The Silver Travel Book Club read for December 2019 is the much-loved classic novel ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë.
One of the Leaders on this literary break will be Lizzie Enfield, author of four novels, a journalist, travel writer and regular contributor to national newspapers, magazines and radio. She has had short stories broadcast on Radio Four and published in various magazines and wrote a long-running column for The Oldie magazine, Mind The Age Gap. She also teaches creative writing and is a regular interviewer and panelist on the literary circuit. Find out more about Lizzie on her website.
Lizzie will be discussing with HF Book Club participants what makes Jane Eyre such an enduring classic, and is currently working on her own contemporary version of Charlotte Brontë’s original, first published under the pen name Currer Bell in 1847.
Silver Travel Book Club Editor Andrew will also be at the Brontë Weekend, and as part of his homework tracked down Lizzie to ask her a few quick questions about the original author and book, her own re-imagined version, and what HF’s guests can expect during the weekend.
Hello Lizzie, and thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions ahead of the HF Book Club Brontë Weekend in January. Firstly, how would you describe the main themes running through Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’?
Hello and I’m very excited to be running the book group. Themes of equality, belonging and entrapment all run through this novel: gender, social and equality in a relationship, belonging to a family, faith or another person and entrapment by circumstances, moral values, health and by love. These themes are as resonant now as they were when the novel first came out and make it a great book for discussion.
What do we know about Charlotte’s life, and that of her sisters, in the male-dominated world of Yorkshire in the first half of the 19th century?
Like her eponymous heroine, Charlotte Brontë’s life was marked by grief and hardship, which she was determined to overcome. Her mother died young and she and her four sisters were brought up by their curate father at the parsonage in Haworth. Charlotte’s two older sisters died at the boarding school which she also attended (the inspiration for Lowood) leaving her the eldest of the four surviving siblings. Writing, under male pseudonyms, was the thing that allowed the Brontë sisters to escape into other worlds and, eventually, the constraining circumstances of their lives. Reading and writing still offer that possibility to live beyond the circumstances we find ourselves in.
How different would Jane’s story be in the 21st century, do you think?
That’s an interesting question. I recently took part in a debate on Radio Four’s Front Row arts programme about how the #MeToo movement might affect romantic fiction and I cited Jane Eyre as the perfect example of a #MeToo novel because, although she loses her job as a result, Jane refuses to compromise her principles and live as Rochester’s mistress when she discovers he is already married. Many of the themes, as I said before, are resonant today but they play out differently because of the times they were written in. Rochester’s treatment of his wife, for example, is pretty much excused, in fact almost lauded as an alternative to an asylum but it’s hard to read the book now without feeling outraged on Berta’s behalf.
You’re currently working on your own updated version of Jane Eyre. What can you share with us about how you’re approaching a contemporary version of an English literary classic, and what we can expect from your own modern Jane?
It’s less an updated version and a more contemporary re-imagining. It’s about a teacher who falls in love with a man recently separated from his wife. It turns out that this separation is due to early onset dementia and his wife is now in a home. Many of the moral dilemmas Jane faces when she finds out about Berta are mirrored, but there’s a twist in the tale which forces my protagonist to confront the issue of trust and whether you can ever really have complete faith in another person.
How will you lead the Jane Eyre discussion group with HF Book Club guests? How do you recommend everyone prepares for the weekend in general, and particularly for the Jane Eyre session with you?
I don’t want to be too prescriptive. I’m hoping the weekend will be informative and stimulating, but also friendly and fun. I hope everyone will familiarise themselves with the book and maybe think about some of the things we’ve talked about here, the aspects of the book that still make it relevant today and the things that don’t sit quite so easily in the contemporary world.
Can you please tell us a little more about your own literary background, and what projects you’re working on at the moment, other than bringing Jane to contemporary life?
That’s a very grand sounding question! I started writing about ten years ago and have since had four novels published, the last was Ivy and Abe as Elizabeth, rather than Lizzie. I’ve got another in the pipeline and am working on the Jane Eyre book. I’ve also written short stories, which have appeared in various collections, magazines and on Radio Four. Fortunately, I have no great literary forebears with footsteps to follow in, although my grandmother was on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group and had a collection of poetry published by the Hogarth press. Virginia Wolf described her and my grandfather as so dull that she would “rather be dead in a field” than suffer their company. I hope I’ve escaped that family trait!
Thank you so much, Lizzie, for those thoughtful and engaging responses. See you in Yorkshire!
HF Holidays own and manage 18 country houses across the UK. Each has its own distinct character and is set in a beautiful part of the country, and from where you can enjoy a walking holiday or one of a huge choice of activity breaks. The HF Book Club Brontë Weekend will be at Newfield Hall in the Yorkshire Dales, close to Malham.