Proxy Brontës

FFORDE - The Eyre Affair

There ought to be a term for the bookish adultery that compels you to actively search for echoes—or even reiterations—of books you’ve loved for the longest time. Then again, the brand of fidelity attached to this venture is a curious, if twisted, thing, too—you welcome things that remind you of the original, which would always, always have its fist wrapped around your fervently beating-for-it heart.

I am talking, in this instance, about Jane Eyre. I’ve talked about loving Charlotte Brontë’s novel countless times—I won’t even bother linking to my hysteria-tinged monologues on the topic here—from my having filched it from my mother’s nightstand, to returning to it over and over again, with each rereading offering something new; to the conviction that it’s the book I’ll take to my grave. I have it in several editions, and justify this with the reasoning that I’d need a new edition for every rereading.

It’s partly curiosity that draws me to books that are reminders of this love; it is also—like the amassing of editions—partly greediness. And it’s in this compulsion that I’ve been eager to finally settle down and read Jude Morgan’s The Taste of Sorrow—which has been very much loved by the Internet, more so by those who adore the Brontë name as much (even more, and more intelligently) than I do.

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to wait until I am still enough and at peace enough and appreciative of good literature enough to read The Taste of Sorrow. I’ve started it, made it to twenty pages at a snail’s pace. And while I was reading it, there was this tsk-ing voice in my head that pointed out I would fall headlong in love with the book in more ideal circumstances—if the Real World bled away for about three weeks, if I didn’t have to be someone somewhere some time tomorrow, yadda.

Because this wasn’t fair to the book, and to me—especially since I’ve never even thought I would actually own the book until I giddily unearthed it at a BookSale—I set it aside. Its quiet, perhaps, unnerved me. And so I reached for another hints-of-Eyre book, far different in tone from the Morgan: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Did I inadvertently apply to the Fforde the injustice I’d saved the Morgan from? Maybe, maybe just a little bit? But, it remains: Fforde and I didn’t jive all too well. And it’s rather telling that I only enjoyed the book—which seemed to drag on interminably for me—when Thursday Next was inside Jane Eyre, nodding tersely at Rochester.

It was my first Jasper Fforde, bought at an all-too-common moment of weakness at our neighborhood bookstore. He’s wildly popular, his fun-subversion is about meta-upending literature, and it’s about Jane Eyre being kidnapped—so off I went. But maybe I’m just not a fun-loving, pun-embracing kind of person. Shrug. No, I never felt overwhelmed with the world Fforde was trying to matter-of-factly throw around me—but this was mostly because I was indifferent to the assault. The novel wasn’t a book to me and for me until it was about Jane Eyre; I slogged through the fascinating-I’m-sure bureaucracy that Miss Next navigates, the politics, the family shenanigans—which were all delivered in a drolly slapdash manner. It was such a chore. Fine. I was very intrigued by the premise that books could be meddled with so drastically—and very horrified that they all lived in a world where Jane ran off with St. John. I loved that you could step into a book, and I still appreciated the unsure-of-itself manner in which Fforde tried to explain that curious flow of static-dynamic existence that a fictional character has to thrive on within a book. But all that’s a carry-over of my love for Brontë’s work, I should think.

I have one other Jasper Fforde in my shelves—well, if we’re to be technical about it, the book is on the floor—First Among Sequels, which I bought because it was for a hundred bucks (about $2?) and because it was about Sherlock Holmes’ death. I think that when I read it, it will be the last Jasper Fforde I’ll read. No worries. At least that’s one more certainty in my life. Shrug.

7 thoughts on “Proxy Brontës

  1. I’ve never read Jaspar Fforde, and I haven’t read Jane Eyre as many times as you, but I suspect as is so often the case we should stick with the original and the best. So often something aligning itself with the original falls short, and we feel jaded.

    Now I’m of a mind to reread Jane Eyre. I love those classics that don’t disappoint us, rather they become richer with each reread.

    1. Can’t agree more. Even when going into a book because of its connection with the original, I’m always aware that it’s just that—a proxy, if anything it would only stoke the longing for the truer book. I guess they’re supplements, something to read and tide one over until the urge for the next rereading becomes unbearable?


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