Narrator: Jen Taylor
Series: Stand Alone
Published by Listen & Live Audio, Penguin Books on March 24, 2010
Length: 5 hours 53 minutes
I’m so happy I stumbled on Becoming Jane Eyre. I probably wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t been looking for a biographical fiction book to fulfill the requirements of a challenge I was doing and that would have been a shame. Becoming Jane Eyre tells the story of Charlotte Bronte – and to a lesser extent, her sisters and brother.
The year is 1846. In a cold parsonage on the gloomy Yorkshire moors, a family seems cursed with disaster. A mother and two children dead. A father sick, without fortune, and hardened by the loss of his two most beloved family members. A son destroyed by alcohol and opiates. And three strong, intelligent young women, reduced to poverty and spinsterhood, with nothing to save them from their fate. Nothing, that is, except their remarkable literary talent.
So unfolds the story of the Brontë sisters. At its center are Charlotte and the writing of Jane Eyre. Delicately unraveling the connections between one of fiction's most indelible heroines and the remarkable woman who created her, Sheila Kohler's Becoming Jane Eyre will appeal to fans of historical fiction and, of course, the millions of readers who adore Jane Eyre.
I loved Jane Eyre when it was assigned in high school Freshman English, but I haven’t read it since, so it was really neat to have this reminder of the beloved book – which I suddenly want to read again, along with Wuthering Heights, written by Charlotte’s sister Emily. Becoming Jane Eyre is brief, focusing on the years where Charlotte first wrote Jane Eyre and when it was published to high acclaim. But the author did a great job giving a feel for the Bronte’s childhood through flashbacks, weaving in Charlotte’s experiences as motivations or inspirations for her current work.
I’m not sure to what extent this is fictionalized, since I’m only marginally aware of the Bronte’s biography – but it certainly felt accurate. There were moments where I felt that I was reading something taken directly from research – not that it pulled me out of the story, but more that as a historian, I was able to imagine the letters or journals the author was using for inspiration. There was also a few hints at some uncomfortable (maybe abusive) relationships – and I’m not sure if I was reading too much into them or if the author was trying to leave some ambiguity because it’s something that is ambiguous about the Bronte’s.
I’m particularly glad I listened to Becoming Jane Eyre – Jen Taylor did a fantastic job with all the voices. There’s lots of accents – from French and British, to Irish and Scottish – and they’re all done well, for both men and women. In fact, her delivery of male voices was one of the best I’ve listened to by a female narrator.
All in all, Becoming Jane Eyre was a real treat and has wet my appetite to reread some old favorites.