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Jane Eyre’s Husband by Tara Bradley (2011)

Book review: Jane Eyre’s Husband – The Life of Edward Rochester by Tara Bradley (Kindle, 2011)

Jane Eyre’s Husband tells the fascinating story of Edward Rochester’s life in richly textured detail, revealing Rochester’s innermost thoughts, hopes, and passions. This is the Rochester of Charlotte Brontë’s novel: proud, arrogant, privileged, and searching for love and a better life. Beginning with his early years, then continuing to his time in Jamaica and his nightmarish first marriage, his desperate wanderings in Europe, his love for Jane Eyre and the tragedy that follows his attempt to marry her, his recovery from his injuries, and his married life with Jane, this story will take you inside the secret workings of Rochester’s mind.

Edward Rochester is one of literature’s most compelling male characters, and this book discloses Rochester’s own intimate experience of his life in vivid narrative. This is a story that is always original, while set firmly within the context of Charlotte Brontë’s work.

If you love Jane Eyre just the way it is, you will find it difficult to read derivative (fan) fiction. Invariably, the author will get the characters’ personalities wrong, misunderstand their intentions or just make a mess of the plot one way or the other. Needless to say, I downloaded this Kindle e-book expecting yet another disappointment, because Mr. Rochester is a notoriously difficult character to get right. To my surprise, it didn’t even take half a chapter before I was both hooked and intrigued. Disappointed? More like ecstatic!

Jane Eyre’s Husband, like J.L. Niemann’s Rochester, is a version of Jane Eyre told from the perspective of Edward Fairfax Rochester, but it’s so much more than that – it’s truly the life of Mr. Rochester, like a biography, only much, much more interesting to read.

The novel is split into three distinct parts, so if printed, it would work best as a trilogy, as each section could easily equate to over 300 printed pages. Part one is a prequel, stretching from before the birth of Edward Rochester, through his upbringing, his time on Jamaica and with his mistresses on the continent and ends just as the events we know from Brontë’s original are about to begin. Part two is Jane Eyre, but seen through Mr. Rochester’s eyes. Part three is a sequel, dealing with what happens to the couple during their happily ever afters.

Part one begins with establishing the marriage between Rochester’s parents, Elizabeth and John, and then moves on to the birth of little Edward, or “Neddie” as he’s known, and his wetnurse. When the wetnurse’s own baby was revealed to be called “Grace”, my first thought was “aww not again! Don’t tell me it’s Grace Poole. How predictable.” However, one thing that Bradley does very well, is to avoid the clichés every other sequel writer falls into (from not understanding distances between Thornfield and Ferndean to every sequel author’s itch to rebuild Thornfield). As it turns out, reality is a little more complex than it is predictable. The way it’s handled and is explained makes perfect sense as opposed to simply feeling gratuitous. In fact, while “Neddie” goes away to school, the story follows Grace for a while, and the story of her life could easily make for a whole separate novel, because it’s just as interesting and heart-wrenching as that of her childhood best friend.

When Edward is forced to go to Jamaica, he’s under the impression he’s there to learn about the plantation business, but of course he isn’t. There are echoes of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea for various reasons, but where Rhys got a lot of details wrong, rubbing purists the wrong way, Bradley get them right and they make sense. Perhaps Bradley’s acute attention to detail is because she’s a Jane Eyre purist herself, and that’s one of the things I love about this novel, and what makes it work where other derivatives struggle. Jane Eyre’s Husband fits in perfectly with canon. We get the story of the sham marriage as Charlotte Brontë actually described it – a young, innocent man being lured into union with a mentally ill woman, because of their fathers’ greed. Not, as Rhys had it, a brutal and harsh Englishman forcing himself on a pure little rose of a woman.

For me, the most interesting parts were the events that weren’t included in the original novel, or only briefly mentioned, such as the time on Jamaica, Rochester’s former mistresses and what happened during the fire. The level of details of Rochester’s injuries after the fire were gruesome and stomach-turning, yet realistic. In fact, any description of illness and injury feel well-researched and therefore believable.

