Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966), The Prequel which inspired the Sequel to Jane Eyre: The Eyre Hall Series

I would never have written The Eyre Hall Series if I had not read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (I was about fourteen the first time I read it). Many of the characters and events in The Eyre Hall Series were inspired by Jane Eyre, however my main inspiration for writing The Eyre Hall Series was Wide Sargasso Sea, the prequel to Jane Eyre, written by Jean Rhys in 1966 (I read WSS, many years after JE, when I was over forty, at the suggestion of my friend and colleague, Anne Gerd Petersen).

Check out my review on Goodreads

Wide Sargasso Sea tells us Bertha Antoinetta Mason’s story from her childhood in Jamaica to her tragic death at Thornfield Hall. It was Ms Rhys’s retelling of ‘the madwoman in the attic’s’ story which inspired my unique character, and one of the protagonists of The Eyre Hall Series: Annette Mason.

Annette is Jane’s antagonist in Blood Moon at Eyre Hall. She is the child who was born in the attic to Bertha Mason, rejected by Edward Rochester, and surreptitiously removed by her uncle, Richard Mason, to a convent in Jamaica.

The Eyre Hall Series would not exist without Annette Mason. Annette was inspired by Jane Eyre (Jane dreams she hears a baby in Jane Eyre, more information below), and created as a tribute to Bertha Antoinette Mason, a wealthy Creole heiress who was used and abused by Edward Rochester in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. (Read my post about The Madwoman in the Attic here).

“But there was no baby in the attic in Jane Eyre,” you may say.

Only Grace Poole, Edward Rochester and Richard Mason knew what was happening, or who was in the attic for ten years, and none of them was a reliable narrator. The baby was not there the day Mr Rochester opened the attic and showed Jane Eyre, the Vicar and the solicitor who was inside, but that doesn’t mean the baby hadn’t been there at some point during the previous years.

There are two scenes in Jane Eyre in which Jane dreams of a baby and hears its cries while she is sleeping directly under the attic at Thornfield Hall.

Chapter XXI of Jane Eyre, starts like this:

Presentiments are strange things! And so are sympathies; and so are signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has not yet found the key.

Jane then tells the reader about her dream:

The past week scarcely a night had gone over my couch that had not brought with it a dream of an infant, which I sometimes hushed in my arms, sometimes dandled on my knee, sometimes watched playing with daisies on a lawn, or again, dabbling its hands in running water. It was a wailing child this night, and a laughing one the next: now it nestled close to me, and now it ran from me; but whatever mood the apparition evinced, whatever aspect it wore, it failed not for seven successive nights to meet me the moment I entered the land of slumber.

And in the following paragraph:

It was from companionship with this baby-phantom I had been roused on that moonlit night when I heard the cry; and it was on the afternoon of the day following I was summoned downstairs by a message that someone wanted me in Mrs. Fairfax’s room.

This does not mean there was a baby in the attic. In fact, Jane attributes the dream to her childhood, but then, Jane has no idea what is going on in the attic, does she?

Jane’s dream also means that my imagining of the baby in the attic is not a feverish or absurd delusion. The baby is a result of reading between the lines of Jane Eyre. It is an account of what could have occurred in that attic, where the first Mrs Rochester was held prisoner for ten years, while her husband was away most of the time, galavanting with mistresses in the continent.

When I started writing the Eyre Hall Series in 2013, I had four characters in mind. Three first appeared in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, namely, Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, and Richard Mason. The fourth belongs to my imagination: Annette Mason.

Annette Mason is meant to be a tribute to her mother, Bertha Antoinetta Mason. Her uncle, Richard Mason, has brought Annette to Eyre Hall for his own devious purposes, but from this author’s point of view, Annette has come to reinstate and vindicate her mother and face her mother’s rival: Jane Eyre Rochester. How will Jane react to Annette’s arrival, twenty-two years after her marriage to Edward Rochester? Well, you’ll have to read The Eyre Hall Series to find out!

Why not start with Blood Moon at Eyre Hall, Book One, and see if it’s for you?

You can read the first chapter on this blog post:

Find out more about Blood Moon at Eyre Hall here:

International link to Blood Moon at Eyre Hall here

Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall #amwriting #HistoricalFiction #JaneEyre

I have some important news for readers who enjoyed the Eyre Hall Trilogy and for future readers too, of course!

I’m writing a prequel, which takes place at Eyre Hall on and around the early September, 1865, during the Harvest Moon, thus its title, Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall.

