Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mr Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

Sarah Shoemaker's first novel Mr. Rochester retells the story of Jane Eyre from the point of view of its hero. Readers are offered a richly imagined look into Rochester's life before Jane. Under Shoemaker's hand, the brusque, tempestuous hero is transformed into a innocent child, a victim of his father's cold calculations, a naive lover, and a man determined to do the right thing. Shoemaker gives us a kinder and more lovable Rochester.

The novel is told in the first person, and linear in time, a comfortable and cozy read that felt very 19th c. Rochester's childhood has a Dickensian feel with the early death of a beloved mother, a cruel elder brother, and a cold and uncommunicative father.

Unlike Jane, Rochester is provided with a first class education under a fair master. He makes dear friends at school; like Jane, one of Rochester's school chums dies. When his father deems it time, Rochester is given a tutor and sent to university. In Paris he fell into a loose life, meeting the dancer who becomes his mistress and whose daughter Adele he later takes in.

After his less than stellar performance at university, Rochester is apprenticed to a fatherly mill owner. He redeems himself as a hard worker and loyal surrogate son. Finally, it is revealed that Rochester is to inherit his father's West Indies plantation, and it is soon apparent that the beautiful Creole Antoinette is chosen to be his wife. Rochester's happiness is shattered as he realizes his wife is mad. He has been used badly by his father; his paradise becomes a hell.

Rochester truly wants to keep his vow to Antoinette's father to take care of her, and he does his best, first in the West Indies and later in England. But in the end, he has no choice but to lock her away in the Thornfield attic, for the safety of all.

When Jane arrives on the scene we learn the motives behind Rochester's manipulation and testing of her attachment. His endeavor to divorce his mad wife is curtailed as only by proving her adultery can he obtain a divorce.

Readers learn the historical background to Rochester's story, including Jamaican plantation life and it's reliance on slave labor and the Luddite rebellion against the mechanization of labor.

The novel stands on its own for those who have not read the Bronte novel, or like me, have not read it in several years.

According to a Goodreads poll there are 94 books inspired by Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. I previous have read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea which redeems Bertha from madness, the story of a sensual Creole who suffers under Rochester's Victorian morality and white man's fears. It also has a compelling description of Jamaican slavery and the fomenting slave uprising.

For over two hundred years Bronte's novel has remained a favorite. It was one of the first 'classic' novels I read, through Scholastic Books, and before that the Classics Illustrated Comic Book had been one of my favorites. It appears that the appeal of the story is not going to flag anytime soon.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mr Rochester
Sarah Shoemaker
Grand Central Publishing
Publication May 7, 2017
$27 hard cover
ISBN: 9781455569809

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