Thornfield Hall, 1821. Alice Fairfax takes up her role as housekeeper of the estate. But when Mr Rochester presents her with a woman who is to be hidden on the third floor, she finds herself responsible for much more than the house.
This is the story Jane Eyre never knew; a narrative played out beneath the stairs, as the servants kept their master's secret safe and sound. Thornfield Hall is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre told from Alice Fairfax's point-of-view. (Read full review here)
"So he packed his bags. Before he left me to cope with what he regarded as a dangerous lunatic and an inconvenient foreign orphan child I asked for a substantial increase in the allowance for expenses. Adele and her maid would not be cheap to maintain and there was a potential governess to be paid and catered for. Mr Rochester did not argue or protest. I have noticed how easy it is for rich men to be generous. He wrote a note for his agent to give me what I asked for, pulled on his gloves and picked up his riding crop. When he was mounted on Mesrour and ready to leave he called out to me, ‘Get a governess. The brat is going to school as soon as she speaks English.’ He touched Mesrour with his heels and set off. ‘Don’t forget. A governess.’
As is my custom when I have problems to sort out I went up to the third floor and sought advice from Grace. She sat by the fire and smoked her pipe while Bertha put the finishing touches to some embroidery.
‘A governess! To be kept in the dark. That’ll spoil things for us. There’ll be no more cosy evening chats for us round the fire here. You’ll have to sit in your room with her and make conversation. You will have to be on your best behaviour. No more drinking porter.’ Grace cackled with laughter at the thought. It was true that I had developed a taste for her favourite drink.
‘Get a really inexperienced one,’ she advised me. ‘Some girl straight out of school who doesn’t know how things are done in the gentry’s houses. Then we can sort of mould her into our ways. Keep her away from the back stairs. That shouldn’t be difficult. Governesses are so touchy about their position they want to use the main staircase all the time, like family. Confine her to the school room of a morning. Get her to walk in the garden in the afternoon so we can have our sewing sessions. I know! Pretend there’s a ghost on the top floor. Every old house has a ghost. Listen to this.’ She gave a strange hollow laugh that had much menace and no humour in it.
The ghoulish laughter echoed round the walls. It sounded so strange that Bertha leapt up and fled to her room. ‘That’s right, Bertha,’ said Grace. ‘That was just a practice. We are going to use it as a warning sound. When you hear that noise, you go to your room, shut the door and wait for me.’
I did not rush to find a governess; I was enjoying the company of little Adele. She shared her meals with me in my room. In truth I spoiled the child while I had the opportunity to do so. Grace’s advice about finding an inexperienced tutor seemed a good idea to me. I looked in the advertisements in the Yorkshire Herald. There were two possible governesses who had advertised. I wrote to them asking for their references and testimonials. They both replied. One lady of twenty-five had been a governess in four different households. She listed the names of the people she had worked for; too many for my purposes. The other governess had never even left her first school. She had been both pupil and teacher in the same establishment, Lowood
School. For appearance’s sake I wrote for her references though in truth I was determined to employ her. Naivety was her greatest qualification as far as I was concerned. And that is how Jane Eyre came to Thornfield Hall."
Thornfield Hall by Jane Stubbs is published by Atlantic Books
Listen to our discussion of Thornfield Hall in the February podcast