Photo by Larisa K on https://pixabay.com/es/

I chose this moment and this title because it takes place roughly two months before Halloween, which is the setting for book one, All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Significant events in all four novels take place on and around the ancient, time-honoured festivals in their titles. I’ve harnessed the power of traditions and rituals in literature and life to shape our world view and bond societies, but more about that in a future post.  

It sounds strange, I know, a prequel to a sequel, so, I think I should briefly explain why I’m so excited about this new project.

It’s not exactly new, because I started jotting down ideas and planning over a year ago. In fact, I’ve done most of the outlining (yes, I’m a plotter, not a pantser and I’ll tell you why in a minute!), and the characters are already there, as they are the same as the first novel in the trilogy, All Hallows at Eyre Hall.  

Now let me tell you about my reasons for writing a prequel, because there is more than one.

In the first place, book one, which is over 112,000 words long, is too long for a first novel in a series, compared to other trilogies. Most editors suggest novels should be are between 70,000 and 100,000 words, in fact, the shorter the better, and as a reader, I tend to agree. My second and third novels in the trilogy, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall and Midsummer at Eyre Hall are both well within that number at around 80,000 words each.

Secondly, I’ve learnt so many things along the way, that it seems a pity not to prepare a second, revised edition of my first novel, which will be a little shorter, but worry not! None of the plot, action or characters will be missing, because I’ll be including the removed scenes in the prequel.

However there will be some words I’ll be doing away with, because I’ll be tightening the prose, something I’ve learned to do in the last seven years since I started my career as a writer. Unfortunately, I used to ramble, a bit, and although the tendency is still there, I have since made a conscious effort to curb that inclination and edit very carefully.

To be honest, when I wrote All Hallows at Eyre Hall, I didn’t know what I was doing as an author. I thought because I’d read and analysed thousands of books for my profession (I was an English language and literature teacher for over 30 years) and for pleasure (I’ve been an avid reader since the age of twelve!) that I knew how to write a novel. So, I did what Stephen King, and many other experts on the matter recommend, I sat down and wrote with an idea to write a sequel to Jane Eyre (and here’s why), but no specific plan.

Pantsing was a wonderful experience, my characters grew a life of their own and I set off on a creative and thrilling  journey into Victorian England. I researched and wrote so much that I realised one novel wouldn’t be enough, and on the other hand, I was also getting into a rut. I discovered, the hard way, that not knowing where you’re going is exciting, at first, but when you have the constraints of time and space you really have to put an end to the wandering and start planning the journey or you’ll never get home on time!

That was when I stopped pantsing and started planning ahead. I read blogs and books on structure, plotting and story arcs, I took an online course, analysed some novels with this in mind, and then I sat down to plan my own way of outlining. I wrote this post about my plotting process some time ago, but I need to write another post on the subject, because although that’s what I did a few years ago, and it is similar to my present process, since then, I’ve adapted, decluttered and simplified my plotting method (more about that in another post).

So, I’m making All Hallows a little shorter and a little better. You’re probably wondering what the prequel’s all about. Will it just have the missing bits in book one? Not at all, it’s a complete novel which I’m really excited about writing.

In All Hallows, Mr. Rochester is on his death bed, more or less delirious, bad-tempered and very unattractive. I was very hard on him and I still stand by that interpretation of his character, based on his actions, omissions and lies in Jane Eyre, but some of my readers had difficulty coming to terms with this ‘unromantic’ and villainous Rochester.

I had presumed any reader who had read Wide Sargasso Sea (see this post about this prequel to Jane Eyre by Jean Rhys), and reread Jane Eyre, would have read between the lines and realised Rochester was totally unworthy of Jane, but it took me years to come to that conclusion and my readers only have the few hours it takes to read my novel. So, I’m making amends with a prequel.

In Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall, Rochester is not yet on his deathbed, and I’ll try harder, (I have another three hundred pages, so I think I’ll manage it!) to convey what’s been happening in Jane and Rochester’s lives and how their marriage has eroded over the previous twenty-two years.

There’s a long process ahead which I’ll be sharing with occasional updates, and hopefully Harvest Moon at Eyre Hall and a revised edition of All Hallows, as well as a box set of the four novels in The Eyre Hall Trilogy, will be published before the next year’s Harvest Moon.

Over the next few months as we’ll all be coping with the Covid epidemic, we’ll be staying at home and more than ever, and although I wish the worry and suffering it is causing all of us were over, I will be making use of the quiet time ahead by reading, reflecting and writing.

