Thornfield Hall by Jane Stubbs

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Thornfield Hall by Jane Stubbs

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A rare reworking of a classic which is a brilliant read in itself AND makes you think more about the original. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: December 2014
Publisher: Corvus
ISBN: 978-1782395249

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I can't say that I'm a fan of reworkings of classic books: some suck the life out of the original, others fail to add anything - and why would you want to read an inferior version when you can read the real thing? Generally, I try to avoid them - and I'm still not certain why I made an exception for Thornfield Hall - it certainly wasn't the headless woman (sigh...) on the cover - but I added it to my reading pile. I'm glad that I did.

Rather than seeing the story through the eyes of Jane Eyre we hear from Alice Fairfax, a member of the gentry, forced when she is widowed to take up employment as a housekeeper at Thornfield Hall. She's on her third master from the family when Edward Rochester arrives, accompanied by a mysterious woman who is to be confined (sounds better than 'held as a prisoner', doesn't it?) on the third floor of the Hall. Those servants who must help with her care are made to swear a bible oath that they will not divulge the secret and Alice begins to care (in both senses of the word) for the woman they come to know as Bertha Mason, whilst Rochester lives the life of a wealthy bachelor, rarely visiting Thornfield Hall. He even leaves a French child - Adele - generally thought by the staff to be his offspring, at the Hall.

You're nodding wisely as you remember the end of the story, aren't you? You think you know exactly what's going to happen and what the eventual outcome will be, don't you? You're probably even thinking that the book might turn out to be a little dull'?

Think again.

I'm not even going to hint about what happens, but other scenarios are offered, explanations tendered which fit in perfectly with the book we know and love but which put a different slant on the years during which Bertha Mason lived on the third floor of Thornfield Hall and what eventually happened there. At the end, I cheered.

And on the way to that brilliant ending we have a superb picture of life at Thornfield Hall as the servants knew it - and we see how the estate is run. Jane Eyre plays a relatively small part in the story - it really is only incidentally about her - as Bertha had been on the third floor for many years before Jane left Lowood and came to the Hall as Adele's governess. The rather unassuming star of the book is our narrator, Alice Fairfax, along with the woman we've always thought of as 'the mad wife' and her nurse, Grace Poole. They come to life completely.

What I really liked about this book is that it shines a new light on the original story (and takes nothing away from it) and if both books are taken together you have one version from an innocent and naive narrator and another from someone who is more worldly-wise. Thornfield Hall makes you think more carefully about the original. It was a great read and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you'll enjoy Longbourn by Jo Baker. And you mustn't miss one the great reworkings: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

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Mrs Judith Leonard said:

Have just listened to : “Thornfield Hall” on audio and really can’t bear the book. My husband and I are great admirers and fans of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” and it is the difference between “Pedestrianism – Thornfield Hall and Genius - “Jane Eyre.”

Not one man in “Thornfield Hall” comes out of it with any sort of credit and Mrs. Fairfax considers herself to be a saint and CEO of her world.

All the atmosphere and drama is lost, as is the profound moral that “Jane Eyre”, in our permissive society of the 21st C puts before us.

Sorry, the real “Jane Eyre” is much more probable in the life of that time than the “mush” of Thornfield Hall.

Mrs. Judith Leonard