Susan Hill and Sally Beauman have both tackled Rebecca from new angles and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea is a well-imagined prequel to Jane Eyre. Jo Baker’s Longbourn retells Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the below stairs staff. Thornfield Hall adopts the same device, as it is Jane Eyre’s tale told by Mrs Alice Fairfax, Mr Rochester’s housekeeper.
Jane Stubbs’ re-telling of Jane Eyre is accomplished in that all of the details dovetail accurately with those in the original. Most readers who pick up Thornfield Hall will at least have read the Brontë, and I imagine most will know it extremely well. If major plot events like Bertha’s identity, the arrivals of Jane and Adèle, the fire in Rochester’s room, and the master’s courtship of Blanche Ingram were not faithfully portrayed, Stubbs would lose all her readers at the first turn. She is careful not to let that happen and the synchronicity is very satisfying.
The plot is sufficiently intriguing to keep the reader turning the pages and Alice Fairfax is a reliable narrator, who admits her own mistakes and shows compassion to her charges, especially Bertha. Mrs Fairfax comes out of this novel fairly well, as someone who seems to have others’ best interests at heart, at the same time as wanting to secure her own position. She perpetually seeks a happy ending!
It’s difficult to tell whether ‘Thornfield Hall’ works well as a stand-alone book, as I’m so familiar with its inspiration. However, I think it would. But at less than half the length of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Stubb’s exploration of Jane’s story is far less complex. Jane Eyre is written in the first person; Mrs Fairfax actually knows very little of the governess’ inner turmoil or strength, and so draws her conclusions about Jane from her observations. For me, it is Jane’s inner voice which provides one of the most satisfying elements of the original novel and this is missing from Stubb’s story.
Of course there are miles of bookshelves dedicated to commentaries and analyses of Jane Eyre, all of which enhance our understanding and don’t detract from the source in any way. For me though, just as Tetley is to tea bags, so Charlotte Brontë’s novel is always the Original and the Best!