He wakes to the scratching of a pencil against a page: a noise out of the darkness. He lies quite still on his back, reaching out for sound. His ears have become wings, straining, stretching, carrying him away. The world comes to him only through sound, and there is precious little of that.
So begins Becoming Jane Eyre, by Sheila Kohler. The novel opens soon after Charlotte Bronte's father's eye surgery; they are far away from home and all that is familiar. Charlotte is nursing her father, and her father is acknowledging her in a way he never had before. According to Sheila Kohler, it was during this convalescence that Charlotte Bronte started writing Jane Eyre.
I knew I wanted to read this book from the first time that I saw it in Borders. I have loved Jane Eyre since I first read it at sixteen, and I was intrigued by the premise of the novel. Essentially, Kohler intertwines Charlotte's struggles and desires with those of Jane; the result is an interesting and moving acknowledgment of Jane Eyre's power. Kohler also discusses Charlotte's relationship with her sisters, and it was easy to feel along with her as whe watched Branwell's demise, attempted to cajole Emily and Anne into publication, wrestled with her jealousy over the publication of her sisters' novels before her own was published, and mourned her two dear sisters' deaths.
I did not love this book, but I did appreciate it. Becoming Jane Eyre made me want to delve into Jane Eyre; it also made me want to pull out my copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte. I was pleasantly surprised by how normal Emily Bronte was (my view of her is admittedly skewed by my negative reactions to Wuthering Heights), and I was greatly intriuged By Anne Bronte.
Sheila Kohler's writing was beautiful and visceral. She presented Charlotte Bronte as a real woman with real (pressing problems). She did not deify Bronte, but neither did she try to explain Bronte. She presented Charlotte; she did not pyschoanalyze her (again, this is another reaction to two novels involving Chrales Dickens that I ultimately could not bring myself to finish because I didn't want my view of Dickens ruined).
Bottom line: I am glad I read this book because it brought back many of the feelings I had while reading Jane Eyre for the first time. It also made me want to read the other Bronte novels (Villette, Agnes Grey, and Tenant of Wildfell Hall in particular).