Storytelling-wise, chapters often begin with a short overview of events happening, such as (paraphrased) “During the next three months, Edward tried to adjust to the hot climate of Jamaica and got to know Richard Mason better” (yes, it’s written in third person, and the point of view isn’t always Edward’s), I’d think “aww, I wished she’d gone into more detail about that” – but then that’s exactly what happens. The details are filled in, in a similar way to when you get “coming up in this episode” on TV and then you watch the show and see those things played out in full. Some people might find that style of writing annoying, but as long as the the details were there, I really didn’t mind. There were some parts that I wish had been elaborated on rather than only mentioned in passing, such as Edward’s time at school, but you can’t fit exactly everything in, I suppose.

The biggest selling-point of the novel, aside from being purist, well-written and a really good read regardless, is that the man Bradley writes about is the same Edward Rochester (not to mention Jane and Adèle!) I see in Brontë’s novel. He’s a good-natured young man who was dealt a harsh blow by life, which led him to years of bitterness and seeking redemption where there was none. We get to read about Céline Varens, Giacinta and Clara, and the very different relationships he had with each one. Perhaps it’s wishful and romantic thinking on both mine and Bradley’s parts, his search for “The One”, but it rang true. It portrays Rochester as the character I fell in love with, and does him justice.

While we’re on the subject, yes, there are sex scenes too – but they’re all in context, not over-used or just there for the sake of it, and there’s no sex with Jane before they’re properly married. Also, they have a great sex life, with true passion for one another, just like you’d expect. Bravo!

The third part, the sequel to Jane Eyre, feels like a very long epilogue more than a story in itself. It chronicles the time from the marriage until the end of their days, and there’s no real story arc through it as such, other than their lives together. We find out how they sought medical advice in London with regards to regaining Rochester’s eyesight, the number of children they had and those children growing up, Adèle’s relationship with the family and her growing up and starting a family, and Rochester and Jane growing older, so in a way, it’s more biographical. Still, it’s the most enjoyable and realistic sequel I’ve come across, so this isn’t exactly something that spoiled my enjoyment of the novel. Not at all. The very ending of the book, which I won’t say what it was, brought tears to my eyes – and it’s very rarely that a book makes me cry. It was fitting ending to the story and it was beautiful.

As the novel drew to a close, I couldn’t help but feel it’s a fantastic accompaniment to Jane Eyre as well as a novel in its own right, and it will be difficult to find something to top it. When I started reading derivatives, I wanted to write about Rochester and how he became the person he was, because no one seemed to understand him. I wasn’t even half-way through part one when I gave up the idea of “if no one can do it properly, I’ll do it myself” because after reading Jane Eyre’s Husband there’s simply no need. The desire has gone away, justice has been done and Tara Bradley has said everything that needed to be said about him, and more. If someone was to ask me what I think happened to Mr. and Mrs. Rochester and how their life together worked out, I’d give them the answer Bradley’s given, because it just seems like the right thing to have happened. The characters and their lives have been completed, and there is closure.

The only downside of having read Jane Eyre’s Husband is that I have real difficulties watching any Jane Eyre adaptations now. None of the actors look right, and as much as I love Toby Stephens’ portayal, even he doesn’t quite cut it now. “He’s very good, but he looks nothing like Rochester, and … no, it’s not right!” But if that’s the price I pay for having read the definitive prequel, re-telling and sequel to the greatest love story of all time … well, I can live with that.

This is a novel that every fan of Brontë’s original should read and cherish. I hope it will be available in print as well sooner or later, so that it can reach those without a Kindle e-reader or a device with the Kindle software. I’m sure Charlotte Brontë would have loved it, and I’m sure you will too.

5 out of 5 Thornfield Halls.

P.S. If you don’t have an actual Kindle device, you can download Kindle reading apps for a variety of platforms for free. So there’s really no excuse not to get this book. 🙂

P.P.S. I was going to make this into three reviews, but I’m saving that for when I re-read it. 🙂

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

22 thoughts on “Jane Eyre’s Husband by Tara Bradley (2011)

  1. Wow! It sounds great Traxy! I am so happy for you. Amazing that this version would take away your admiration for Toby Stephen’s version of Rochester. Wasn’t he your perfect screen version?

  2. It’s an amazing book, can’t say that often enough! With Toby Stephens, I found that really strange. I loved his portrayal, but when I saw bits of ’06 just after I had finished the book, it jarred something fierce. Maybe I should try it again now that it’s been a few months and see how it goes? Now I have Fassbender to compare with as well! 🙂

  3. HOORAY! 😀 Big book too, 566 pages. 🙂 Shame it can’t be got through Amazon UK. Will have to order it as a printed book though. Just because!

  4. This is a good review. In fact, it was after reading this review on Bronteblog that made me decide to read the book. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I read it to my husband as well. I’m glad that it is finally out in print. I’ll be adding it soon to my book collection :).

  5. I like the sound of this book — I’ve read Wide Sargasso Sea (and also saw the Nathaniel Parker movie) and detested it. I don’t adore Rochester (my tastes run more towards Captain Wentworth), but I’ve read the book more times than I can remember, and have never once thought Bertha’s mental and emotional problems were his fault.

  6. rapunzel77: Glad you liked the novel! 🙂

    Julie: I’d like to see the Nathaniel Parker version, just because … well, it’s Nathaniel Parker. 😉 Have ordered the ’06 version recently and will watch that as I couldn’t find the other one. Don’t care much for the book, though, so I’ll probably be enraged about watching it! Nice to hear you didn’t agree with it even if you prefer Wentworth. 🙂

  7. I just read it – and I was more than grateful it exists. the first time I read Jane Eyre was as a 12 year old (in German) – now I’m 55 and I love the book even more than I useed to, because now I understand the original and love the story as much as the words. I still have a serious crush on Edward Fairfax Rochester – and just went through Internet to watch every filmed version I could finde. My favorite is Timothy Dalton/Zelah Clarke’s version due – Dalton is an exeptional Rochester, the best actor of all of them. I love Toby Stephens as well, because he and Ruth Wilson brought more humor and passion to the story which Charlotte Brontë would have loved as well, I think. William Hurt was awful, and the new version from 2011, both had nothing to do with the original characters, they were twisted in something entirely different. And now Tara Bradley’s book! Especially after reading Ken Jones’ “Memoirs of Edward rochester” I was more than grateful for Bradley’s story. It was so close to what Brontë had told us – I totally agree with you! I love it and I will read and reread it many times, I’m sure! Great new characters, wonderfully re-discovered old ones… and some tears in the end, but no exaggerated drama… soft and true to the story!! thanks for your review, you are absolutely right!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it too! Completely agree with what you’re saying about the Rochesters. Hurt was so far from the character he might as well have played Mr Darcy or someone! Something wasn’t quite right about Fassbender either, but at least he was an improvement. 🙂

  8. Mr. Darcy? Rather Mr. Collins – or the late husband of Lady Catherine de Bourgh… Fassbender is a great actor, but totally wrong for this character – too normal, controlled, not passionate, proud, boisterous and “lost little boy”-like as Rochester should be… Tara Bradley’s Rochester is all of it… Dalton’s version was the closest to the book, though – during the declaration scene – a bit too harsh, too egotistical. And the end a bit too dry, to short… But I love Dalton’s accent (“Am I a liarrrrrin yourrreyes?”)and he is, if course, incredibly yummy. Ruth and Toby had an impressive chemistry, that’s for sure. But still: the original book and it’s wonderful, wounderous words are simply… most truly…the best….

    1. Nah, Hurt wasn’t slimy enough for Mr Collins.

      You’re so right about Rochester being a lost little boy. I think Stephens came came quite close to this, and he was passionate, proud and boiserous – even if he looked absolutely nothing like Rochester. In that department, Dalton wins hands down. He looks dark and rugged, and he’s handsome in his own way, but he’s not your typical pretty face. That’s why I think he looks the part, whereas those curly locks of Stephens are just laughable, even though they make him look scrummy. Stephens has the right build, though.

      This book totally spoils us. Rochester is like he should be, and he’s so close to the original that it makes all the adapations fall flat!

  9. Hello Traxy ,
    Do you know when Tara Bradley’s book about Rochester will be translated in French because trust me many French women and I have a serious crunch on him !!! (Toby Stephens is my favorite Rochester)
    Thank you very much for your answer
    Cheers
    Sysyff

    1. Bonjour! The easy answer is (sadly) “never”, unless the author can get someone to translate it into French for her. It’s a self-published book, so she doesn’t have a publisher who can sell the book overseas and organise (and pay for) a translation. So unless someone who speaks French can volunteer to translate it, it probably won’t happen. I can ask her about it, though. 🙂

      1. Thank you so much to answer me. I worry about your answer.
        I am retired and I am trying to improve my English to speak with my indonesian friend .
        Well I read and understood most of the story. I tried to translate it “exactly, precisely” some lines just for me . It’s definitely a big job and I am not able to make the work ( obviously not !)which this book deserves.
        I spoke about this book in the internet ( French website “Inn of Lambton”) I am sure that they will be very disappointed about your answer. Maybe you could find someone here because many of them are very fond of English culture better than me.
        What do you think about that ?
        Maybe it would be the beginning of a great aventure, why not ?
        Cheers
        Sysyff

  10. sorry ,website “Inn at Lambton” , I must re learn my English ! obviously I am French !!!

  11. Just finished part 1. Whew! I think I need to go to church and get cleansed. LOL. Waaaay to saucy for me and I don’t know if it was all necessary. But maybe it was meant to make the reader feel dirty and empty like Edward was feeling at the time.

    1. Quite possibly. I’m pretty sure you’re quite safe with part two, as he never has sex with Jane before they’re married, but they do have sex on a few occasions after marriage (don’t remember exactly where part two finishes in comparison with Brontë’s original). But then, they’re married, and sex is generally considered a natural part of married life.

      If sex makes you squeamish, I’d suggest staying away from JL Niemann’s “Rochester” trilogy. I never found the sex in JEH to be gratuitous, personally, but if you do, you really wouldn’t like Niemann’s “Rochester” trilogy, as that’s a rather saucy piece of work.

      1. I didn’t mind the sex scenes between Rochester and Jane, but the physical relationship/attraction seemed to have replaced the sexual tension and teasing/banter between the two that were present in Bronte’s book. I also thought their personalities seemed to have mellowed out a lot. Both Jane and Rochester were feisty individuals and I missed that about them. Their marriage was too lovey-dovey. I was waiting to read about their first marital spat.

        I really liked the chapter where Rochester confided in Carter about marrying Jane. Brilliant. Jane Eyre (the book) left many questions unanswered and I thought Tara Bradley did a terrific job speculating or filling in some of those missing pieces. I can tell Tara Bradley is a Jane Eyre fan and she put a lot of thought into this book.

        1. Hi, Carly-just came on here reading, as it’s been a long time since I read my own book and have been reading for possible revisions and additions after six long years!

          It’s funny that you say you were waiting for a marital spat–that was one of the hardest parts of writing about their married life. I was wanting to portray a REAL marriage, not the “perfect communion” that the at-the-time unmarried Charlotte Bronte envisioned. I tried to go for a happy medium between perfection and real life, but it was hard and making them so close feels a little lickarsey and false, but I thought “well, maybe they were one of the lucky couples that were just attuned to each other all the time.” I have seen a couple of those couples, but I really would have loved to have gone for a few slammed doors, ugly names, and sofa sleeping!!!

          I love how you said maybe the sex was to try to show how dirty and empty Rochester would have felt afterward. That was exactly the mood I was going for–just to show his life as nasty and empty. Thanks for reading!

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