Kirkus Reviews – Becoming Jane Eyre

Review Date: OCTOBER 15, 2009

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 256

Price (paperback): $15.00

Publication Date: 1/1/2010 0:00:00

ISBN: 978-0-14-311597-7

ISBN (paperback): 978-0-14-311597-7

Category: FICTION

A star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors of Kirkus Reviews.

Kohler (Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness, 2007, etc.) crafts a character from the creator of one of English literature’s most vital protagonists.

With Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte helped create a new kind of fiction by combining Gothic sensibility and a boldly unconventional, audaciously realistic heroine. She presented vivid scenes of madness, cruelty and passion rooted in the lived experiences of women who were expected to be tractable, gentle and—above all, perhaps—quiet. The emotional tumult Bronte depicted spilled beyond the pages of her novel: Readers were captivated while critics were horrified. Kohler offers an imaginative recreation of the woman who created this once-scandalous, now beloved classic. Bronte’s life was as filled with tragedy as any Romantic protagonist’s. Her mother died when she was a girl, and her two eldest sisters died at the harsh boarding school where Charlotte and Emily were also students. While studying in Belgium, Charlotte fell in love with her married teacher. Her brother Branwell’s alcoholism, opium addiction and generally dissolute behavior were a constant source of anxiety and sadness for the whole Bronte family. Envisioning how these experiences shaped Charlotte’s work, the author does not try to reproduce her subject’s fiery prose. Instead, she maintains a calm tone, quiet enough to catch the sound of pencil scratching on paper. Bronte is an ideal subject for examining the intersection of an author’s life and work: Writing was, for her, as natural as breathing, but she lived in an era that generally denied women a voice. Kohler’s exploration of this paradox is sensitive, intelligent and engaging.

A beautiful complement to Bronte’s masterpiece.