Changing the ending of an old story

A group of writers have been commissioned to devise new endings to classic novels. Here we look at how Jane Eyre’s life might have been.

 

As a lifelong bookworm, I would continue to read under the covers with the light of my bicycle lamp after my mum had turned off the light in my bedroom. My mother would often tell me that I was ruining my eyes. Although I ignored her, I was always conscious of looking after my sight. The idea of not being able to read was too awful for me to contemplate.

A few years ago when my mum started to complain about her own vision I nagged her to get her eyes examined. Unfortunately she was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which had advanced very rapidly in one eye. However, treatment was recommended for her other eye, which has had a very positive effect in stabilising the condition. As a result, at 81 my mum is still able to live on her own and read, albeit more slowly than before.

AMD is a progressive eye disease that affects 1 in 10 people over 50, with 7,000 new cases each year. It is the leading cause of sight loss in Ireland.

When I was asked to become involved in raising awareness of AMD I didn’t hesitate because I’ve seen how devastating it can be, but also how it can be treated to delay or even reverse damage. I’m very pleased to be able to do something to alert other people to the condition.

As part of AMD awareness week myself and group of authors have changed the endings of classic stories for a booklet called Begin Your New Chapter. It’s a reflection on the fact that just as the best-known endings in literature can be changed so can a person’s future by getting tested. I changed Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Colm O’Regan changed the fortunes of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist and Sinead Moriarty altered the fate of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Vain and arrogant

On re-reading it recently, I took a slightly less belligerent view towards him, but I still thought Jane was far too clever and smart to have spent the rest of her life with him, and I liked having the opportunity to change her story.

The story is set in England during the early 19th century. Jane is an orphan who is raised by a cruel, unloving aunt. After being sent away to school, she becomes a governess to Adele, the ward of the gruff and mysterious Mr Rochester who lives in Thornfield Hall, a magnificent house.

Jane and Mr Rochester fall madly in love and decide to marry. At the altar, however, Jane discovers that Mr Rochester has a wife who is still alive – a lunatic who is locked away in the tower of Thornfield Hall. Jane flees and throws herself on the charity of strangers. She becomes a teacher in a small school and discovers that she has a wealthy uncle who has died leaving her a great fortune. Jane returns to Thornfield Hall to find it burned to the ground in a fire in which Mr Rochester’s wife died and he lost his sight. They renew their vows of love to each other and marry.

But not in my version.

Jane Eyre: Reimagined

Reader, I did not marry him. I said yes when he asked me but my assent was based on a surfeit of emotion brought on by our conversation. I knew that I had been mistaken in yielding to him. My regard for him remained warm, but I was a very different woman from the Jane who had slipped out of Thornfield Hall on what should have been my wedding night, penniless and bereft.

Then I had nothing except the excessive embarrassment that Mr Rochester had caused me for asking me to be his wife when he had another still living, although quite mad. But he had not seen fit to share that information with me and he had allowed me to think that we would have a happy and lawful life together.

And although I forgave him, because the heart behaves differently to the head and because his circumstances had been changed by the actions of that same wife in nearly burning him to death, I had changed too. When I left, I had neither family nor money. And although I had some fortitude borne from a life first with aunt Reed and then at Lowood School, such fortitude was only augmented by having to sleep in the open air and go without food, but still survive.

And, God giving me reward for such fortitude, also rewarded me by bringing me to my family. There can be no luckier person in her cousins than I. My Maker rewarded me too with my fortune, which every woman knows will make her free.

And so, Reader, I was a free woman with means of her own who had survived an ill-fated start to life and the trials and tribulations visited on me.

Notwithstanding my feelings for Mr Rochester, I did not look up to him as I had once done, and I could not help but compare how I had dealt with my trials to how he had dealt with his. I had found work by my own hand and I had made a good life for myself. I had not the time nor the money to travel overseas and hide my sorrows in a social round of easy virtue.

It is strange, Reader, how a man may do these things without judgement, but a woman, especially a plain woman, may not. And were she to try, she would ever be judged and ever be found wanting by men such as St John Rivers, or indeed Mr Rochester himself.

Refusal to marry

The school accepted girls who were blind or had problems with their sight. Mr Rochester had attended an eminent oculist following his injuries, and this man, Sir Seymour Foxe, came to the school and treated our girls so that some, like Mr Rochester himself, regained partial sight in their young eyes. Pride may be sinful, but I am proud when I think of my girls and how they have gone into the world equipped to care for themselves.

As for romance, dear Reader, should that be the only thing that a woman, plain or not, concerns herself with? I had no time for romance and, when he finally succumbed to the injuries that had befallen him and passed from us, I thought my hopes and dreams of such a state had been buried with Mr Rochester.

Yet this was not entirely so. Sir Seymour Fox visited Thornfield School with increasing regularity and it must be confessed that my feelings for him grew to an extent that I could not help thinking of a future with him in it. But that, Reader, is another story.

The Begin A New Chapter booklet is available on AMD.ie

nAMD Awareness Week is running from 15th - 21st September. Fee eye tests are available from participating eye care providers and the Novartis mobile testing unit which will be visiting Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford this week (full details below). The Begin A New Chapter booklet is available from www.AMD.ie

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