How I was inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë was the oldest of the remarkable Brontë siblings. Her second novel Jane Eyre was written under the pseudonym of Currer Bell. Like her sisters, she believed that she wouldn’t get published in Victorian England if the publishers knew the novel was written by a woman.
Jane Eyre, published in 1845, was an immediate best-seller. By the following year, Charlotte Bronte’s true identity was known and she became a reluctant celebrity.
The novel concerns an eighteen-year-old orphaned governess. Jane has attended a draconian school called Lowood and is now ready to take a position in the outside world. She begins work at Thornfield, owned by the enigmatic Mr Rochester who is twice her age. They fall in love, but unknown to Jane, Mr Rochester is married. His wife, Bertha, is ‘mad’ and he keeps her in an attic in Thornfield.
Jane and Rochester get as far as the altar before the truth comes out. Penniless and alone, Jane leaves Thornfield and is eventually taken in by kind relatives. At the end of the novel, she and Rochester are reunited on the death of his wife.
In my novel, The Revolutionary’s Cousin I use some of the elements in Jane Eyre and put them in a 1979 context. A dramatic event in Chapter One of The Revolutionary’s Cousin has the same gothic elements which Brontë used in Jane Eyre.
‘She stepped back, hands over her mouth as the door handle turned slowly and quietly. When the door swung open she gasped, transfixed with terror. A figure stood in the doorway, backlit by the soft light that burned all night on the landing.’
Chapter One The Revolutionary’s Cousin
When Jane and Rochester first meet, Rochester falls off his horse and twists his ankle. He enlists Jane to help him remount so that he can ride to Thornfield. She has no idea who he is.
Karim, the main protagonist in The Revolutionary’s Cousin first meets Lauren in Central Park. This meeting is just as fraught. She collides with him, falls off her bicycle and twists her ankle.
‘The front wheel of a bicycle hit his right leg, but he kept his balance and stepped quickly onto the footpath. The female cyclist wasn’t so lucky…the rider had come off her bike and was struggling under it.’
Chapter Eleven The Revolutionary’s Cousin
Photograph: bike riding in Central Park NY
“He opened his eyes and his blood ran cold. A white-robed figure was standing next to his bed.
‘… I’m here …’ The voice was female and husky.
‘Lauren?’ Karim said struggling to sit up.
The figure strafed his face with a torch.
‘Oh my God, I’m sorry. Wrong room.’”
Businessman, Lawrence O’Rourke in who features in The Revolutionary’s Cousin was born in Drumballyrooney in Northern Ireland. This was also the birthplace of Reverend Brontë, the patriarch of the Brontë family. I couldn’t resist putting that in my book.
Like Rochester, Lawrence has a part-Creole wife, Beulah. She’s an alcoholic and has threatened her husband a few times. In Jane Eyre, Rochester’s wife Bertha tries to attack him when she sees him. Beulah, in The Revolutionary Cousin, has violent tendencies toward her husband.
“ ‘I wanted to be on the stage. But he wouldn’t let me,’ Beulah hissed. She pushed back her chair, grabbed a long carving knife and pointed it at Lawrence.”
Chapter Twenty-eight The Revolutionary’s Cousin
Jane Eyre ends with the lovers being reunited after Thornfield is burned down. Rochester’s wife jumps to her death from the roof. Chapter thirty in The Revolutionary’s Cousin is titled ‘Fire’. You’ll have to read the novel to find out exactly who falls to their death from a burning building.
A feature from ‘Peninsula Living’ magazine in December 2017.