Becoming Jane Eyre

Written by Sheila Kohler
Review by Jeanne Greene

In 1846, the educated but unworldly daughter of a Yorkshire clergyman begins writing a novel. It is not her first effort but the first in which she describes so poignantly an intelligent and impecunious woman (like herself) in a male-dominated world. Although the heroine is underestimated, ignored, and unloved, she finds the courage to rise above her circumstances—as the author has yet to do. But, perhaps in the act of writing, the author finds the strength of will to complete and sell her novel. The publication of Jane Eyre ends Charlotte Brontë’s life of penury and brings national recognition. She marries, happily, a year before her untimely death.

In writing what was arguably the best of the novels by the Brontë sisters, Charlotte drew upon the life experiences of her family—that much is known—but was Jane’s inner life Charlotte’s own? In Becoming Jane Eyre the connection between author and heroine is explicit. Kohler takes us into the minds of the Brontë sisters and others in Charlotte’s life, braiding beautifully imagined insights and observations with selections from Jane Eyre, as if comparing life to literature—don’t forget this is a work of fiction. Kohler says she is careful with the facts, but her imagination soars where none exist.

Kohler has a prodigious talent (and an interesting backlist). Becoming Jane Eyre is beautifully written. That may not be enough to hold the interest of readers well-acquainted with Brontë’s biography; but Jane Eyre is always worth rereading. Recommended for anyone with a fresh interest in the Brontë family.