Synopsis: It’s a retelling of Jane Eyre, but from Mrs Fairfax’s perspective. She was the housekeeper in Charlotte Bronte’s original work, and provides another point of view on the events which many will be familiar with.
I liked it. Let me say that first, although it does take certain liberties, and unusual shifts from Jane Eyre. It’s clear that Stubbs is familiar with the world, and has done research beyond rereading the original. She develops Mrs Fairfax’s back story beyond the bare bones which Bronte offered, as she concentrated on Jane Eyre’s history, but it’s believable back story.
I haven’t read Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, which focuses on Bertha Mason, so I have no idea how Bertha was represented in that work, but Stubbs presents her as someone to be pitied, and that has moments of clarity. Mrs Fairfax’s thoughts are in the first person throughout the novel, and it’s clear that Stubbs intends her to have a slightly darker edge. Stubbs’ Mrs Fairfax is indirectly responsible for the ruination of a housemaid, well that’s not entirely true, she arranges for Martha, a surly maid with pretensions of being a lady’s maid to join the Ingram household, and the girl falls pregnant by Blanche’s younger brother.
Blanche is painted in a very negative light, accused of injuring Martha’s upper arms until they are ‘black with bruises’ and her brother pays Martha five guineas to not mention who the father of her baby is.
It’s a interesting take, but there are some moments that purists will hate. I have to confess that I was taken aback by the fact that Mrs Fairfax seems to be more interested in spending time with Bertha than Jane during large sections of the book. Stubbs tells us that Mrs Fairfax thinks of Jane as being a ‘silly girl’ particularly in the early stages of their acquaintance.
Stubbs’ take is a easy book to read, and well worth a look, but doesn’t have the same elegance of writing style as Jo Baker’s Longbourn, which does a similar thing, in that it reveals the inner thoughts of the servants featured in a classic, but Baker does it for Pride and Prejudice. I would only suggest it if you are a reader that is open to classics’ being reinterpreted. If you are a purist, then some of Stubbs’ writing choices will leave you cold.