Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and Charlotte Bronte is one of my favorite authors – so how could I not want to read Becoming Jane Eyre, where such a talented and influential female author comes to life?  

Part biography and part fiction, Becoming Jane Eyre concentrates on the short life of a brilliant author who has produced famous works such as Jane Eyre, Villette and The Professor. Sheila Kohler’s novel gives the reader an insight into Charlotte’s life as a writer, but also as a daughter and sister. The reader can witness how Charlotte managed to create such remarkable novels, despite the fact that she had a difficult life, plagued by loss, grief and poverty.  

Born in 1816 in Yorkshire, Charlotte Bronte is the daughter of a poor clergyman and the third of six children. She has to deal with tragedy at an early age as she witnesses the deaths of her mother and her two sisters, Maria and Elizabeth. In addition to that, her relationship with her father isn’t always happy and easy. The parson doesn’t know how to handle his daughters; his son Branwell has always been his favorite child. But it is Branwell who disappoints him the most – the young man drowns his sorrows in drugs and alcohol and falls into debt. Facing poverty, the sisters have to take up positions as teachers and governesses. In 1842, Charlotte and Emily travel to Brussels to enroll in a boarding school. There, Charlotte teaches English and grows closer to Constantin Heger, a married professor. For the first time in her life, she feels appreciated and understood. Her professor recognizes Charlotte’s writing talent and they spend a lot of time together, having fiery conversations about literature, religion and writing. Charlotte has fallen in love with this intelligent man, but she knows that there is no future for them. She soon feels lonely in Brussels because Constantin Heger has become distant. Disappointed, she returns home and uses her experience at the boarding school as an inspiration for her novel The Professor (and later for Villette). But when The Professor is rejected by many publishing houses, Charlotte cannot hide her disappointment. What she doesn’t know yet, is the fact that she will soon write her famous novel Jane Eyre. While she takes care of her sick father, Charlotte has a vision of a young girl, orphaned and alone. The young girl, named Jane, has to deal with ill-treatment, poverty and tragedy. Many ideas come to Charlotte’s mind, as she recalls her own journey – a journey full of suffering, disappointment and foolish dreams. While she thinks about her protagonist Jane, Charlotte relives everything once again – the pain she felt when her sisters died, her teaching experience in Brussels and her feelings for the professor. But Charlotte wants Jane to have a better chance in life. That’s why she decides to give her heroine a strong voice; she gives Jane the courage to speak up for herself and she wants her to be happy, with her Mr. Rochester. Thus accrues an impressive tale of independence, love, forgiveness and morality. When Jane Eyre is finally published, it receives many positive reviews and high praise. Anne and Emily also publish their novels Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights, but they don’t experience the same success. Charlotte is nevertheless very content with her achievement, but her happiness is short-lived, since she can’t share her success with her siblings. After Branwell’s death, she also loses her beloved sisters Anne and Emily, who die of pulmonary tuberculosis. In 1854, Charlotte marries Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate. She soon becomes pregnant, but tragedy strikes again when only after nine happy months of marriage, Charlotte dies, along with her unborn child, at the young age of 38.  


Becoming Jane Eyre is a must read for Bronte fans as Shelia Kohler gives us a glimpse into the life of a gifted author, illustrating how passionate, intelligent and kindhearted Charlotte Bronte was. Sheila Kohler allows Charlotte to speak from the bottom of her heart, making her vulnerable, but at the same time showing us a strong and determined young woman. Becoming Jane Eyre depicts Charlotte Bronte as a devoted woman, who was very passionate about her family and her writing. If you get the chance to read this book, you will delight in finding out about the Bronte sisters; you will be able to cast an eye at Charlotte’s relationship with her father and to witness her intimate thoughts on love and writing.  

I truly loved this novel and I couldn’t put it down. I felt sad when I finished this book and I longed for more information on Charlotte Bronte. That’s why I want to read The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell in the future!  

I would like to thank Gabrielle Gantz from Penguin Group  for giving me the opportunity to review this great novel! Gabrielle also sent me two other Penguin books which I will read and review soon. Thank you for everything, Gabrielle! 


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lua
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 13:17:04

    Great post Adreea! I am such an obsessed fan of Jane Eyre & Charlotte Bronte. June has suggested a few days ago and thanks to her I’m actually reading Villette at the moment. It’s not as powerful and fascinating as Jane Eyre but I’m enjoying it nevertheless…:) I can’t wait to read Becoming Jane Eyre, it’s on my list! Thanks for the great review.