By the way, just in case you were wondering, The Eyre Hall Trilogy is not the sad story of a failed marriage, it has plenty of action, romance, suspense, engaging characters and twists and turns. There are some dark aspects and a few nasty villains, but overall it’s an exciting story set in Victorian England.

Stay safe and happy Friday!

(I have some more publishing news, but I’ll leave that for another post).

Sequels, Prequels, Reinterpretations, Rewritings, and Writing Back…

When I am asked what my novel’s about, I reply briefly, “It’s a Victorian Gothic Romance, which takes place around All Hallows, at Eyre Hall, twenty-two years after Jane Eyre married Edward Rochester.” A typical reaction, before reading the novel, is:

“Oh, so it’s a sequel / follow-up / spin-off of the original?”

The answer is easy, “Yes, it is”, but also complex, “it’s much more than that.

Sequel, follow-up, or spin-off, are synonyms, that is they all refer to a work of literature, film, theatre, television, music, or game that continues the story of, or expands upon, an earlier work. Sequels usually portray the same fictional universe; setting, characters, and events, at a later date.

Although All Hallows at Eyre Hall is presented as the ‘Breathtaking Sequel to Jane Eyre’, it is also the sequel of Wide Sargasso Sea, because it is based on both novels. That is to say, I have taken the characters and events in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, as my fictional reality, and the basis of my novel. The characters and events portrayed in both novels, come to life, once again, in a fictional blend, in my novel.

Just to remind you, although Wide Sargasso Sea was published in 1966, it is the fictional prequel to Jane Eyre, which tells the story of Bertha, Rochester’s first wife, and infamous ‘madwoman in the attic’.

In this sense, All Hallows at Eyre Hall is a sequel because it does portray a continuation of the original universe. Some of the characters are still present, some have died, and there are some new characters. The pre-existing characters are not exactly the same, because twenty-two years have passed, and fictional characters, as all people, evolve over time. The location is the same, although the specific setting has changed from Thornfield Hall, which was burnt down, to Eyre Hall, the mansion Mrs. Rochester rebuilt with the inheritance she received from her uncle, John Eyre.

Once readers have actually read it, they realize it’s not a typical sequel, and they say:

“Oh, you’ve reinterpreted / rewritten the original story.”
“Oh, you’ve written back to Charlotte Bronte.”

Well, that’s true, too. I’ve (irreverently, according to some), done all three. I am aware that my novel may disappoint some readers who had fallen in love with Edward Rochester, as Jane did. Unfortunately, I simply point out that Jane is in love with Rochester, and she is therefore an unreliable, or at least biased, narrator. On the other hand,  she gives me all the background information I use in my novel to expose Rochester as the villain he always was. This does not mean Jane and Rochester’s love story was a fake. It is one of the greatest literary love stories of all time, but that doesn’t mean they were perfect, or flawless characters.

I have reinterpreted Jane Eyre, based on reading between and closely into the lines Charlotte Bronte wrote. Jean Rhys, a Creole herself, was the first to ‘write back’ to Charlotte Bronte from a postcolonial perspective. Rhys gave voiceless, mad, imprisoned Bertha, the freedom, voice, and life, which Jane Eyre had denied her.

By incorporating Rhys’s thesis into my novel, I am indulging in the same rebellious literary trend. Moreover, I have also added to Rhys’s theories, by incorporating more subplots, which I picked up from spaces I found in the original. I can’t go into greater detail without including spoilers, but I have based my recreation on facts I found in Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre is is the origin of this magnificent literary creation. It is the reason why Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea, and both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, are the reason why I wrote All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Looking at the three novels, which form a trilogy in my literary imagination, they are complimentary, although they can stand on their own. Each novel can be read independently, however, as they are all part of the same story, of Jane Eyre’s story, if the three have been read (not necessarily consecutively), the reader will enjoy the experience even more.

So, have I written a sequel to Jane Eyre?

Yes, I have. I’ve written a sequel to both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, based on a close reading and subsequent reinterpretation of the characters and events portrayed in both novels. I’ve then used my own creative license, to imagine events twenty-two years after Jane’s marriage. My aim has been to reconcile both works of art. Jane and Bertha, both Mrs. Rochesters will come face to face, and over time, as my trilogy progresses, Bertha will be reinstated and the wrongs she suffered will be repaired. How? It’s all in the Eyre Hall Trilogy