In the early 1800s, young Edward Rochester roams the estate of Thornfield Hall, his beloved home. His father is aloof, his mother dead, his older brother callous and cold, and Edward seeks comfort with the servants. Suddenly, at age eight, he’s sent away for education at an idiosyncratic scholar’s home, where he makes his first friends. When older, Edward is ordered to work at a mill to learn business. He finds a father figure in his employer. Then his real father, still distant, sends him to Jamaica, where the older Rochester has business interests. Edward is encouraged to court and marry the beautiful, alluring Antoinetta “Bertha” and, in his inexperience, he dismisses the strange quirks of his new wife. But soon Bertha shows signs of mental disintegration. Edward discovers he’s an astute businessman, nevertheless, and after he learns of the deaths of his father and older brother, he’s now the heir to Thornfield Hall. Edward leaves steamy Jamaica with his mad wife, despondent of ever finding true love, until he meets his ward’s quiet yet stalwart young governess, Jane.
Fans of Jane Eyre will recognize the rest of the story, but through Edward’s eyes. His upbringing reveals the enigmatic, volatile character he is as a man, his father’s (and brother’s) betrayals, and why he doesn’t put Bertha in an asylum. He struggles to form deep relationships, but his blustery veneer hides a sensitive and damaged soul. I wish Jane had been shown as a more complex character. The childhood scenes drag on a bit, though Shoemaker’s elegant prose is worth reading at every step. Charlotte Brontë’s mercurial hero is brought to brilliant life in this novel. Highly recommended.