Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

I won this book at the Brussels Brontë group’s annual Christmas dinner, and it has spent half a year on my shelves. I am quite familiar with the story of the family and at first I could not really engage in the book.

It is very well written, beautiful prose. It follows the thoughts of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, the father and the nurse helping the father during his convalescence after his eye operation. Sheila Kohler lets us into the minds of the sisters and how their experiences in life has found its way into their books. We hear the thoughts of the father, always somehow distancing himself from his children, except possibly from Branwell, the promising son of which became nothing.

The more I read however, the more I did engage in their destiny, and Sheila Kohler has integrated their thoughts of what happened in their life and how the event were woven into their stories. It is very delicately and respectfully done, and towards the end of the book you feel their pain and their solitude of lives, which were rich in literature and work, but somehow seemed to lack the spirit of life.

An easy readable and thought worthy book on the life of the Brontës. It has given me another dimension of their writings. Kohler carefully guides you through their personalities, and characters as we know them.  In the end of the book there is a chapter ”A conversation with Sheila Kohler”. Here is her answer to the question ”How long did the research for the novel take? Were there moments in writing the book where your creative impulse went in one direction and the truth of Charlotte Brontë’s life went in the other? Which did you follow?
”J.M. Coetzee once said to me when I told him about my project: ’Don’t stay too close to the truth.’ I think that it is good advice. Certainly, one cannot falsify the facts that are so well known, and I hope I have never done that. However, there is so much one doesn’t know about someone else’s life, even someone so famous, and there I let my imagination work freely. Besides. there is always a selection of facts made. I was particularly interested  in the bond between Charlotte and her married professor and also in the relationship between these three sisters, who died so young. …”
I think Sheila Kohler has managed to stay true to the sisters, and the areas where she has let her imagination flow, she has nevertheless held back in line with the characters of the sisters.


  1. I'm happy to see you liked this book so much!

  2. Sounds really, really good. I bought a book for summer reading about short stories inspired by Jane Eyre so I bet I would like this one. I am visiting from BOOK BEGINNINGS.

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  3. Good review - I don't really know much about the Brontes - other than all three daughters were writers and recently started to watch an old movie about them and it sounds like the movie and this book share a lot in common - the son was definitely a disappointment. Thanks for sharing

  4. I am a big fan of the Brontës. Also a member of the Brussels Bronte group where we meet regularly to arrange lectures about the family. Charlotte and Emily spent two and one year respectively here in Brussels. We make guided tours to follow in their footsteps. Charlotte's book Villette is based on her time here. My favourite book from the sisters is Emily's Wuthering Heights. I also love Jane Eyre and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. They all wrote such beautiful books containing fantastic stories.