Jane Eyre’s Daughter by Elizabeth Newark (1997)

Book review: Jane Eyre’s Daughter by Elizabeth Newark (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008 [1997])

A passionate young woman of high courage …

In this sequel to Jane Eyre, young Janet Rochester is consigned to Highcrest Manor and the guardianship of the strict Colonel Dent while her parents journey to the West Indies. As Janet struggles to make a life for herself, guided by the ideals of her parents, she finds herself caught up in the mysteries of Highcrest.

Why is the East Wing forbidden to her? What lies behind locked gates? And what is the source of the voices she hears in hte night? Can she trust the enigmatic Roderick Landless, or should she transfer her allegiance to the suave and charming Sir Hugo Calendar?

Whether riding her mare on the Yorkshire moors, holding her own with Colonel Dent, or waltzing at her first ball, Janet is strong, sympathetic, and corageous.

After all, she is her mother’s daughter …

This is a pretty good book and it has some nice parallels with the original, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Not to say it’s without it’s problems.

Doth contain elements of spoilerage.

It starts out with Janet Rochester, the daughter of Jane and Edward. She had read her mother’s memoirs (i.e. Jane Eyre), and sure, that works. The name Janet also works. What doesn’t work for me is how Jane (Eyre) as a mother cares very little for her daughter, who perhaps looks a bit too much like herself – plain and little. Instead, she dotes on the son, who is the spitting image of his father, leaving Rochester to dote on his daughter. It has “dysfunctional” written all over it. I just can’t believe the Jane Charlotte Brontë wrote about would be so callous toward her own offspring as to basically do her best to ignore her. It doesn’t sit right with me. Rochester seems more like the father I believe he would be.

If you’re detecting a certain hint of reverse Oedipus complex in the Jane/Edward Jr relationship, you’d be right. If you’re wondering if there’s also a case of Electra complex with regards to Janet and her father – damn straight there is. In fact, the book could just as well be called Jane Eyre’s Daughter: The Electra Complex, because in parts, Janet’s love for her father gets rather creeptastic and squicky. Did I imagine things or did the author actually allude to Janet getting her own rocks off while thinking of her dad? It was really a case of “wait, did that just say what I think it said? o.O Eww, that is WRONG!” (If anyone reads this who is a fellow member of a certain online roleplaying game and who might therefore be familiar with a couple of my characters and their … unorthodox relationship: yes, there is definitely a limit to that sort of thing, even for me. :P)

Aaaaanyway.

Jane, Edward and their son go sailing around the world, because it’s something they’ve always wanted to do and Edward’s getting on a bit. The daughter is put in a London boarding school for girls, which to me has echoes of Madame Beck’s Pensionnat in Villette. Especially since one of the characters have much the same name as one of the girls in Villette, but I can’t remember if it’s Ginevra or Fanshawe. I think there was even a Paulina. One of the school girls is an offspring of Blanche Ingram. Janet doesn’t get on with her at all, surprise surprise.

Speaking of Villette, every chapter begins with a little vignette which has a fitting quote from all of Charlotte Brontë’s novels, except for perhaps The Professor. Very nice touch! And a very pretty-looking book as well. Nice design.

When saving the day on horseback, because she’s such a fabulous rider (takes after her dad), Janet encounters a Mr. Calendar and his sister, who turn out to be the people who have rented Thornfield Hall (rebuilt) in the absence of the Rochesters. I saw those two coming a mile off, and when their Big Lurking Secret was revealed, I burst out laughing. I had been right all along. My mind can be surprisingly dirty sometimes. (As well the aforementioned roleplayers know.) So I wasn’t shocked but rather … amused, not to mention semi-hoping Newark would write a whole book about them. Doubt that would ever happen, but y’know, it’d be an interesting read. Bizarre and bonkers and probably oodles of squicky too. Yay!

Where was I? Oh yes, there is a Cunning Plan, so that if the Rochesters should happen to disappear on their voyage, Janet becomes the ward of Colonel Dent, Rochester’s old chum, at Highcrest Manor, close to Thornfield. There, Janet comes across a Mystery, which – once it’s finally revealed – is a big anticlimax. It’s not exactly on par with hiding your mad wife in the attic.

Meanwhile, Janet is being groomed by creepy Mr. Calendar while falling in love with Roderick “I don’t know who my father is” Landless (oh snap what a blatantly obvious name), who just happens to be the spitting image of dear ol’ Daddy Rochester. Could he perhaps be her half-brother, the legitimate offspring of Rochester and Bertha Mason? Could he? Could he? I’m surprised no one in the book thought of the alternative explanation, which I thought was pretty obvious and which turned out to be true, to be honest.

I like the way Janet and Roderick meet the first time – so Hay Lane it put a big smile on my face. There are several things like that which I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed the writing and the tone and a lot of other things about this book, even though it might not sound like it from the above comments. It’s actually a well done Jane Eyre sequel, and if the only major criticism I have against it is “but Jane wouldn’t be like that”, well, I can live with that. Perhaps it also helps that Jane and Rochester only make very brief appearances in the book. This is the story of their daughter, after all.

It’s a nice little Victorian mystery/love story, starring the 18-year-old daughter of a much loved Victorian literature couple. It kind of works. It was a quick and fairly engaging read, and there were similarities with the original. In a way, it’s Jane Eyre. With added incest. So yeah. Look through that and it’s a fairly decent novel under the bonnet. 3 out of 5 far-too-friendly families.

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