Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

January 7, 2015 Reviews 12

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila KohlerBecoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
Narrator: Jen Taylor
Series: Stand Alone
Published by Listen & Live Audio, Penguin Books on March 24, 2010
Genres: Historical
Pages: 232
Length: 5 hours 53 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

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’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.

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.

4 stars Pretty Great

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About Sheila Kohler

Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the younger of two girls. Upon matriculation at 17 from Saint Andrews, with a distinction in history (1958), she left the country for Europe. She lived for 15 years in Paris, where she married, did her undergraduate degree in literature at the Sorbonne, and a graduate degree in psychology at the Institut Catholique. After raising her three girls, she moved to the USA in 1981, and did an MFA in writing at Columbia.

In the summer of 1987, her first published story, “The Mountain,” came out in “The Quarterly” and received an O’Henry prize and was published in the O’Henry Prize Stories of 1988. It also became the first chapter in her first novel, “The Perfect Place,” which was published by Knopf the next year.


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About Berls
Berls has been a book lover her whole life. She reads pretty much every genre and is currently working hard at making her childhood dream of becoming an author come true. She loves sharing her thoughts about books, blogging, and just random fun stuff. She's a challenge and read-a-thon junkie, so it's no wonder that she loves co-hosting the COYER reading challenge. Leave a comment, Berls is always happy to chat!

12 Responses to “Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler”

  1. Bookworm Brandee

    This sounds fantastic, Berls. And I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I have re-read both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in recent years…I think I enjoyed them even more than when I’d read them when I was younger. But there is definitely something about the Brontes that is darker, more melancholy, than, say, Jane Austen. I’d be interested in reading Becoming Jane Eyre just for a little background/history. So thanks for adding a book to my tbr. 😉
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…**When Life’s Kicking Your Butt, How About a Theme Song?**My Profile

    • Berls

      I ended up rereading Jane Eyre shortly after listening to this – my review should be up soon, but it was a free audio from librivox with a full cast doing a dramatic performance. So good! You’re right though, much darker than Jane Austen. I think their life had a lot to do with that, based on this book at least. It’s a fast read, I hope you enjoy it when/if you get to it 🙂

  2. Lark

    As a high school student (way too many years ago), I had the opportunity to visit Haworth and the Bronte parsonage (now a museum.) It’s a gloomy house in what was, on the grey and rainy day we visited, a somewhat gloomy village on the edge of the moors. You could really see where both Charlotte and Emily got much of their inspiration.

    Becoming Jane Eyre sounds like a fascinating read, or in your case, listen – and thank you for reviewing the audio narration as well as the content. I’m always on the lookout for good books on audio. I think I’ll be adding this to the list of books to keep an eye out for.
    Lark recently posted…Teardrop Lane, by Emily MarchMy Profile

    • Berls

      Oh how cool! Yes, dark and dreary is definitely appropriate for these ladies! I hope you get to read it, I’d be curious to see what you think, especially since you may know better than I do how much is fictionalized.

    • Berls

      I reread Jane Eyre after I finished reading this and it was even better than I remembered, so I definitely encourage you to try it. I don’t know if you like audiobooks, but I got a free dramatic performance of it from Librivox and that made it even better. I so know what you mean about finding out that the author made stuff up – I haven’t checked to see if Sheila Kohler made things up or not. I don’t want the book ruined for me if she did.
      Berls recently posted…Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila KohlerMy Profile

    • Berls

      Thanks Shan! I think it would be an interesting introduction to Jane Eyre too, as long as you didn’t mind spoilers. Because it definitely spoils the mystery of Jane Eyre.

  3. Ramona

    Oh, this sounds so good! I might just make it my first audio book… I love Jane Eyre (actually I have a thing for the Bronte sisters…) and this sounds like it would fit nicely around it. Thanks for posting, Berls. (And … really? Female narrators doing male voices? I’m not sure if I should laugh or be amazed.) xx
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    • Berls

      I do too, though I had forgotten them for a bit. This would be a pretty good audio to start with, since the story itself will probably be good for you. Lol well, in general you get one narrator a book, so lots of women do male voices and several do it really well. A real treat though was listening to a dramatic performance if Jane Eyre with different voices for each character. That could also be a fun start – you can get it free off librivox too 🙂

  4. Stormi

    This sounds like something I could be interested in reading. I don’t read a lot of biographical type books much, but when they are about authors of my favorite reads I can make an exception. 🙂 Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classics and probably the first classic I ever read. 🙂
    Stormi recently posted…Review of Dead Sexy DragonMy Profile

    • Berls

      Oh if you loved Jane Eyre than I really think you should make an exception for this one, you’ll really enjoy it. And the audio is good. Such a great classic for sure!

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