cover image The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece

The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece

John Pfordresher. Norton, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-24887-6

Pfordresher (Jesus and the Emergence of a Catholic Imagination), an English professor at Georgetown University, suggests that Charlotte Brontë’s beloved novel Jane Eyre draws its deep emotional power from the way she refashioned her own losses and frustrations into her heroine’s triumph. This book is a narrative of that transformation, essentially a biography of Brontë as told through the events of her novel. Pfordresher makes his way with anecdotal ease through his subject’s life, generously acknowledging his debt to previous biographies, letter collections, and Brontë’s juvenilia. He doesn’t quite resolve a paradox of Jane Eyre: Brontë claimed she was not her heroine, but the novel was titled “an autobiography,” and she insisted on its truth. The psychologizing, speculation, and parallel-hunting are interesting and occasionally haunting; for example, Pfordresher finds Brontë’s dead sisters in the character of Jane’s best friend, Helen Burns. But the biographical interpretation occasionally confuses the writer with her creation and ultimately limits the novel to a wishful righting of Brontë’s childhood torments, unhappy work as a governess, and painful, unrequited passion for Constantin Heger. Fans of the novel will enjoy this behind-the-scenes investigation into Jane Eyre and the imagination of its author, but the parallels it produces aren’t enough on their own to explain the enduring fascination of Brontë’s work.[em] (June) [/em]