on 16 July 2010
Rarely do I throw a book away from me in disgust, but this one got hurled across the landing. Dear oh dear. "Is it really that bad?" you ask. Primarily yes. It didn't have me cringe straight away. In fact, I could live with Jane's uncharacteristic behaviour up until about page 50 when it started to get a bit too overbearing.
The book starts at Ferndean, where the Rochesters have lived their Happily Ever Afters for the past decade. Then Mr Rochester decides to rebuild Thornfield Hall, so they can move there instead. Immediately, Jane turns into Mrs Angst because she never liked the place and it brings back sooo many dreadful memories, and angst angst angst, she prefers staying at Ferndean, where she's got a little garden with a veg patch going on. Let's make this perfectly clear: original Jane loved Thornfield.
Jane and Edward have a son, Jonathan, and he stays with some friends around Ferndean, because they have a tutor, and Jane is pregnant. And despite her being overbearingly anxious about moving back to Thornfield, they do. And it's downhill from there.
If you're bothered by *** SPOILERS ***, stop reading now. On the other hand, my sincerest recommendation is that you refuse to read this book, in which case, it won't matter. Read the bits below to see exactly why you shouldn't suffer the pain it would cause you. I've read "Mrs. Rochester" so that you don't have to.
A mysterious French lady arrives in Britain, and she takes up residence in Hay, the village nearest to Thornfield. Madame Roland is a friend of Céline Varens, but she's also - get ready to cringe - a previously totally unknown (and sane) sister of Bertha and Richard Mason. If that's not bad enough, she's come to get money off Rochester - because there was some sort of pre-nuptial agreement that if Bertha were to die without leaving an heir, her dowry would go back to the Mason family. Seeing as how Bertha died childless and under Suspicious Circumstances (Rochester is accused of having started the fire himself) and the Masons happen to have come into financial difficulties, they're trying to get their money back, and Rochester ain't giving.
Rochester is gone for most of the novel, and when he shows up, he's a cold brute. This is the same man who is so passionately in love with a woman he'll commit bigamy to be with her? It doesn't add up. There's only about one scene in the book where he's anywhere near what he realistically should be like as the loving husband of his soul mate. And then he buggers off again without a word to say where he's going!
One of the things that angsty Mrs Angst goes into a hissy fit about is the fact that Mr Rochester happens to come across Grace Poole on the streets of Manchester, and as she's basically homeless and in a right state, he takes her back to Thornfield and appoints her the position as housekeeper, as Mrs Fairfax is old and retired and all that. Jane hardly dares to speak with Grace Poole, and eventually ends up firing her, on one of those occasions where Mr Rochester's away.
As Jane is walking through the snow to the church and is on the brink of exhaustion, someone familiar comes to her aid: St John Rivers. He decided to come back to Britain and has popped by to say hello. So, basically, his declining health and implied death are null and void. Not to mention his stubborn piety and cold personality. No, here he's rather sympathetic and not despotic or anything. GAAAAH!!!
What about little Adèle? OH THE HUMANITY! The little French girl hated Jane (HUMBUG!) and is longing for her maman and wants her to come back and marry Mr Rochester so they can be a proper family. (Not like they told her Céline had gone to the "Holy Virgin" in the original ...)
Adèle has been to school in Switzerland and now that she's back home, she's bored. Jane is as dull as ever, and Adèle prefers the company of (now married) Blanche Ingram, and who is much more intriguing. Adèle runs to London, where she meets with Rochester and Céline (who's all famous and in town because of that), and they play happy families for a bit. Jane finds out about it through Blanche, and goes incredibly broody over it to the point of making me want to gag.
Adèle was never pleased when Jane came along all those years ago, especially not when she discovered Jane's in the way of Adèle's Happily Ever After. Bertha, however, is the REAL problem. She's Rochester's WIFE, and if Rochester's married, it means he can't marry Céline Varens. So Bertha has to be removed from the equation somehow ... sooooo: Guess who set fire to Thornfield! Go on, have a guess. Take a wild stab at it. *bangs head on desk* AND ROCHESTER KNEW! That's why he keeps being so fuzzy whenever the subject's brought up! Céline Varens shows up in the end, only to find her true daughter of Paris on her death bed, because she's only tried to set fire to Thornfield once again. *bangs head on desk again*
It's absolutely DREADFUL!
The writing as such isn't bad, but Hilary Bailey has got the characters completely wrong - ALL of them - and the story is so implausible if you look at who the characters in the original are and what they would do that "Mrs. Rochester" should make any "Jane Eyre" purist want to cry. I felt physical pain reading the bloody thing, and hurling it across the landing didn't quite make up for it.
"Mrs. Rochester" clashes with Charlotte Brontë's original novel terribly, nauseatingly, offensively and so on. It's just WRONG. As a book, fair enough, it's alright. As a "Jane Eyre" sequel, let alone "the" sequel? Hell no. It would make Charlotte Brontë cry with despair over how her darling characters were treated.