by Jane Stubbs
Amazon / Goodreads
The Rochesters are very good at keeping secrets...
Thornfield Hall, 1821. Alice Fairfax takes up her role as housekeeper of the estate. But when Mr Rochester presents her with a woman who is to be hidden on the third floor, she finds herself responsible for much more than the house.
This is the story Jane Eyre never knew - a narrative played out on the third floor and beneath the stairs, as the servants kept their master's secret safe and sound.
Review:This was such a disappointing read for me. While initially I was enjoying it - the account of the elder Mr. Rochester (the present Mr. Rochester's father) was interesting and Mrs. Fairfax - a poor widow, forced into service from her previous status as gentry - felt true to the vision of the original book Jane Eyre. When Bertha was introduced, I also felt like it was a sensitive portrait of a woman who has had a lot of hardships, but who is quite definitely dangerous at times (she seemed so initially) and that made me feel like this would be an intelligent reworking of Jane Eyre from the servant's point of view. Sadly as the story developed, the believability of this novel as a retelling of Jane Eyre became lost. Jane herself, was painted in such an unappealing way - as a pert, uptight thing - so naive in her innocence as to be almost stupid. Mrs. Fairfax seemed unable to truly respect her, yet she had the utmost respect for Bertha and Grace Poole. Jane's life and her story seemed trivialized in the extreme, especially with how this novel twists the events to make pretty much everything Jane believed to be inaccurate.
It was incomprehensible to me as well to see Bertha in this new light - someone who is a little simple, but not really dangerous - actually quite gentle, and yet there had to be a culprit behind the fires and the attacks at Thornfield, so a new female servant was created to serve that purpose. I didn't understand what was wrong with the original, that the story couldn't have kept Bertha as the perpetrator yet in the more ambiguous light of an unfortunate woman with dangerous tendencies. Basically the story made anyone, who was seen in a negative light in the original story, out to be more sympathetic and unfortunate in this book. And the only way I could find that believable is if I completely disregard all my knowledge of the original book.
While the writing and the detail of this book was good, I really could not get into this revision of Jane Eyre because of how thoroughly it alters every positive outcome of the novel. Even Mrs. Fairfax, who is a decent, God-fearing woman in the beginning of this book and in the original Jane Eyre, becomes a reluctant manipulative liar, who is not above selling out someone completely innocent - namely Jane Eyre - just for security. There were many times I wanted to stop reading because it made me very sad to be forced to see these characters twisted so. Even though Mrs. Fairfax does bear a conscience about the things that she does, it is just too unbelievable to me that she could be so careless of others, while carrying her bible with her at all times. And yet she looks down at the clergyman Mr. Wood for catering to the gentry, when she does so much worse.
Obviously my main problem with this book reflects how much I love the original novel and how much I disagree with this vision of Jane Eyre. So this is a very personal dislike of a novel that does keep your interest and is paced well and has some (unbelievable) twists. While the story is focused on Thornfield Hall, there is really very little secondary accounting of Rochester and Jane's romance - the focus is more on the plight of one unfortunate madwoman and of servants (especially female servants) in this time period. If this sounds like an interesting story to you and you are intrigued by seeing Bertha Mason redeemed or by a lightweight reworking of Jane Eyre in the vein of the novel Wide Sargasso Sea, then this might be a good read for you.
Just some thoughts on a few things about this novel that probably would not come as a complete surprise as twists in a retelling of Jane Eyre, but in case you are planning to read it, it's probably best that you don't read what is below. [Highlight to read]
The biggest issue I have with this book is that Bertha is alive by the end, and Mrs. Fairfax knows this and still allows Jane and Mr. Rochester the fiction of Bertha's death and lets them be married. Which is AWFUL - she is supposed to be a good person! After all that Jane has been through to avoid bigamy and becoming a mistress, she gets right back into it by the end. And Mrs. Fairfax is zero percent remorseful about that. Of course Mrs. Fairfax also knew that Bertha was Mr. Rochester's wife while Jane was living at Thornfield which I don't believe at all to be the truth of the original story, but of course in this book she doesn't mention it to Jane at all. Just awful. I found Mrs. Fairfax's reasoning for doing this to be very weak.