After two sequels to Pride and Prejudice (Pemberley, 1993; An Unequal Marriage, 1994) and one to Emma (1998), Tennant retells Jane Eyre from the perspective of, mainly, Rochester’s daughter Adèle.
The nice thing about being narrator is that it lets you look better than you might really be; and, if Adèle Varens is to be believed, Jane Eyre was not the gracious soul she made herself seem. Adèle, we recall, was the illegitimate daughter of Edward Rochester and Céline Varens, the Parisian actress and acrobat who was Rochester’s great tragic love. Brought to England as a girl, when her mother abandoned her for an Italian musician, Adèle (who had spent her childhood in the company of the greatest artists and actors of France) found life in the Rochester household unbearably dull and dreary—and looked down on her governess Jane as “this little, ill-educated nun.” In chapters narrated by different characters, we discover that Rochester’s family is an even greater nest of duplicity and madness than Brontë herself made it out to be. All Adèle wants is to run back to the Continent and find her mother again—a normal enough sentiment, perhaps, except that Adèle knows perfectly well her mother is dead. Rochester, meanwhile, detests himself for having murdered Céline’s lover—but seems not too bothered about keeping his mad wife Bertha locked in a closet upstairs. Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper from hell, is trying to bump off Jane and Bertha alike so that Rochester can marry Blanche Ingram—an uncanny double of the young Bertha who may actually be Rochester’s daughter. And Adèle eventually learns that she has a twin brother who was fathered by another man. No, it’s not the Addams family—just the dark underside of a Victorian one.
Delightful may not be the word, but this is certainly lots of fun. Despite the odds, Tennant’s story works perfectly, creating a genuine modern sequel to Brontë’s tale that’s neither a parody nor a cheap imitation.