  2. Andreea
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 17:22:53

    Thanks Lua! I’ve reviewed Villette a few months ago and I loved it as well. It’s very autobiographical, and such a powerful book. I still need to read her other novels, though. The Professor and Emma, her unfinished work, are on my wish list!


  3. vivienne
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 17:34:52

    I have to confess to not having read any of the books by the Bronte Sisters. However, this is a year of change, so hopefully by the end of it, I hope to have read Wuthering Heights.

    This books sounds like a really good read. I did pick up The Bronte Myth, which looks at the lives of the sisters and I hope to read it soon.


    • Andreea
      Mar 01, 2010 @ 13:16:44

      Well, you still have the time to read her books. It’s never too late. Thanks for mentioning The Bronte Myth. I will definitely check it out!


  4. Nymeth
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 21:47:16

    I’m definitely interested in reading this, but I might pick up a biography of the Brontës first, just so I might be able to tell fact from fiction.


    • Andreea
      Mar 01, 2010 @ 13:18:43

      Yes, pick up a biography first. As I said in my post, I want to read the one by Elizabeth Gaskell in the future, as I heard that it’s a really good one. Sheila Kohler also mentions it in her book.


  5. ds
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 03:58:05

    Sounds like an interesting read. Jane Eyre is among my all-time favorites, and Charlotte bore more than her share of tragedy in her short life. Will keep an eye out. Thanks, Andreea!


    • Andreea
      Mar 01, 2010 @ 13:21:51

      Yes, Charlotte had to deal with so many tragedies, and it’s so sad that she died so young. I hope you get to read this book. It’s a gift to all Bronte fans.


  6. e.lee
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 04:57:10

    you just made my day! I love Jane Eyre!


    • Andreea
      Mar 01, 2010 @ 13:23:18

      If you have the chance, then read this book. It will certainly appeal to you, since you love Jane Eyre.


  7. JaneGS
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 22:34:27

    I have recently tried two novels about Charlotte Bronte and gave up both in despair, as the fictionalized Charlotte just didn’t sound like the Charlotte I’ve come to know through biographies, her letters, and her writings. This attempt, however, sounds like the author got it right. So glad that it resonated with you–I’ve loved JE since I first read it as a young girl, and I still consider it one of the strongest novels around.

    The title is very interesting. I’ve read Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder and Becoming Jane (i.e., Austen), but Becoming Jane Eyre suggests that JE was self-portrait, or perhaps a picture of who CB really wanted to be? Do I have that right?


  8. Andreea
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 11:22:37

    I’m sorry to hear that these books didn’t work for you. Well, here’s what the author says about her novel:

    “The spark for this novel came from a line in Lyndall Gordon’s biography of Charlotte Bronte: “What happened as she sat with Papa in that darkened room in Boundary Street remains in shadow.” I have tried to imagine what might have happened during the writing of Jane Eyre in Manchester and Haworth, and how the book changed the lives of the Brontes and all the rest of us.”

    Charlotte has created Jane Eyre’s story by using all the experiences, memories and sufferings of her own life, but she has decided to make her character strong and to give her happiness. So you are probably right. Charlotte wanted to be like Jane Eyre, and to have the same happy conclusion.

    I hope this answers your question.


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  10. Rebecca
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 16:04:44

    Hi All,

    I am also a massive fan of Charlotte (and Emily) Bronte; I’m hoping to read Anne’s novels at some point also!

    But for the time being I have just finished ‘The Bronte Story’ by Margaret Lane which I highly recommend. M Lane describes her book as a ‘reconsideration of Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte’ so she points out inconsistencies in the original biography and reasons why Mrs Gaskell has left events out of the original book.

    I’m not sure if the book is available in the US (I’m assuming that most of the people commenting are based in the US?) but if it is then definitely get a copy!

    I’m luck enoughy to live in the North of England (Manchester) so I’ve visited Haworth where the Brontes lived on 2 occassions and it is absolutely a must for Bronte fans if the opportunity is ever there xx


  11. rose
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 17:40:58

    hello,thank you so much I am fond of charlotte bronte and i have read Jane Eyre.It is really a wonderful story;we find horor,romance and gothic in it .And my thesis is about this novel.thank you once more about this article.


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