful and romantic thinking on mine and Bradley's part, his search for "The One", but it rang true. It portrays Rochester as the character I fell in love with, and does him justice. While we're on the subject, yes, there are sex scenes too - but they're all in context, not over-used or just there for the sake of it, and there's no sex with Jane before they're properly married.

The third part, the sequel to Jane Eyre feels like a very long epilogue more than a story in itself. It chronicles the time from the marriage until the end of their days, and there's no real story arc through it as such, other than their lives together. We find out how they sought medical advice in London with regards to regaining Rochester's eyesight, the number of children they had and those children growing up, Adèle's relationship with the family and her growing up and starting a family, and Rochester and Jane growing older, so in a way, it's more biographical. Still, it's the most enjoyable and realistic sequel I've come across, so this isn't exactly something that spoiled my enjoyment of the novel. Not at all. The very ending of the book, which I won't say what it was, brought tears to my eyes - and it's very rarely that a book makes me cry. It was fitting ending to the story and it was beautiful.

As the novel drew to a close, I couldn't help but feel it's a fantastic accompaniment to Jane Eyre as well as a novel in its own right, and it will be difficult to find something to top it. When I started reading derivatives, I wanted to write about Rochester and how he became the person he was, because no one seemed to understand him. I wasn't even half-way through part one when I gave up the idea of "if no one can do it properly, I'll do it myself" because after reading Jane Eyre's Husband there's simply no need. The desire has gone away, justice has been done and Tara Bradley has said everything that needed to be said about him, and more. If someone was to ask me what I think happened to Mr. and Mrs. Rochester and how their life together worked out, I'd give them the answer Bradley's given, because it just seems like the right thing to have happened. The characters and their lives have been completed.

The only downside of having read Jane Eyre's Husband is that I have real difficulties watching any Jane Eyre adaptations now. None of the actors look right, and as much as I love Toby Stephens' portayal, even he doesn't quite cut it now. "He's very good, but he looks nothing like Rochester, and … no, it's not right!" But if that's the price I pay for having read the definitive prequel, re-telling and sequel to the greatest love story of all time … well, I can live with that. This is a novel that every fan of Brontë's original should read. I hope it will be available in print as well sooner or later, so that it can reach those without a Kindle e-reader or a device with the Kindle software. I'm sure Charlotte Brontë would have loved it, and I'm sure you will too.

Review by Traxy Thornfield.

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  1. Thanks for the extensive review of this wonderful book (which, BTW, does NOT need to be compared to anyone else's, because "Jane Eyre's Husband" stands miles above all the others, full stop!).

    I hope "Jane Eyre's Husband" will get the wide readership it deserves among those who love Charlotte Bronte's original story. Spread the word, Bronte lovers!

  2. I bought my very first Kindle in March just so I could read this book! I'm slowly working my way through it - slowly, because I savor and re-read each chapter and because I don't want it to end -- and I totally agree with you. You've written the review I would have written. Tara Bradley's book is "the definitive prequel, re-telling and sequel to the greatest love story of all time" and all those who love "Jane Eyre" owe it to themselves to read this wonderful book.


    Thank you, Traxy, Anonymous, and Rhubarb's Mom. Everybody come visit us on YouTube and Facebook!

  4. I downloaded the free software that Amazon provides to read kindle books just so I can read this one. I loved it. It is such a beautiful story that I couldn't put down. Mrs. Bradley nailed the characters so well and I think she has written possibly the definitive version of what happened to the characters as well as the filled in details of Grace Poole, Bertha, Celine, the other mistresses, and much more. Thankfully there is a book that explores all the themes of Jane Eyre and expands them. Now, will it please get into print so that it can sit next to my Jane Eyre book?? :)

  5. LOL, I posted as my husband just now:

    I downloaded the free software that Amazon provides to read kindle books just so I can read this one. I loved it. It is such a beautiful story that I couldn't put down. Mrs. Bradley nailed the characters so well and I think she has written possibly the definitive version of what happened to the characters as well as the filled in details of Grace Poole, Bertha, Celine, the other mistresses, and much more. Thankfully there is a book that explores all the themes of Jane Eyre and expands them. Now, will it please get into print so that it can sit next to my Jane Eyre book?? :)

  6. Thanks for reading the review! Glad the novel has spread even though it's only available on the Kindle platform. :) What I find so amazing about JEH is that it fills in the blanks in a seamless way that it makes it feel as if this is what was intended all along. Just reading the names of Rochester's parents made me think "why yes, of course those were their names!" because they fit in so well with it. Maybe the author was channeling Charlotte Brontë when writing? :)

  7. LOL! I wish that was possible! No, I'm just a Jane Eyre fanatic who didn't discover the book until I was in my thirties and then read it over and over and over and over because it was the best book I had ever read in my life. Can you say "obsession"?

  8. I did feel like Edward was telling me things, though, weird as that sounds. I could see some things so clearly in my mind and just KNEW that's how it happened. A little creepy, but very handy when you are writing.

  9. The way Tara Bradley used the first meeting of Jane and Edward in Hay Lane, at different points in the book, was incredibly beautiful. I totally agree with everything Traxy wrote about this amazing book, but especially about the parts related to illness and injury. As a nurse, I couldn't help but think Ms. Bradley must be a health care professional because of the insight she has into disease processes, as well as the history of nursing.

    Also, I loved the way Ms. Bradley developed the relationship between Carter, the surgeon, and Edward. It takes on a lovely dimension in later years, through their children. When I finished the book, I wanted to know what happened next to that generation.

  10. nicole poirier2/21/2012 03:19:00 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! I am pretty Jane Eyre obsessed myself and read JEH side by side with JE and I am so impressed with how perfectly they correspond! Love Love Loved it!

  11. just finished a few minutes ago to read the book, and by the end, my face was soaked with tears that kept running down, and I ended up actually sobbing. I absolutely loved the book, completely addictive I couldn't put it down. I bought it on wednesday and finished it today (I would have finished it earlier if I didn't have a job lol). Having read Jane Eyre about 3 times, and while I've read lots of fan fictions are very ill written and get the characters wrong, I checked reviews for this one, and I could barely find a negative one. Everybody seemed to like it, and so I bought it for my tablet.

    This story is compelling from the very first page, even from the prologue, the focus on Rochester's feelings every page make it very captivating. I could tell this book did justice to all the characters, and I grew to love Edward Rochester even more than I already did, and Jane too. English is not my first language so Mrs. Bronte's writing is a little difficult for me, but the way this book is written, a bit more modernized, is far easier to read for me, and it didn't loose the the essence at all. This book fills up the gaps the original story has, some minor, some large that are barely mentioned in the original novel. I enjoyed many characters that have a minor role in the book, but are way more important in this one (ie: Carter, Grace, Céline, etc...) and the impact each one of them had on Rochester at some point in his life.

    I was thrilled and exhausted from all the waves of emotions that I was experiencing reading it, and by the time the book reaches the end of Jane Eyre's original novel (reader, I married him..), my heart was overwhelmed by the beautiful and deep love the characters felt for each other, and Mrs. Bradley makes sure to mention that all the time in many different ways.

    My humble advise, is to anybody who enjoys Jane Eyre and wish there would be more of the story, do not skip this book, it's beautifully written and the character blossom under Mrs. Bradley quill.