"The murders are tragic, obviously," I replied, "but Jane Eyre is the thing here... Jane Eyre is bigger than me and bigger than you."
“Governments and fashions come and go but Jane Eyre is for all time.”
Welcome back to the Reader's Den for the third week of our discussion of Jasper Fforde's romp into fantasy-mystery-alternate history, The Eyre Affair. If you've finished reading, you know that our protagonist, dedicated Litera Tec Thursday Next, will stop at nothing to protect the manuscript of Jane Eyre from being "disrupted" by our “differently moraled” villain, Acheron Hades. Disrupt the manuscript, however, is precisely what she does, creating a new and more satisfactory ending for both Jane Eyre’s readers and for Jane and Rochester themselves.
The complicated plot takes quite a few turns before Thursday reaches Rochester's fictional estate, Thornfield Hall, so here's a recap. Thursday Next, a special operative working as a literary detective in London, is part of the team investigating the disappearance of the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit, when she is asked to assist on a dangerous mission to catch Acheron Hades, murderer, thief, third on the most wanted list and the obvious culprit in the Chuzzlewit theft. Things go badly when Hades kills Thursday’s colleagues and she escapes death (thanks to a copy of Jane Eyre tucked in her breast pocket and the timely ministrations of Mr. Rochester) only to be blamed for the fiasco. Thursday takes a job as a Litera Tec in her provincial hometown of Swindon, but her business with Hades and missing manuscripts has only just begun.
Her genius uncle Mycroft has invented the Prose Portal, a machine capable of connecting the real and fictional worlds, allowing people and characters to travel between them. Hades steals the portal and uses it to kidnap and kill Mr. Quaverly, a minor character in Martin Chuzzlewit, thereby removing him from all past, present, or future copies of the novel. He then kidnaps beloved heroine Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s original manuscript. While trying to rescue Jane, Thursday also has her Uncle Mycroft to worry about. He’s been kidnapped by Hades, too, and his wife Polly is trapped in a Wordsworth poem. Thursday's steps are dogged by Jack Schitt of the Goliath Corporation, who wants to use the Prose Portal to manufacture arms (the plasma rifle), which would prolong the Crimean War, already in its 132nd year in this parallel world. And then Thursday has her own love life to sort out, as well. Whew! If you’ve finished reading, you know how it all turns out...
Here are some questions to think about while or after you read. Go ahead and post a comment! I'd love to read your answers, further questions and any other thoughts about The Eyre Affair.
- Travel between the BookWorld and the real world is central to the plot of The Eyre Affair. If you could jump into any work of literature for a visit, which would you choose and why? Is there a novel whose plot you’d like to alter, as Thursday does with Jane Eyre. What would you change?
- Mr. Rochester jumps out of Jane Eyre to save Thursday. What fictional character would you most like to rescue or be rescued by?
- The Eyre Affair combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, mystery and romance in its plot. Did this cross-genre approach entertain or annoy you? Were all the plot elements necessary? If you could enter The Eyre Affair, would you make any changes?
- In the alternate world of Thursday Next, literature is so highly prized by the public that fans of the poet legally change their names to John Milton, gangs battle over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, and there is a huge public outcry when Jane Eyre is kidnapped. What are some other examples of popular devotion to literature or literature as religion in The Eyre Affair? Would you like to live in a world where people valued and interacted with literature in this way?
- Had you read Jane Eyre before reading The Eyre Affair? Do you think that a familiarity with the original Brontë novel is necessary to appreciate Jasper Fforde’s revisiting? Do you think The Eyre Affair will change the way you read Jane Eyre in any way?
- Thursday’s father, an officer in the ChronoGuard, has a face that can literally stop a clock. In addition to using his time travel skills to keep history on the right course, as in when he travels back to prevent the Duke of Wellington from being killed by French "revisionists" before the Battle of Waterloo, he also advises and warns Thursday about events and decisions in her life. How would you use this power if you had it? What historical events would you “revise”? What moments in your own life would you like to redo?
- “The Toad News anchorwoman somberly announced that a young surrealist had been killed—stabbed to death by a gang adhering to a radical school of French impressionists.” A reviewer in the London Independent noted that Jasper Fforde works with “a variation on a classic Monty Python gambit: the incongruous juxtaposition of low comedy and high erudition." The quote from Chapter 1 illustrates this tone. What other examples of this comic juxtaposition did you notice as you read? What were some of your favorites?
- The Eyre Affair makes use of many familiar tropes or clichés from fantasy, detective and romance fiction, such as the evil villain who can only be killed by a silver bullet or the litera tec who was shot dead “when a book buy went wrong.” There are also loads of humorously appropriate names, like Jack Schitt, the evil corporate figure from Goliath, and Victor Analogy, the head of the Swindon LiteraTecs. What tropes, clichés and punny names did you notice? Did they add to the comedy for you?
- Is the character of Thursday Next a fully realized character or is she just another trope?
- Does The Eyre Affair carry a serious message about the importance of literature and storytelling in our lives, or is it simply a fun read?
I hope you're having fun with Thursday Next! Thank you for joining me in the Reader's Den this week. Next time in the final post on The Eyre Affair, we'll wrap up our discussion of the novel and look at some suggestions for further reading. Join in the discussion at any time by posting a comment or reading recommendations below.
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