Adele Grace and Celine by Claire Moïse
I’m about to break a rule here. You see, my review policy states that I don’t accept books self-published via vanity presses, but, technically, I didn’t accept Adele Grace and Celine—rather, it was thrust upon me by the requirements of my senior thesis (which is on Jane Eyre fanfiction, if you don’t know; they wouldn’t let me write about Tolkien). But ultimately, it’s my blog, I’ll cry if I want to, etc. And I don’t think I could stand having to read a book for my thesis and not reviewing it for the blog, since most of this blog’s purpose is to record what I read. Plus, it did end up being the best of the Jane Eyre spin-offs I’ve read so far. Exception made!
Adele Grace and Celine (yep, no accents or commas) starts with Jane Eyre and runs freely with the life of the Varens women, Rochester’s spurned lover, Celine, and his potential bastard daughter, Adele. Unbeknownst to Adele and Rochester, Celine Varens faked her death in order for Adele to be brought up a proper English lady, an opportunity she couldn’t provide her daughter. But she can’t bear not to know how her daughter was faring, so she reaches out to Grace Poole via letter. The two begin a voluminous correspondence, which Adele inherits and ponders over as she struggles to reconcile her own adventurous nature with her new duties as Lady Gresham.
While The Wide Sargasso Sea only disappointed me from a critical standpoint and remains quite useful for my thesis, Becoming Jane Eyre and Thornfield Hall were so awful that I actually put down Adele Grace and Celine to mope over my reading, which was a truly novel experience. You see, the best transformative works transform the original text, be it to expand or correct or subvert. Becoming Jane Eyre and Thornfield Hall do nothing of the sort—in a way, useful for my thesis in order to elaborate on the failings of supposedly transformative works, especially when they’re divorced from the fannish context that encourages transformation of the original text. So imagine my surprise when Adele Grace and Celine actually did it. Perhaps I was biased because it’s self-published (which I didn’t realize until I started reading), but then again, perhaps that’s not so surprising—I can imagine Moïse, whose biographical information is extremely slim, coming out of a fannish context herself.
Jane Eyre is a novel about the titular character and her coming to terms with the two opposing sides of her nature, as exemplified in her two romantic interests, Rochester and St. John. Adele Grace and Celine, in its own way, does a bit of the same for Adele—once an adventurous, boundary-breaking young woman (she attended college, she worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea; she’s very active), she’s now Lady Gresham and learning how to balance all of that. But perhaps most transformative is the use of female friendship and female interaction. Jane, in the original novel, has female friends, but we don’t see too much of them; here, female friendship is not only important, but forms part of the plot. When faced with the Brocklehursts (descendants of Jane’s vile headmaster), Adele takes a deep breath and takes the wife under her wing; although they see things differently, Adele is never combative and always kind. Adele gets a French ward of her own, in Lisette, her mother’s adopted daughter, who has become her responsibility, and the two grow together. While Moïse does get a few facts wrong—her childless Grace has a son in the original text—the way she expands out the lives of women from the original text and focuses on relationships between people who don’t always agree is quite admirable.
The transformative aspect, then, was satisfying, but critically… the pacing is atrocious; the letters are clunkily included in the main narrative, as an elderly Adele considers her life. The frame story doesn’t add much of anything, and it’s awkward to watch Adele, in a natural, organic moment, suddenly stop and recall entire letters because she’s reminded of them. Not helping is the formatting; Celine’s letters are in italics, while Grace’s are in an aggressive, all-capitals Copperplate font that just serves to make her letters difficult to read. (To be fair, Moïse does a good job of developing Celine and Grace’s voices.) The letters grow less frequent in the latter half of the novel, so we can relax with the cheerful and equitable Greshams. The latter half is more a family saga than any real story; there’s a brief conflict or two at the end, but mostly, it’s about Adele’s frankly awesome life. (Adele herself is both good enough and humble enough that you’re not bored by her.) I happen to like family sagas like that—run-off from playing The Sims endlessly as a child, I suppose—so it appealed to me, but there’s little to hang your hat on here other than Moïse giving these women the lives they didn’t have in the original text. But sometimes, that’s enough.
Bottom line: Transformatively brilliant, by giving the sketched women of Jane Eyre full lives, but critically lacking, especially the atrocious pacing and clunky inclusion of the letters. Worth a shot for Bronteites, but don’t go out of your way.
I bought this book from Amazon.