Becoming Jane Eyre: A Novel

Becoming Jane Eyre: A Novel

by Sheila Kohler

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143115977
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/29/2009
Edition description: Original
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,166,266
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She later lived in Paris for fifteen years, where she married, completed her undergraduate degree in Literature at the Sorbonne, and a graduate degree in Psychology at the Institut Catholique. She moved to the U.S. in 1981 and earned an MFA in Writing at Columbia. She currently teaches at Princeton University. Becoming Jane Eyre is her 10th book. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, O Magazine and included in the Best American Short Stories. She has twice won an O’Henry Prize, as well as an Open Fiction Award, a Willa Cather Prize, and a Smart Family Foundation Prize. Her novel Cracks was nominated for an Impac Award, and has been made into a feature film to be distributed by IFC. She has been published in 8 countries.

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Chapter Two

Professor

That night, she dreams of her professor, Monsieur H. She is sitting on the white sofa, talking to his wife, yet thinking of him so vividly. He has left on an extended voyage. She pictures the thick, black hair, dark eyes, robust body, wide shoulders, and strong legs. He is dressed casually, without any effort at elegance, in his loose old cloak. She says to his wife, who looks pale and is obviously upset by this long absence, "you can replace a husband but not a father," and she sees a small, delicate child standing in the doorway, bent over with grief. The child looks very much like Charlotte herself. She wakes with a start in tears, all her old sorrow returning.

How she had trudged through the damp streets of Brussels, half-crazed with longing, lust, and jealousy, reluctant to return to the school. She lingered there in the dark and the rain to escape black thoughts. She walked to forget her Master and beloved friend who had replaced her father and her brother—her black swan, the first to discover her talent and encourage her art. How she has waited for his letters!

It was his wife whom she and Emily met first when they arrived in Brussels that evening, tired and hungry, having somehow lost a suitcase and their way in the dark cobble-stoned streets, which glistened wet in the lamplight. Finally they came to the green door with the bronze plaque in the wall with the name of the Pensionnat de Demoiselles. The great door was opened by a small, hunched woman who ushered them inside the bright parlor with its black-and-white marble floor, where they were immediately confronted by a picture of family life that surprised and delighted them. Madame H. was there with her own mother, Madame Parent, as she was called, and sitting close by her side in her old-fashioned dress was Madame Parent's sister. Delicious odors wafted in from the kitchens: baking break and bubbling stew.

Charlotte and Emily sat side by side on the elegant white sofa so unlike the old dark horsehair one at home. A fat green stove warmed the room. They admired the paintings in their gold frames, the ornaments on the mantel piece, and the folding doors, which led into the petit salon with its piano and enormous draped window.

As they ate, something heavy but delicious in a brown sauce with fresh bread followed by an apple tart, Madame Parent regaled them with an exciting tale. She had very blue eyes and a small mouth, and maintained she had been a beauty in her youth. She was a good storyteller and seemed delighted to have new listeners. Though Charlotte was not certain of the truth of her story, she was immediately drawn into it. She had fallen in love with a man who had escaped to Brussels penniless, with the Comte d'Artois, the king's brother, during the French Revolution. The old lady told them her husband had been an elegant man, her eyes glistening and a tremor in her voice, who continued to powder his hair, wear knee breeches, and use the formal vous when addressing her.

His sister, she said, a nun of both courage and generosity, had left her convent with a friend, both of them disguised as men. They, also arrived in Brussels, were the ones who had founded this school, which her niece—and here she smiled proudly down at her daughter—now continued to run.

Charlotte, too, admired the ebony haired and dignified Madame H., a woman in her late thirties who sat very upright, her lace collar perfectly flat. What a relief to be in the company of these hospitable women!

But how unlike them was Monsier H., a rude and choleric man. The only jarring note in the scene of harmony and family entente was his sudden entrance and exit. He came into the black-and-white-tiled hall of the house on the rue d'Isabelle in a cloud of cigar smoke. He was obviously in a hurry, had apparently lost something, and seemed in bad humor. Charlotte watched him open a desk lid and rummage about inside, muttering and sputtering under his breath.

Still, there was something familiar about him. He was like a caricature of a man entering and rummaging about in a desk in a hallway, looking cross. Perhaps she had read such a scene in a book?

