Novel: How Charlotte Bronte Created Jane Eyre

I recently (spring 2011) stumbled on Sheila Kohler's 2009 biographical novel Becoming Jane Eyre. This seemed like a rare find; I had no idea yet how large the universe of Bronte-related fiction was. Anyway, I decided to peruse Kohler's version of how Jane Eyre came to be. My review is below. 

Becoming Jane Eyre:

Semi-Realistic Fiction?

 

(Sadly, a computer crash destroyed my original version of this review, so I will hit just a few of the most important notes here.)

 

Sheila Kohler, an accomplished writer and researcher, turned her talents toward this tale of Charlotte Brontë's young adulthood, and how real-life events inspired some parts of her masterwork Jane Eyre.

 

The fictional Charlotte spends much of her time and energy caring for, and about, her blinded father and dissolute brother. She and her sisters escape their cruel environment by working on novels and by supporting (and occasionally arguing with) each other.

 

Her thoughts are largely occupied by her attraction to a former teacher (the basis for "Mr. Rochester"), her struggles to protect her alcoholic and drug-abusing brother (framework for "John Reed"), and the mixed blessings brought upon her by the acclaim for Jane Eyre. Her success as an author is largely obliterated by many family members' tragic fates.

 

Kohler's intricate prose and eye for detail make the story realistic and plausible. We're privy not just to Charlotte's hopes and fears, but also to scene-enhancing details such as the color of draperies and type of chandelier in her publisher's dining room. It's easy to produce mental images of these settings.

 

Still, while the book struck me as competently written and largely believable, it has a near-fatal aspect: it is boring. Whereas Brontë's heroine Jane was a woman of powerful emotion and passionate speech and action, Kohler's Charlotte spends too much time pondering her circumstances and too little time doing anything about them. In that respect, this fictionalized author falls too far short of her creation.