Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

I’m the first to admit that I am no expert on the Brontes. I have visited the Parsonage at Haworth, of course, and “Jane Eyre” is my absolute favourite book. I have also read Jean Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea”, the ‘prequel’ to “Jane Eyre”. I read “Wuthering Heights” years ago and have seen a television adaptation of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. That is pretty much my limit.

I bought this book because, as I said, “Jane Eyre” is my favourite novel of any I have read bar none and anything about that novel would appeal to me. Having watched “Becoming Jane” on tv, about Jane Austen, I suppose I assumed it would be something like that. It isn’t. This is a very well-written, beautifully told story of Charlotte Bronte and her life with her father and younger sisters Emily and Anne, and their attempts to make a name for themselves with their writing while trying to cope with the restraints placed on them by Victorian society, the constant rejections of the publishers and the increasingly impossible behaviour of their drug-addicted brother Branwell.

The story starts with Charlotte and her father at lodgings in Manchester where Patrick Bronte is recovering from a tortuous operation to restore his sight. Charlotte sits alone with him day after day, night after night, her pen scratching away as she begins the story of what will become the classic novel “Jane Eyre”. The story Charlotte is creating is cleverly interspersed with her own story – her doomed love for her ‘Master’, her quiet devastation as her novel is rejected while Emily’s and Anne’s are accepted, her deep love for Branwell which turns to despair and dislike, and her journey to London to finally tell the world that she is Currer Bell, the mysterious author of the most talked about book in society.

The tragedy of the Brontes is told in an understated, effective way and the book is gentle and quiet yet with an undercurrent of passion, a sense of injustice and a determination that reflects Charlotte herself and indeed her heroine Jane Eyre. This is a lovely book and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever read and loved “Jane Eyre”, or wondered how such a book came to be written by an unmarried, Victorian parson’s daughter…4.5/5

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