Madame H. called to him through the open glass doors of the salon, "come, Constantin, dear, and meet our new pupils." He lifted his head, gave her a stern glance, and strode impatiently into the elegant sitting room.

A small, spare, bespectacled man, he entered with a preoccupied air. With his black hair closely cropped, his brow broad and sallow, and his nostrils wide and quivering, Charlotte decided he looked like a beetle. He seemed to her in a childish rage.

Charlotte pitied Madame H. who appeared to be somewhat older than he, though neither of them was yet in their forties. She remembers thinking, What an intensely disagreeable and ugly man, as he bent briefly over her hand with her sister at her side. He hardly took the time to mutter a greeting to his new pupils. Indeed, he seemed to scowl at her particularly and take an instant dislike to both of them.

Madame H. arose to show the sisters to their dormitory. As they walked through the rooms, Charlotte admired the large school buildings. She stopped a moment before the image of the virgin in an alcove with a burning lamp at her feet and found a prayer rising to her lips: God give me the courage to live here and do my duty.

In the dormitory, they were placed at the end of the long row of beds, with extra bed space and a washstand between the beds, providing welcome privacy, and spotless white curtains, which lifted in the breeze.

The next morning they were able to see that the windows overlooked a romantic garden, a haven of quiet and calm in the midst of the city, which would become what she loved more than anything else. She liked to stroll there in the birdsong of early spring mornings or in the calm of the evening, within the shadows of its high walls, its row of pear trees, and its widespread acacia with the fine, feathery leaves, which trembled in the slightest breeze. It made her think of their childhood's imaginary country, Angria, and long for her brother as he had once been. She would have liked to walk with him within such a sheltered garden as this, with its bright blooms, its graveled walks, and its romantic bower nestled in vines.

From the start, in those first few February days, she admired the orderly but generous way Madame H. ran her school: the young girls were not starved or overworked or obliged to walk to church in wet boots, as Charlotte had once been. Lessons were at reasonable hours: from nine to twelve and then again in the afternoon from two until four. The excellent food they had eaten that first evening proved to be a sample of what was to come. No burned porridge here. Exercise, too, was provided: fresh air in the garden. Mens sana in corpore sano.

Or so she thought at first.

She saw him the next morning in the large, sunny classroom where they took their lessons. He taught literature at his wife's school and also at the one for boys next door.

From the moment he entered the classroom, he seemed transformed. The dark beetle had become a black swan, the rarest of birds. Monsieur H. sailed in fast, wings spread, obviously in an altered, expansive mood. He was already talking fast, moving his hands furiously through the bright air, as though he were on urgent business. Now, as he mounted the platform, she noticed the broad chest, the strength of the legs, the smiling mouth, the intensity of the black eyes.

He commanded his pupils to sit up and listen.

"Ecoutez," he trumpeted with authority, and his gaze roamed the room fiercely, searching for an inattentive gaze. He was obviously enjoying himself, the admiring looks of this crowd of young women. When he had their complete attention, he proceeded to read from Racine's Phèdre in a fine, deep, resonant voice. He rendered Hippolyte's lines with such feeling and so much expression that, despite her limited French, she forgot where she was, swept away. When he came to a breathless halt and looked around the classroom and the silent, awestruck pupils, she thought, I am falling in love, falling in love with language, with these sensuous words.

She listened to him as he analyzed what he had read, probing and darting with daring and eloquence. Despite her limited understanding of the language, she was immediately aware of this man's original mind, his deep comprehension of the many layers of the difficult text. She watched him use all his enthusiasm, his strength of mind and body, to claim the attention, and the hearts and minds, of these young women. Suddenly, she became aware, her mouth was open and her breathing shallow.

Then he handed back the girls' homework, his pupils coming up to claim their work. She saw his expression change again and again, withering one pupil with the movement of lip or nostril and elevating the next with the upturn of an eyebrow. Some wept; others beamed, their faces lit with delight. Sometimes he would produce a little gift for a favorite student who had pleased him particularly, bringing forth something, a bonbon or gourmandize from one of his numerous pockets, like a conjuror from a hat.

