Publication Date: July 20, 2021
About the Author: USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. Her next romance, The Siren of Sussex, will be out in 2022 from Berkley/Penguin Random House.
To learn more, please visit MimiMatthews.com
In 1843 England, the schoolteacher John Eyre stands at the graveside of Helen Burns, the woman whom he failed to save from her husband. After all, “He was a man of letters and learning….not a man of action. Not a hero who could have ridden to Helen’s rescue and saved her, damn the consequences.” Plagued by headaches and remembrances, John takes refuge in the drug laudanum, finding himself more and more dependent on the sickly sweet vials.
Wrestling with his despair, and determined to find meaning once again in his vocation, John takes a tutoring position from Mr. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall. Upon arriving at the secluded manor surrounded by strange mists and the howls of wolves, John discovers that Mr. Fairfax is only the butler and a mysteriously absent Mrs. Rochester is the one who has employed him to tutor her two wards. The lads themselves are a startling surprise–shockingly thin, with dark, sunken eyes, they both refuse to speak. None of the servants can quite tell John what country the boys are from and what interest Mrs. Rochester has in them. To make matters worse, John finds that the boys themselves are being dosed with laudanum. Who is this Mrs. Rochester and what can she mean to do with these children?
As John is out walking on the moors, a rider comes upon him suddenly. The horse spooks, the rider is thrown, and John finds himself called upon to aid the newly-returned lady of the house. John quickly discovers that Mrs. Rochester knows her own mind, and that she has secrets she refuses to share. One of these is the exact connection with her wards and where they come from, but another is the strange manservant, Mr. Poole, who creates all sorts of havoc up on the third floor. Mrs. Rochester seems relieved that John is addicted to laudanum as it keeps him dead to the world at night, but as John tries to wean himself off the drug, he discovers some very strange happenings in the corridors of Thornfield Hall.
Yet despite Mrs. Rochester’s mysteriousness, an attraction between her and John begins to grow. When her room fills with smoke one night, John discovers it and pulls her from her bed before she asphyxiates. With that incident, their connection deepens. “Her slim fingers curved around his hand, clasping it warmly, bare skin to bare skin. It was one of the most intimate experiences of John’s recent memory. It made his mouth go dry. Made his heart somersault and his pulse thrum. She gazed at him, her eyes bright. ‘I knew the day I met you that you would be of service to me. I saw it in your face.’ Her voice trembled. ‘But I didn’t dare hope. Not until this moment.'” Just exactly what service John is yet to render Mrs. Rochester, is something, Reader, that you will have to find out for yourself….
John’s tale is interwoven with letters from the past year–letters from Miss Bertha Mason to her friend Miss Blanche Ingram. Bertha is a restless spirit, junketing about the continent, visiting Egypt, and eager to make the acquaintance of intelligent and interesting people. When her contact with Mrs. Wren brings her in the orbit of the lady’s brother, Mr. Rochester, Bertha finds the man charming, agreeable, handsome, enigmatic, and utterly captivating. “I suppose it’s that Mr. Rochester has taken such an interest in me,” she writes Blanche. “He solicits my opinions on a range of topics and has even heeded my advice on occasion.” Strangely enough, the nightlife loving Mr. Rochester, sleeps through the day and is up at all hours “talking and dining and wandering about the city.” Enamored by this new companion, Bertha travels to his estate in Eastern Europe, and soon accepts his proposal of marriage.
Life as Mrs. Rochester turns out to be less glamorous than Bertha expected, however. Mr. Rochester is a peculiar, irritable, and dominating husband. He forbids her to enter certain parts of the castle and becomes violent at times when she crosses his will. When Bertha’s maid Agnes disappears without notice, Bertha’s discomfiture grows. The superstitious villagers seem to be warning her about something, but Bertha cannot understand their language. It is only after finding a secret passageway inside the castle that Bertha’s worst suspicions are confirmed….
From the title, I knew that this book was a retelling of Jane Eyre, and that was enough to make me anticipate it, but to find out that it was a combination of both Jane Eyre and another favorite, Dracula, was a real treat. One of the things that Mimi Matthews very cleverly puts her finger on is a similarity between Bronte’s Mr. Rochester and the blood-sucking Dracula of Bram Stoker’s imagination. Matthews notes that “I used to think Jane Eyre a deeply romantic novel, and Mr. Rochester an equally romantic hero,” however, her opinion changed as she grew older. “I began to notice all the ways that Mr. Rochester exploits Jane’s innocence and takes advantage of his position of power.” Rochester, with his callous and highhanded treatment of women in general and Jane in particular, is not so different from a certain Transylvanian monster.
In the epistolary section of the book, Bertha is a much stronger person than Bram Stoker’s Jonathan Harker. She fights back against the evil surrounding her, finding a way to save both herself and others. Unlike the shrinking Helen Burns of John Eyre’s memories, Bertha is intelligent and capable enough to stand on her own. Her idea of a partner is someone who will stand beside her in the battle of life, not someone who will carry her fainting form to safety. John Eyre turns out to be just that partner–a man intellectual enough to interest her, determined enough to aid her, and loyal enough to love her.
Occasionally, adaptations of great books can feel a little stale (if the author just rehashes the original) or a little sacrilegious (if the author goes off-canon too much and becomes a loose cannon). This book awakens neither of those feelings. The clever gender-reversal makes John Eyre an entirely original character, while the skeleton of the original Bronte story adds anticipation to find out what twists will occur as events play out. The interwoven narrative with the letters heightens the dread of what lies in the third story of Thornfield Hall in a delightfully slow but suspenseful manner.
Those who have read both classics will enjoy the intricacies of this novel the most, but the characters, adventure, and romance are so well-expressed that any reader will appreciate this newest offering from the inimitable Mimi Matthews.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
This book is on tour from July 12 through July 25. Check out the other stops along the tour and read more reviews of this delightful tale.
July 12 The Caffeinated Bibliophile (review)
July 12 Syrie James (review)
July 12 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (review)
July 13 Bronte Blog (interview)
July 13 Laura’s Reviews (review)
July 13 All-of-a-Kind Mom (spotlight)
July 14 Gwendalyn’s Books (review)
July 14 Austenesque Reviews (review)
July 15 Bookworm Lisa (review)
July 15 Nurse Bookie (review)
July 16 Savvy Verse and Wit (excerpt)
July 16 The Lit Bitch (review)
July 17 My Bookish Bliss (review)
July 17 From the TBR Pile (review)
July 18 Rosanne E. Lortz (review)
July 18 Books, Teacups, & Reviews (review)
July 19 The Secret Victorianist (review)
July 19 Christian Chick’s Thoughts (review)
July 19 The Gothic Library (review)
July 20 Getting Your Read On (review)
July 20 The Silver Petticoat Review (review)
July 20 Lu Reviews Books (review)
July 21 Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books (spotlight)
July 21 The Green Mockingbird (review)
July 22 Unabridged Chick (review)
July 22 A Darn Good Read (review)
July 23 Kathleen Flynn (review)
July 23 So Little Time… (review)
July 23 The Calico Critic (review)
July 24 The Bronte Babe (review)
July 24 Probably at the Library (review)
July 24 Impressions in Ink (review)
July 25 From Pemberley to Milton (review)
July 25 Vesper’s Place (review)
July 25 Cup of Tea with that Book Please (review)