Head canon accepted.
Seriously. This is so exactly what I wanted from a book about Mr. Rochester, the Byronic, enigmatic love interest from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Which happens to be my favorite book. It fills in gaps, explains little quirks and questions, and fleshes out even more fully the man who loves my favorite literary heroine.
(This contains spoilers for this book as well as for Jane Eyre. You've been warned.)
This book starts when Edward Fairfax Rochester is just a boy, rattling around Thornfield Hall, lonely and wishing for notice or affection from his older brother Rowland and their father. It traces his youth at an unusual boarding school, his growth toward manhood while learning to manage a business, and then his disastrous trip to Jamaica. It's there that he's swept up into a whirlwind courtship of the stunning Bertha Mason, married to her almost before he's aware of what he's doing, and then gradually overwhelmed by her growing madness.
Shoemaker beautifully explains things like why Mr. Rochester would bring his mad wife to England, why he would keep her in his own home, why he insists that Jane call him Edward even though everyone else calls him Fairfax Rochester. She even softens his attempted bigamy in a way I hadn't expected, giving him a possible way out of his marriage to Bertha (which does not quite come to pass after all) that prompts him to propose to Jane. That also involved a twist I wasn't expecting, but that definitely worked with the original book.
I also liked that it showed by Mr. Rochester was not fond of his ward Adele, even to the point of rudeness at times. In this book, she is most decidedly shown not to be his daughter, rather having him decide to become her protector after her mother died so that Adele would not be turned into a child prostitute.
If you like books showing another person's point of view of events in a well-known, well-loved story, and especially if you love Jane Eyre, this book will probably delight you too. Be aware that this IS a book for adults, however, as I will detail below.
Particularly Good Bits:
"That settles it!" Miss Kent interrupted. "Music and reading! What better way to spend an evening" (p. 107-08).
I shall say this for her: certainly, unlike some women, her view of marriage was not dictated by the fanciful romantic vision of a Jane Austen novel (p. 407). (This made me laugh because Bronte was not an Austen fan. I happen to think Austen has a particularly clear-eyed view of marriage, more than Rochester himself, but still, made me chuckle.)
If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R. It has numerous discussions of people having sex, though it is not explicit. It deals with slavery and the fact that some slave owners would force themselves on their female slaves. It also has two instances of the F-word and some other bad language. And the descriptions of madness, of mad houses, and of the usual treatment of mad people at that time are a bit hard to take at times. There is also mention of teenage pregnancy and children born out of wedlock.