She knew she wanted to please this man, to see his expression alter, to delight his eyes. She wanted one of his sweet gifts.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Becoming Jane Eyre"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Sheila Kohler.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Kohler offers an imaginative recreation of the woman who created this once-scandalous, now beloved classic. Sensitive, intelligent, and engaging… A beautiful complement to Brontë’s masterpiece.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Well-written. Kohler gives us a more multidimensional, passionate and temperamental Charlotte than most biographies… connecting the writer with her heroine is intriguing. This novel will likely send fans back to the originals and should inspire those who know ‘of’ the novels to finally read them.”—Publishers Weekly

“Sheila Kohler moves with assured ease between fiction and biography, between the inner life of Charlotte Brontë as she composes Jane Eyre and the comedy of professional rivalry among the three Brontë sisters.”—J.M. Coetzee, author of Disgrace and Summertime

“Bravo! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in the depths of the night.” —Lyndall Gordon, author of Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life

Becoming Jane Eyre is lush and filled with dark sensuality and the tension of unsaid things. The style is quite different from Charlotte Brontë’s in Jane Eyre, yet the tone and imagery and spirit remain in the same realm. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and Sheila Kohler one of my favorite writers.”—Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club

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Becoming Jane Eyre 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
JLGadziala More than 1 year ago
Anything that has to do with the Brontes pretty much ensures I will pick it up and read it. And this was not disappointing. It was a very intimate, yet strangely distant account of the Bronte family. Mostly, Charlotte (of course) but also quite a bit about Anne and Emily. And while it is fiction, you can imagine how true some of the issues addressed are. Like how Charlotte must have felt insecure and jealous when her two sisters books (Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights) were accepted for publishing while her own first attempt (The Professor) was rejected. And then again, how jealous and slighted Anne and Emily felt when Charlotte's Jane Eyre met with great success and, in turn, set great criticism onto their own works. For any Bronte fans, this is a great read. You get more insight into the stories behind well... the stories (how Mr. Rochester is blind like the Bronte father, how Charlotte fell in love with a reserved professor and how their drunken brother became inspiration for both The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wuthering Heights... etc). You don't necessarily feel very close to any of the characters even with how intimate the accounts are, but you feel you know them and their motives and, in course, their writing much better
LaBibliophille on LibraryThing 2 days ago
This new novel by Sheila Kohler is based on the true story of Charlotte Bronte and the writing of her master work, Jane Eyre. Charlotte and her siblings, Ann, Emily, and Branwell, live with their father in a gloomy parsonage in Yorkshire. They are educated and literate, yet their lives are constrained by their poverty and their autocratic father.The sisters write, but their manuscripts are rejected by one publisher after another. When Reverend Bronte goes to Manchester for a cataract operation, Charlotte accompanies him. During his recovery, she begins writing the story that will become Jane Eyre. Charlotte pours into the novel all the bitterness and heartache she feels.When Charlotte's novel is published and becomes a critical and popular success, the lives of the Bronte family changes. Not only are they now able to afford some small luxuries, but the relationship between the sisters changes. Reverend Bronte can hardly believe that his daughter has written something that has actually been published.Kohler weaves the known facts of the Bronte family, and her knowledge of life in 19th century England, along with her own imaginings. The result is a smart, engaging and well-written novel. If this doesn't send us English lit majors back to re-read the Bronte's, I don't know what will.
Renz0808 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Becoming Jane Eyre by Shelia Kohler, is a fictionalized account of Charlotte Bronte, and in a sense all of the Brontes lives, from 1846 when Charlotte begins writing Jane Eyre in Manchester while caring for her father who was recovering from an eye surgery to her marriage in 1854 and eventual early death. I enjoyed this book because I thought it spoke with a different voice than other fiction books I have read about the Brontes. Sheila Kohler chooses to write her novel in a way that gives us perspective of what all the Brontes think at any given moment not just Charlotte. Her writing even though not in first person also keeps with the tragic, moody and mysterious tone of Jane Eyre. In comparison with the Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James, I thought that the tone of James's novel was one of hope and tragedy whereas with Kohler we maybe see Charlotte and all of her family with a darker, harsher and much different light. I think that uses all of the different family members perspectives is one of the strongest aspect of this book. The only fault I have with the book is minor but I felt it could have been much longer and I would have preferred to have had more information on Arthur Bell Nicholls, whom Charlotte eventually marries. I find him to be such an interesting and evasive character in all of the fiction and biographical novels about her life.
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I WILL RECOMMEND IT TO OTHERS