‘French Dancer’s Bastard’ by Emma Tennant
Emma Tennant, author of many Bronte and Austen rewrites, sequels etc. has a new book due for publication October 6th. The book is called The French Dancer’s Bastard: The Story of Adele from Jane Eyre. I am a little confused by this book’s existence. Emma Tenant has already written a novel about Adele, with a similarly creative title: Adele. That novel was written in 2003. The approaches seem to be quite different in one respect but in others, exactly the same:
The Amazon.com description of Adele: Emma Tennant retells Jane Eyre from the perspective of Rochester’s illegitimate daughter Adele. If Adele is to be believed as narrator, Jane Eyre was not the gracious soul she made herself seem and Rochester’s family is an even greater nest of duplicity and madness than Bronte herself made it out to be.
The Amazon.com description of The French Dancer’s Bastard: ‘Adele is not answerable for either her mother’s faults or yours …now that I know that she is, in a sense, parentless – forsaken by her mother and disowned by you, sir – I shall cling closer to her than before’ (from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte). Emma Tennant’s new novel tells the story of little Adele Varens, to whom Jane Eyre is governess in Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel. The illegitimate daughter of a celebrated Parisian actress, Adele is only eight when she comes to Thornfield Hall to live with the forbidding Edward Fairfax Rochester, who may or may not be her father. Adele longs to return to the glitter of Paris and to the mother who has been lost to her. Her loneliness would be complete were it not for the young governess who arrives to care for her, although Adele at first regards her with suspicion and dislike. But there is another shadow hanging over their lives: the dark secret locked away in a high garret. Adele’s curiosity will imperil them all, shatter their happiness and finally send her fleeing, frightened and alone, back to Paris.
A few years ago I spent the summer reading sequels and rewrites of the Bronte novels, including Adele and it stood out to me as one of the worst books I had ever read in my life. It was very funny, and I would not mind having the book simply to prove that I’m not making this stuff up, but I am glad that I had opted to loan it out of the library. I hope ‘French Dancer’s Bastard’ is a rewrite of Adele addressing things like, oh, Adele being 5 when she is conceived, and Mr Rochester smashing windows with some incredibly dense bon bons. This is also the book which features a lot of random moments when Mr Rochester is naked for no apparent reason- like, in the road. Adele just happens upon him with his trousers down in the street. And in the bath tub (there’s a spyhole in his bathroom and Bertha and Adele peer down at him while he’s in the bath, and he goes off to write an emo entry in his diary about how evil the child is).
Mrs. Fairfax tried to murder Jane. I loved this book just for how terrible it was. See, when Jane is pregnant with her first child, Mrs. Fairfax goes to her one day and convinces her that Edward really only loved Bertha, that Adele set the fire that destroyed Thornfield and that Adele has fled, that Mr Rochester is going to confess to setting the blaze to spare Adele and, as a consequence is going to be excecuted for murder (he also wanted for murdering someone in France who sends him letters demanding money- sent via some circus clowns… I am not kidding) and now Mrs Fairfax wants Jane to sign a confession to the fire to save Edward by killing herself. Jane refuses, so Mrs Fairfax pushes her off the roof where Jane dangles from the battlements crying ‘I’ll never sign that confession, Mrs. Fairfax!’ when Mr Rochester drives up (You can almost hear the ‘What the deuce?!’). Thwarted, Mrs Fairfax does the only sensible thing- she leaps from the battlements. Whoa, the symbolism…
So, my point is… I hope French Dancer’s Bastard is better but I have my doubts!