The real story behind the scenes of Thornfield Hall – Mrs Fairfax tells her own story of what really went on behind the scenes of Thornfield Hall and how Jane Eyre really felt about Rochester and the legacy of Mr Rochester.
While the story of Thornfield Hall and the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester is only really known from Jane’s point of view. This story tells of the arrival of Bertha to the hall and her subsequent stay and scandal whilst there. How did she come to the hall? What is Mr Rochester’s real intentions? What links does Mrs Fairfax have with the family of the house?
The house is full of mystery and intrigue and by the time a certain young governess enters the frame, there is a lot of secrets whispering in the walls, down the stairs and along the corridors.
Just who was the real woman in the attic? The house keeper who has been there since the beginning tells her story. Let her voice be heard.
Place and setting
If you have read Jane Eyre, which if you haven’t, why haven’t you?, you will already be familiar with the gothic large Thornfield Hall located in Yorkshire where the rich Mr Rochester lives alone – well with his ward Adele and his housekeeper Mrs Fairfax. She has seen everything and until now has hidden in the background. But when she says things like this, it is immediately intriguing that we want to know more –
As I said, the Rochesters are very good at keeping secrets
Rochester informs the house that someone will be coming to life there – he is vague to say who this strange lady is – only that she is ill and needs special care. The hall once shut up and empty now becomes a bustling place as servants scrub and prepare for the latest arrival and the master of the house – Mr Rochester who seems rather biblical and grand:
The Master sat at his uncle’s great mahogany desk. Glints of red and green from the stained glass in the lead window flickered behind him
How difficult must it have been to keep such a secret – of a mad woman in the attic – secret from all visitors, some servants and any outsiders? Mrs Fairfax is worried and concerned for Bertha who she humanises (rather strangely in some ways for us)-
I had not promised to stand idly by while she was treated with harshness and kept like a prisoner.
The moment when Jane Eyre enters the picture, the Hall is a hub of secrecy, candlelight vigils and late night whispers in corridors and a tragedy unfolding in the attic at the top of the house.
All the events from those troubled times – the unexplained laughter, the fires, the injuries, the slamming of door and painful noises are all explained by Mrs Fairfax and Thornfield Hall becomes a more chilling and unforgiving place. Far different from that which Jane Eyre described…
I must admit that I read this with some trepidation as Jane Eyre must be one of the best and most iconic reads in the English language. It does mirror closely the events of that novel except for one important one which I am still thinking about…..
It’s very interesting to see Mrs Fairfax as the main character and to see her view of all the strange goings on which happened in Jane Eyre’s account of the story. I was pleasantly surprised by her human portrayal of Bertha and they way in which she lived and moved through the house. Her secret identity was revealed slowly and it was fascinating to actually get to meet her in this way, face to face as it were instead of through another character such as Jane Eyre. Not everything in a large house like this is ever what it seems and Bertha’s real place at Thornfield and they way the servants and in particular Alice Fairfax was intriguing. The scenes between Alice Fairfax and Grace Poole were the highlight of the book as when they chat and discuss matters, this is when the book really shines and we find out the real meaning of events, and the role of servants of the time.
By the time Jane Eyre arrive on the scene I was aching for her not to enter the house or to get too excited about her impending marriage. It was fascinating to see the background to the world Jane Eyre entered however and also to see how she is a minor character her as this is the story of Bertha. I will now reread Jane Eyre with a new understanding of the house and its inhabitants. Together with Wide Sargasso Sea,this novel adds to the overall story and explains much which the original only hints at. It is the skill of a clever author who manages to respect the original and explain or hint at events to make events more clearer and the characters of Alice and Bertha more human and people to be admired and respected.
I have a new respect for Alice Fairfax – she had a tough role at the house and a tougher role to play when Bertha comes on the scene. Her warmness and kind nature contrasts with the dark angle of the story and it’s the women of that house and the goings on behind the scenes that really makes you feel as if you’re one of them and that Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, here only sub characters in the story, really unawares of the real goings on at Thornfield Hall.