Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"Mr. Rochester" by Sarah Shoemaker

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.

15 comments:

  1. I may have to read this. I've always wanted a book from his POV, but I can't stand the thought of reading Wild Sargasso Sea. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charity, same! Wide Sargasso Sea sounds like I would just be protesting the whole time, but this... fit.

      Delete
  2. I generally shy away from fanfic entirely, but this looks like it miiiight be an exception at some point. It's intriguing.

    (Hee, and your Austen paragraph made me laugh. Glad we agree on all points there! xD)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heidi, I do too, but several people whose tastes are similar to mine insisted this book was worth reading, and I'm so glad I took their advice.

      And yes, I felt like that line was a little inside joke of sorts for those who know something about Charlotte Bronte. It was nifty.

      Delete
  3. I'm now in graduate school and will not have room for this any time soon, but I am certainly hoping to keep it in mind for the future!

    Hamlette, you might recall I was working on a study of Jane Eyre for my senior seminar and contacted you for secondary source recommendations...would you be interested in reading my finished seminar, since you love the book at least as much as I do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Justice, that's the great thing about books, isn't it? They wait for you to be ready for them.

      I do remember that! Are you looking for feedback?

      Delete
    2. Well, not really! The seminar is long finished and got highest marks, but I'd be glad to hear what you think. :) I was mostly offering because I thought you might enjoy an essay on Jane Eyre that looks at it from a Christian angle.

      Delete
    3. Justice, okay! Because I was going to have to decline if you wanted/needed feedback, as I am swamped at the moment... but read it for pleasure? Absolutely!!! You can email it to me at rachelkovaciny at gmail dot com if that works for you?

      Delete
    4. Yay, I'll send it your way soon! :)

      Delete
  4. Ahh, the eternal rivalry between the styles of Bronte and Austen. Fun times. :-P

    I'm glad this was a good origin story!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Olivia, yesssss, it cracks me up, because I love them both, hee!

      I was so pleased with this book that I pretty much don't want to read any other books about Mr. Rochester because, as I said, I accepted this as my headcanon and I'm good to go.

      Delete
  5. "Jane Eyre" isn't one of my favorites, but it's given rise to several good novels, and this sounds like another one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John Smith, this is the only direct pastiche or retelling of Jane Eyre I've read, though I know Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is generally considered a retelling of it, so I guess that would make two. Have you read others?

      Delete
    2. I can't really see "Rebecca" as a retelling of "Jane Eyre," although I know it's "thematically similar." With "Jane Eyre"-derived books, I'm probably mostly thinking of "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys, which was made into an okay 1993 movie with Nathaniel Parker.

      Delete
    3. John Smith, interesting! Although du Maurier left no statements about deliberately reworking JE into her own novel, the similarities are too similar to overlook. If you're interested, I find this article and this one to be pretty fascinating takes on the subject.

      I've decided against reading Wide Sargasso Sea after reading reviews that convinced me I would find it distasteful. But I know many people do admire it.

      Delete

What do you think?

Comments on old posts are always welcome!

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)