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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

'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).

And... spoilers!


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!

17 comments:

Alice Oddcabinet said...

Oh, you've *got* to be kidding me. "No, Mrs Fairfax! I won't sign that confession!"????

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Brontëana said...

No, no I'm not. It was just that bad- the line was very close to that if I remember correctly. The book was terribly confusing. I read one scene over several times, trying to get my head around the idea of Adele being at least a todler when she was conceived- but it didn't work.

There were other horrors. It is somewhat like Wide Sargasso Sea in disregarding the text but since it is a rewrite, that's fine but it is to the point of absurdity. (Making Celine from a famous French circus family who have performing ponies. I think the only reason that change was made was so Rochester could flog Celine with the family's most prized whip- 'and that is when you were conceived, ma petite!'

ChrisV said...

Ohhh Rochester with a whip....the imagination goes wild....

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable!

I was always skeptical as to whether they would be any good. But I never could have imagined they would be quite this bad...

I suppose they're worth reading for comedy value alone...

-L

Brontëana said...

to chrisv:

No imagination necessary. He's punishing Celine for cheating on him by whipping and raping her (thankfully we don't get to read the probably even more horribly written details).

Brontëana said...

to L:

I could not obtain some of the others: Jane Eyre's Daughter, Mrs Rochester etc... I read Wide Sargasso Sea and Adele. If I read any others they were forgettable and I forget them. Adele was definately comedy gold, but WSS was not as striking as I had expected. I was prepared to be distressed by its portrayal of Rochester and instead I found that I was outraged by what it did to Bertha. But that's another story...

Yes, it was this bad. :)

Anonymous said...

It almost makes you want to write your own!

Although I know it's not really the novel that you're supposed to 'enjoy', I don't think I took enough away from WSS to be tempted to read it again.

But I'll look out for the upcoming BBC adap...


-L

mysticgypsy said...

I liked reading WSS, despite its tumultous content.

Um..also, the bit about Adele and a naked Rochester is very disturbing. eww.

ChrisV said...

Rochester as a sex offender...just so wrong.

Anonymous said...

Having said that, isn't there a suggestion in JE - just before the wedding - that she was sensitive to the fact that his over-whelming passion for her could pose a threat?

I could be wrong of course... and I'm sure there's more than one way of reading the passage... but it just stuck out in my mind.

-L

Brontëana said...

to L:

I have been approached by writers who are working on rewrites and the like before. There are so many bad rewrites out there. I think Emma Brown was the best, but it was also unsatisfying.

I didn't appreciate WSS. I don't have an interest in re-reading it other than I don't think I have a proper impression of a book unless I have read it twice.

Brontëana said...

to mysticgypsy:

I didn't find it tumultuous... then again I've had my own traumatic moments so what I consider tumultuous might be different. I didn't like the style, and I felt that her skill in characterization was poor.

I think 'Adele' is simply supposed to shock us. That would explain why so little is left alone. Celine is not even allowed to remain an opera dancer- she has to be a circus performer! Rochester she never approaches. He moves in and out of scenes like an intimidating presence but seems to have to mind of his own- another non-character (who wanders around naked).

Brontëana said...

to chrisv:

That was the cheapest part of the novel. I know it was trying to be sensational and disruptive to how we normally read Jane Eyre but I can't feel charitable enough to think it wasn't simply done to rake in some money by marketting the book using a classic- and now we have a second version?

Brontëana said...

to L: I'm not sure which passage you mean but I never had the impression that he would ever sexually assault someone.

ChrisV said...

I know that, after the wedding, he talks about how he could crush her but her spirit would still be free. I never really took that as a physical threat to her wellbeing. Also, Jane is concerned that his despair and his self destructive tendencies could destroy him once she leaves -- I have always understood that concern as reference to the self-destructive part of his passionate nature.

As you said, Bronteana, that author is riding the coat-tails of a classic but not in a way that creatively contributes insight into the story or its characters.

Anonymous said...

Bronteana: I didn't take to the idea at all either. It was actually one of our lecturers at uni who suggested it... The passage is towards the end of chapter 24 - and re-reading it now, it seems she was more in fear of him trying to seduce her, than anything else.

-L

John, Of Course. said...

See, this is what frusterates me. There is fan fiction, and there is re-writing.. and then, there is complete DISREGARD. ugh. Mrs. Fairfax? Trying to kill Jane? That is the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night.

And she was 5 when she was concieved? What on EARTH does that even MEAN?

.. I.. must.. take a nap now, or something.