Thursday 11 August 2016

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

As a member of the Brussels Brontë Group you are, twice a year, invited to a lunch; in the summer, normally at the Belvue museum restaurant and, in the winter, at Carpe Diem. It is always a great pleasure to meet other members of the group,  the atmosphere is great and the discussions never cease. Especially, at the Christmas lunch. It is not only a lunch, but accompanied by various pieces of entertainment under the guidance of Jones Hayden. The quiz, put together by Jones, is testing our knowledge of the Brontës, a theatre play performed by members (it turns out that Brontë members are very talented in many different fields), singing, poetry reading and much more. At the end there is a lottery with all prices connected to the Brontës. It was in this lottery that I won Becoming Jane Eyre last year.

I am quite familiar with the story of the family and at first I could not really engage in the book. It is very well written, beautiful prose. It follows the thoughts of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, the father and a nurse helping the father during his convalescence after his eye operation. Sheila Kohler lets us into the minds of the sisters and how their experiences in life has found its way into their books. We hear the thoughts of the father, always somehow distancing himself from his children, except possibly from Branwell, the promising son of which became nothing.

The more I read however, the more I do engage in their story and destiny.  Sheila Kohler has integrated happenings in their life and shows us how these events have been woven into their stories. It is very delicately and respectfully done, and towards the end of the book you feel their pain and the solitude of their lives, which were rich in literature and work, but somehow seemed to lack the spirit of life.

An easy readable and thought worthy book on the life of the Brontës, which has given me another dimension of their writings. Kohler carefully guides you through their personalities, and characters as we know them.  In the end of the book there is a chapter ”A conversation with Sheila Kohler”. Here is her answer to the question ”How long did the research for the novel take? Were there moments in writing the book where your creative impulse went in one direction and the truth of Charlotte Brontë’s life went in the other? Which did you follow?
”J.M. Coetzee once said to me when I told him about my project: ’Don’t stay too close to the truth.’ I think that it is good advice. Certainly, one cannot falsify the facts that are so well known, and I hope I have never done that. However, there is so much one doesn’t know about someone else’s life, even someone so famous, and there I let my imagination work freely. Besides. there is always a selection of facts made. I was particularly interested  in the bond between Charlotte and her married professor and also in the relationship between these three sisters, who died so young. …”
I think Sheila Kohler has managed to stay true to the sisters, and the areas where she has let her imagination flow, she has nevertheless held back in line with their characters. A different read on the Brontës, and a dimension of their lives, which can only be guessed, but nevertheless seems realistic.

Lisbeth Ekelof
The Content Reader

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