JANE EYRE’S THIRTY-EIGHTH CHAPTER
By Libby Sternberg
For the past month, I’ve been blogging and talking about my fall release, Sloane Hall, a historical novel set in old Hollywood and inspired by Charlotte’ Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
I loved Jane Eyre when I first encountered the book as a young reader. That love stayed with me as I matured, and I found myself reading it over and over. Never did Bronte disappoint. But, after so many reads, the book did fail to surprise! I wanted so badly to experience the highs and lows of the story that I decided to retell it, or rather, to write a book that was inspired by this classic romance. My goal was to recreate the emotional journey of the original story while telling a completely fresh tale. I hoped other Jane Eyre fans would be able to lose themselves in my book while experiencing anew the emotional moments that had delighted, saddened or moved them in Bronte’s story.
Sloane Hall is a real “book of my heart,” one that I labored over for a long time, going through numerous revisions. It’s been gratifying to see my love reciprocated in some beautiful reviews. One of them, from the Bronte Blog, touched me deeply:
“Libby Sternberg's intelligent and intriguing Jane Eyre reimagining has achieved two of the most difficult goals in a novel: being a page turner and paying a worthy tribute to Charlotte Brontë's immortal story.”Fresh Fiction wrote:
“Sternberg never loses sight of the story she's re-telling, but this novel is definitely her own. Readers have things to figure out and look forward to. Her prose flows beautifully with vivid descriptions of people and places, bringing to life a Los Angeles of times gone by. Fans of historical fiction and Jane Eyre in particular will relish this novel, and readers who enjoy a love story should definitely pick this one up.”Jane Eyre fans have commented on numerous blog posts about their love of the original story, and I’ve enjoyed hearing from them and others when I’ve spoken about Sloane Hall.
At a recent presentation, however, I met a reader who did not count Jane Eyre among her favorites even though she knew it extremely well. The reason for her antipathy is encapsulated in the opening of Chapter Thirty-Eight. Here’s the first sentence of that chapter:
“Reader, I married him.”Oh, this particular woman didn’t cite that line precisely, but her problem with Bronte’s story was the fact that this wonderfully self-reliant, strong, intelligent woman, Jane, decides in the end to hitch her wagon to an older, gruffer man who might or might not be worthy of her.
Some other readers, I’ve discovered, balk at this turn of events, too. They see in Jane a feminist prototype, a woman making her way in a man’s world, who does not succumb to the temptations a rich, strong man offers her if it means sacrificing her identity and integrity.
When I read the book many years ago, I have to admit these implications didn’t affect my appreciation of it. To me, the book was a love story, pure and simple, not a power struggle. Yes, I knew that it involved power and social class—that Jane was just as good, if not better than, Rochester, but because of her station, she knew it was unlikely a man of Rochester’s class would marry her, even if she was his equal in every other way.
That part of the story to me was no different from situations in many contemporary novels where the hero and heroine come from different worlds, or at least, worldviews. How many books are there where the heroine is poor and the hero wealthy? Or where the heroine is from a different social milieu than the hero (Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca comes to mind in this regard). That was the kind of story I saw in Jane Eyre.
Nonetheless, when I penned my own version, I was by then aware of the weight of those four words at the beginning of Chapter Thirty-Eight, how they stick in the craw of Eyre fans who wanted to see Jane live a more independent life equal to but apart from Rochester. I wanted to use those words in a different way in my novel, to demonstrate a contrasting point of view—that of a lover willing to sacrifice mightily, risking potential inner happiness and peace, on a chance at love. In my story, the power struggle is internal, not external, not between hero and heroine but between inner demons and better angels.
I hope I achieved this goal. As readers become familiar with Sloane Hall, I hope they’ll let me know if my reimagining works for them!
Libby's blog at is at www.LibbysBooks.wordpress.com and her website is www.LibbysBooks.com. At both sites, you can read the first two chapters for free. Friend her on Facebook at Libby Sternberg, or email her at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com.