Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is one of literature’s most fascinating books – certainly I’ve read it a good few times and love it. In fact, when people ask what my favourite book is, this is it, this is the one – only Wuthering Heights by Charlotte’s sister, Emily, comes anywhere close. So, when I found out Luccia Gray had written a sequel to it, I was intrigued and had to read it. I’ll let Luccia herself tell you all about why she wrote it and what it’s about but suffice to say it was wonderful being back in Jane’s world again as it twists and turns in several surprising ways. Take it away, Luccia…
When I first read Jane Eyre, I was fascinated by Jane’s character and fortitude. She was an orphan who grew up in a hostile family, with her cruel Aunt Reed and her spiteful cousins. She later survived physical and emotional hardships, such as sickness, malnutrition, and humiliation, at Lowood Institution, yet she was determined and intelligent enough to become a teacher there. At eighteen, she had the resoluteness and optimism to apply for a job as a governess in order to gain further independence.
I was naturally overjoyed when she seemingly found true love in Mr. Rochester, and devastated to learn that not only was he already married, but that he had imprisoned his mad wife in his windowless attic at Thornfield Hall, in the care of the drunken Grace Poole. Then Jane’s hardships started anew. She abandoned Thornfield and was forced to beg for a job and shelter. I was overjoyed that she found Mary, Diana, and St. John, who were cousins, as yet unknown to her.
I was relieved that she didn’t accept St. John’s proposal, and mesmerized by her ability to hear Mr. Rochester call her across the Moors in a moonlit night. When she inherited her Uncle John’s fortune and shared it with her cousins, it was obvious that her life was on the mend. When she finally travelled back to Thornfield Hall and discovered that it had been burnt down and Bertha Mason was dead, I knew Jane would be rewarded with a happy ending, and she was. ‘Reader, I married him,” she told us, and I sighed with immense relief and joy.
I was about fourteen at the time. Jane was blind because she was nineteen and in love, and I was blind because I was young enough to believe Jane’s happiness would be eternal.
Twenty years later, an English Teacher from Denmark, Anne, suggested I read Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, and that’s when I understood that every story has two sides, at least. I started wondering what kind of a man Rochester really was, and if Jane’s happiness would have lasted.
Sixteen years later, when I was a College Professor, preparing my classes on Postcolonial Literature in English, I realized there was a counter narrative in which the colonial cultures wrote their way back into world history, which the dominant Europeans had written.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, it took me a long time to realize that Jane Eyre did not tell the whole story. I was almost fifty. I suppose it took me that long to acquire the life experience, and academic and literary knowledge to realize that Jane Eyre was unfinished for two reasons: the arbitrary (albeit necessary) choice of end point, and the spaces left within the narrative.
Jane was only nineteen, when the main events occurred, and probably just a couple of years older when the autobiography was written. The last few paragraphs of Jane Eyre, where she moves the story on a few years, are a couple of rushed and imprecise paragraphs. The last we are told is that Rochester recovers his eye-sight and has his first-born son in his arms. It’s an open ended story, because the rest of their marriage is open to discussion.
That’s when I realized that Orson Wells had the key to a happy ending: ‘If you want a happy ending, that depends on where you stop the story.’
Charlotte Bronte stopped where she wanted to stop, but Jane Eyre, like all works of art belong to the beholder, and readers are free to reinterpret any work of art. I am neither the first nor the last to do so. I’ve written a post about this called sequels, prequels, reinterpretations, rewritings, and writing back, which deals with this topic in greater depth.
The second reason follows on from the first. I agree with Derrida that ‘there is nothing outside the text’. Everything I have written is based on the spaces between the lines of Jane Eyre. I’ve created an intertextual and diachronic mélange in my mind, which I have translated into a trilogy.
I had four objectives when I decided to write The Eyre Hall Trilogy:
Firstly, my aim was to expose Rochester as a tyrant and revindicate Bertha Mason as his victim. I am sure that Jane Eyre would have become another victim, given a few years, which is what is disclosed in my novel.
Secondly, I wanted to make sure that amends would be made, so Bertha’s daughter (my creation) would be reinstated, and Jane would find happiness and lasting love, with another, worthier man (my creation).
Thirdly, I’ll admit I’m an irreverent, daring, and provocative writer, who looks to her favourite writers for inspiration. The Eyre Hall Trilogy is meant as a tribute to many Victorian (and some 20th century) authors and their literary creations such as:
Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrat Browning, Robert Browning, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Thomas de Quincey, C. S. Forrester, George Elliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Daphne du Maurier, Jean Rhys, and so many more, whose works are firmly lodged in my literary mind.
Finally, I aim to write novels that will entertain readers and transport them to another time and place, to a pre-digital and pre-electronic age, where our great-great grandparents lived and loved, just as intensely as we do today, in spite of not having light-blubs, cars, phones or tablets.
If my readers are encouraged to read or reread the classics, that would be an extra bonus!
Interested? Go straight to Luccia’s Amazon page or find out more on the following links: