Book review: Jane and her Master by Stephen Rawlings (Silver Moon Books, 2002 )
‘Jane and her Master’ is a classic in all senses of the word. Stephen Rawlings brings his unique talent to bear on a re-working of ‘Jane Eyre’ and creates an SM tale of truly searing intensity.
And in the category “Books I would never have read in a million years even if you paid me”, meet a sadomasochistic take on Jane Eyre, which I’ve only read because I set myself the task of reading everything Jane Eyre. Books like this make me wish I hadn’t.
A kind word of warning: If you’re of a young and/or sensitive disposition, you might want to give this review a miss.
The author was (according to the preface) inspired by P.N. Dedeaux’s An English Education, but felt like it “whetted our appetities” and “cruelly left us suspended in limbo, hungry for a feast that was never served”. So he took it upon himself to rectify that. Without being able to spell “Haworth” properly. (Howarth? Seriously?)
First things first: If you’re not into sadomasochism, this book is NOT for you. Let me make that perfectly clear, and repeat it: NOT for you. I had an inkling S&M wasn’t for me, but have never willingly submitted myself (pun not intended) to reading anything that would actually make me find out. Well, now I know. And I dread having to suffer read endure An English Education as well.
It takes a lot to offend me, dear Reader, but rest assured this book has. Why? It’s an insult to our intelligence and our sensibilities, it portrays a horrific and stone age view of women, and is, frankly, disgusting! (Can you tell I’m so not the intended audience?) The first sentence of chapter one instantly sets the tone: “I was to be whipped, then inseminated.” Erm, yeah. At least the first few chapters were blissfully short. They got longer.
Plot Summary: It starts with Jane Rochester on some sort of correctional torture device at Thornfield, and then she recounts the story so far, by summing up her time at Lowood and how she got a good caning before leaving for Thornfield, where there is more caning to be had and measured out on the other servants. And then the Master shows up and there is yet more caning. The Master takes a shine to Jane and invites a house party, and Blanche Ingram gets up to some more caning. Jane leaves for Gateshead (more caning), Jane returns to marry the Master (more caning), Bertha is revealed, Jane flees to Morton (and gets raped at Whitcross by the coach driver), where she is deemed to be a wanton prostitute (more caning), ends up at the Rivers’ house (more than caning) and eventually goes back to her injured Master and marries him. As she can’t be caned by her symbolically castrated Master, and takes “liberties” (read: grows a backbone), she goes back to Lowood (!) to be thoroughly corrected (read: tortured half to death), before she gets taken back home so she can crawl to her Master and live miserably ever after.
For the most part, the story follows the original disturbingly well, if you disregard all the mindless, demeaning violence. The characters are laughable and the story gets very samey very quickly. Most chapters read: “a woman gets her behind caned until she bleeds” but unfortunately, in many more words. For the most part, this woman is a Jane, who (thankfully?) bears no resemblance to Charlotte Brontë’s character. CB’s character had a backbone, she wasn’t a gorram submissive victim who’d simper and ask a man to beat her up because she deserves a good spanking whenever she’s had the audacity to have a bad (read: independent) thought.
Occasionally, the repetitiveness of caning until someone’s bum and tender lady bits bleed and hurt, gets interrupted by sibling incest. The first is a chapter where Blanche Ingram tells the whole house party about how she let her brother take her as he liked, although not to make her “belly swell” – swelling bellies, we get told numerous times, is bad … especially not when the culprit is your brother. Oh yeah, here’s another gem for you: during the charades, Blanche totally gets it off with Rochester in front of everyone. (Face, meet palm.)
The second is going to Gateshead, where we learn John Reed had his wicked ways with his sisters, who bloody competed on being taken advantage of the most number of times. There’s also a chapter where one of the Reed girls recounts her private meeting with Mr. Brocklehurst, who often came to “visit” Aunt Reed, oh yeah. And he also took Jane’s maidenhead, like he did all Lowood girls. (Face, palm, you meet again.) Third is at the Rivers’, but not with St. John. No, he’s as stiff as usual. It’s his sisters that have it off with one another, and with Jane.
When I thought the story couldn’t get any worse, it suddenly did. The “punishments” get more and more brutal as the story progresses, and the Rivers even have some sort of metal clamp to put on a woman’s bits. But it gets even worse. There’s a chapter where Jane recounts what she’s read in a book about what goes on over in India, where (thankfully) the author has had the “taste” to censor himself for a bit, but most of it is left in, and it’s stomach-turning. (Three words: “ground chillipeppers” and “orifices”. You do the math. And that’s just for starters.) One of the worst parts of the book is at the Rivers’, where St. John decides to make Jane a virgin again (!) … It requires scorching hot iron and stitches, and that’s all I’ll say. It very nearly made me throw up.
Back at Lowood, it’s not enough to just have Jane walking around naked and getting caned every day. No, there are weird contraptions to cause pain and injury both inside and out and I’m amazed Jane lives through it all. Normal people would’ve been killed. (Speaking of which, the book has a tiny disclaimer on the title page: “This is fiction – In real life always practise safe sex!” No shit!)
It would have been a nice surprise to have Jane rise up and say “F**K THE LOT OF YOU, YOU SICK F***ING BASTARDS!!!” and then go ninja on them. Preferably half-way through the book, so I wouldn’t have had to suffer through the rest of it. But alas, she can’t, because heaven forbid she would be realistic and not someone you can just walk all over and treat like garbage just because she’s a woman.
Sometimes the descriptions are unintentionally (?) funny:
Ada was found /…/ bent over the kitchen table, while the young grocer’s assistant filled her larder with the rich cream from the monstrous Savaloy [sic] he kept between his legs, and now hers.
Am I meant to laugh or cry at such a thing? I chose to laugh, because I knew Ada would get caned very shortly and needed something to see me through it. And she was, of course. It got boring. Passages like the next one, however, is what rubs me the wrong way:
A woman’s hinds are well padded to absorb the blows, their sting being much concentrated on the surface and, furthermore, nature has so arranged our sensibilities, that we females can often mitigate our pain by translating it into more erotic sensations, when the seat of punishment is so close to our wombs.
Basically, excusing torture and abuse of women with the view that in reality, we get off on it. WHAT THE F**K IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?! There are so many examples of Jane (first person narrator, by the way) and even other characters harping on about how women need to be “corrected” and submissive and braindead and beaten and abused and that us women should just take it and be bloody GRATEFUL that a man shows us his “loving” concern in this way. I don’t normally get offended by the sexual content in books (occasionally in this one, I actually wished they’d have normal, enjoyable sex with one another just once, but no, it’s either caning or brutal sodomising that’s on the menu – unless it’s done by a woman’s brother, of course, then it’s oh so enjoyable – face, palm, I believe you’ve been introduced), and it takes a bit to get me up in arms and start ranting about feminism, but seriously, this takes the proverbial biscuit.
The original story of Jane Eyre was way ahead of its time with regards to women and feminism, and what does Stephen Rawlings reduce this wonderful literary classic to? Some twaddle in the preface about young females struggling with their sexual submissive tendencies in their “womens studies” groups, in essence: “You know all you really want is to be dominated by a man and hearing that you have rights is confusing your tiny minds.” Sir, you should be locked up and the key thrown away. (If you are in fact a Madam and not a Sir at all, you need some serious help with your self-worth issues.)
I probably need counselling just to get over having read the bloody thing.
Forget you ever heard about this book. It doesn’t get a rating, other than possibly “SQUICK!!!” because books that make me feel physically sick are not books I would ever recommend. Not even to people who I know don’t mind a bit of S&M. This isn’t a bit of S&M, this is disgusting, cruel and makes light of abuse of women. If I didn’t think burning books was a crime, I would use this one for kindling, if only to feel like it might cleanse my spirit for having read the darn thing.
And if you, based on this review, now go “Sweet, I got to get me a copy!”, then I will judge you. You sick bastard.
0.5 out of 5 burned bras, and that’s only because I have to give it some kind of point but won’t give it 1.