Book review: Charlotte: The Final Journey of Jane Eyre by DM Thomas (Duck Editions, 2000)
A manuscript is discovered purporting to be the work of Charlotte Brontë. The manuscript, both remarkable and surprising, offers a darker, alternative ending to the story of Jane and Mr Rochester in the classic Jane Eyre.
Freed from constraints of Victorian modesty and subservience, D. M. Thomas’ modern ‘Jane Eyre’ is sexually and politically enlightened, but also troubled and sometimes cruel. Jane’s damaged personality resonates at the centre of this haunting book.
D. M. Thomas uses the basic elements of Jane Eyre to tease the tangle of Victorian melodrama into a new form. By transporting the action to modern day Martinique, he examines changing patterns of slavery and colonialism. Pursuing the unforgettable characters of Jane and Rochester through time, D. M. Thomas brings them into focus for the modern reader as their sexual and moral actions are starkly and unflinchingly exposed in this deeply entertaining work of imaginative brilliance.
Hogwash. Complete and utter hogwash. Or, “what the f*** did I just read?!” if you prefer.
It’s partially a faked manuscript with an alternative ending to Jane Eyre, partially a woman’s slutty visit to Martinique and partially the woman’s father’s weird and creepy diary. The book could have been much improved if it had either a) just been an alternative look at what happened after the ‘happily ever afters’ in Jane Eyre (in which case it I would have to claw my eyes out) or b) just been about the woman shagging her way through Martinique (in which case I wouldn’t have had to read it in the first place).
This review contains SPOILERS for which I will not apologise, but would advise it’s NSFW.
In chapters one through five, we learn that Jane and Rochester didn’t live happily ever after. Oh no. The former Miss Temple comes to visit and when Jane naively asks how a baby’s supposed to spawn from a man’s finger (not a euphemism), it turns out that their marriage hasn’t been consummated, because Rochester can’t get it up. When confronting her husband about their non-intercourse, he gets angry and leaves.
He doesn’t return, because he falls off his horse and dies.
Debts rising from trying to rebuild Thornfield, Jane is left with very little, although … Grace Poole shows up at the funeral, and through her, Jane learns that her husband actually had a child with Bertha, but the child was left back on Martinique. If Jane can find him, he can inherit the Rochester fortune, as there is no other heir and Rochester never made a will. Jane decides to go to Martinique with Grace as a companion.
Then it skips to Martinique in 1999, where Miranda Stevenson is a lecturer come to give a talk on Charlotte Brontë. When she’s not busy having unprotected sex with the locals, that is. Some guy at the beach, some random sugar plantation worker she picks up by the side of the road, and a nice bloke she talks into having sex even though he’d rather not (which we later learn, not that it comes as a big surprise, is because he’s actually gay).
We also learn that Miranda, who goes around calling herself Charlotte Brontë for some time because there was a name mix-up, has a husband (who was married to someone else when they met) and two children back home in England. But nah, the one thing on Miranda’s mind is to have sex with the locals (because they’re black and therefore sooooo exotic?) as much as she can while recording it on tape, drink until she pukes and smoke a lot.
Then we learn how she once faked a manuscript for her bibliophile dad, and then there’s another chapter from Jane Eyre’s perspective, and then it’s back to Miranda getting laid in Martinique. Once she’s left the island, perspective is cut to that of her dad, writing his journal.
Through daddy’s journal, we learn that Miranda dresses up and pretends to be her dead (and insane) mum for the benefit of her dad, although, the diary assures us, they’ve never had sex. Well, thank the fuck for that. Still creepy. We also learn that Miranda’s husband doesn’t want the children’s grandfather anywhere near them because he used to “tickle” the girl in the bath. (You can guess where, right?) He used to do it to Miranda too, and she turned out okay! (The hell?)
And finally, there’s a letter from Rochester Jr to the former Miss Temple saying how he grew up (abused by a priest no less), and that Jane and Grace finally found him, and that he’s black because Bertha’s grandmother used to have it off with the slaves on occasion, and sometimes, the black genes would come through. Bertha and Rochester also had a white girl, raised in France as Adèle, but Rochester got angry with Bertha when the firstborn son was black, and thus started an evil spiral of infidelity and madness.
Rochester would keep faithful to Bertha, the love of his life, and would come for conjugal visits, and they could be rather violent. In the end, when the love of his life had died, it meant that he can’t get it up unless there’s … well, I suppose some sort of rape scenario going on. POSITIVELY CHARMING. And in the end, Jane and Rochester Jr get together (because Jr is good-looking, unlike his dad), without marrying, and live happily until Jane dies from a fever.
And to think it started out so well. At the beginning, before things go awry (and St John was madly in love with Jane because of her passionate nature and all that, by the way), it was kind of okay. Then, things started to go awry, of course, and it got worse by the minute. Then it switched to Miranda’s Martinique Sexfest, which was squicky to say the least. (In the first Miranda chapter, there’s something about her “drawing out long egg-white-like semen” from her hoo-haa, which put me off my dinner.)
Sure, Martinique was described in a lot of detail, and the writing itself wasn’t bad, but I didn’t like any of the characters, and it was way too lewd and creepy, and Miranda was kinda rapey. Maybe it’s considered as brilliant as the description will let you believe, if you see it as some sort of euphemism for slavery, or some version of Jane Eyre where Rochester is a British woman, or what have you. I just know that whatever the hell it was, it sure wasn’t pleasant.
1 out of 5 brown babies, and why did it say “SIDA” in a couple of places when they obviously meant “AIDS”?