Jane Eyre 7: A Lesson on Authorial Intent from Jasper Fforde’s Literary Detective Thursday Next

As we wrap up our wonderful visit with the delightful Miss Eyre and her creator, the equally delightful Charlotte Bronte, we will spend this last post on a rather unconventional visit to Thornfield in a luridly painted sports car with literary detective Thursday Next, whose exploits in The Eyre Affair cast the story of Jane and Rochester in a whole new light.

As our last entry in the Jane Eyre book conversation, The Eyre Affair poses some fascinating possibilities about the sacredness (or not) of texts, while also getting in plenty of great bookish humor. If you’ve had a chance to check out Jasper Fforde’s initial Thursday Next adventure, join us with your thoughts, or, if you’ve not picked up The Eyre Affair yet, join us anyway for some fun final thoughts on Jane.

The Eyre Affair is set in a vaguely familiar version of 1980s Great Britain. In this reality, however, the Crimean War is still dragging on, rifts in the fabric of space/time seem to be regular occurrences, and the love of literature has grown to proportions that make Potter-mania look tame.  In this bizarre environment, Literary Detective Thursday Next (whose usual assignments include tasks like tracking down forgers trying to pass off phony “long-lost” poems by the greats of English literature) must stop a madman who holds absolute power: he can change books.

Of course, if you have gotten to take a spin with the always-entertaining Miss Next,  you know all the intricacies of her adventure, but if you have not, suffice it to say that super villain Acheron Hades gets hold of an invention (created by Thursday’s uncle) which allows  characters from literary works to travel into the “real” world, as well as allowing “real” people to visit the worlds of the books( in fact, Thursday’s auntie is held hostage in a Wordsworth poem).  Hades has a minor (though apparently originally less minor) character from Martin Chuzzelwit whacked to demonstrate his power, then goes for the big fish: Jane Eyre. In saving Jane and Rochester from death and literary devastation, Thursday makes a few very-familiar changes.

The world Jasper Fforde creates is one rich with chuckles for the literate reader. From the John Milton convention to the audience-participation performance of Richard III that is more comedy improv than Royal Shakespeare, it’s a world in which the great books have become the most central element of life, tantamount to religion. The folks who knock on the door with a message no one wants to hear are not Jehovah’s Witnesses: they are preaching alternate authors for Shakespeare’s plays!  With our focus on books and reading here, of course, this leads us to wonder about the way we venerate books and authors. How much of our conversations and thoughts about books depend upon our own contribution? Are we, like the audience at the Richard  III performance, just as much actors as we are readers?

I don’t, of course, mean that we actually enter the text, as Thursday does (or like the protagonist of Woody Allen’s hilarious short story “The Kuglemass Episode” does with Madame Bovary), but our reaction to a book, our embrace or our rejection, is often dependent less upon the actual words on the page than on our mental furniture that affects how we react to the text.   We love or hate books not just because of what we think or feel about the books, but because of what we think or feel about ourselves; thus Thursday, in trying to get out of Jane Eyre “changes” the book and her own life at the same time, freeing both herself and Bronte’s tortured lovers from a limbo relationship, and creating not one, but two, happy endings in the process.

The question of “reality” in the text versus our own impressions of the text is driven even more forcefully home by the chapter epigraphs from books (real only in Thursday’s world), some of which conflict with the story Thursday is telling. The element of time travel and time alternation (ugh, did ANYBODY write Shakespeare’s plays?! )further muddies this pond.

Thursday’s tinkering alters the “original” ending of Jane Eyre. Hades can only do his damage to the story by using the original manuscript. In this “original,” however, Jane does not return to Thornfield. Rather, she gets St. John to drop the marriage condition and goes with him to India, from whence she writes the end of her story, presumably never to see Rochester again. The fire at Thornfield is actually created when Hades is pursuing Thursday through the story, and Rochester’s injuries come from the ensuing fight. In order to get out of the novel, Thursday provides the supernatural voice that summons Jane back to Thornfield, and manages to escape into her own life and a better ending than she had expected there, too. While her changes to the story seem accidental, merely collateral in the effort to destroy Hades and save the book, the changes create not only a story that Thursday is happier with, but also the version of the story as it exists in our reality.

Of course, all this “gomming” in the plot, as my grandmother would call it, begs the question of authorial intent. In this universe, the author’s original plan (although Thursday thinks Bronte just got tired and pooped out on the ending) is thwarted in order to create an ending that the characters want and which all readers (expect for a few literary snob holdouts) prefer over the “original.”  Here we see a story in which the characters do what authors often accuse them of doing: they take on a life of their own and do things the author never intended.

In his wonderful book On Writing, Stephen King attests that when he wrote Misery, he intended for his protagonist to die at the hands of whacko uber-fan Annie Wilkes. Instead, he proved to be more resilient and resourceful than either King or Wilkes planned, and he survives.  Jane and Rochester, far from being mere creations of Bronte’s fertile brain, are independent and fully-formed people (though with some odd ideas about time because of their textual existence); they can choose to move beyond the limitations created for them by an author. In fact, they repay Thursday for her kindness by breaking up her long-lost sweetheart’s wedding and giving her the chance for happiness she has given them.  Fforde cleverly uses the gaps in the story we know to make this work. The machinations of Mr. and Mrs. Rochester are done in the years between Jane’s return and the last lines of the novel. Their daughter, named after Thursday and Helen Burns, is never mentioned in the text, but could be there.

One of the most interesting elements of the novel is the fact that the bookworm machine is not absolutely necessary to allow transport between the real world (or the real world which is also a creation of an author, leading us to musings that will make our heads hurt). Thursday has met Rochester before, not through any techno hoo-doo, but through the simple magic of a well-read passage. The “nice Japanese tourist” who reads to a young Thursday from the original manuscript (and who shows up again later on!) has the ability to send Thursday into the book, and Rochester later escapes the book’s pages in order to save Thursday’s life.

This thinning of the wall between the world on the page and the one in which we live is a theme used by other authors (most notably, perhaps, by Corneila Funke in Inkheart and its sequels), and it is a theme that makes a nice closer for our visit with Jane Eyre. How many of us here feel as though we have been to Thornfield? Like Thursday, have we watched helplessly as the lovers’ story seemed hopeless? Even on second reads, when we knew the outcome, did we find ourselves longing for a happy resolution? The real magic of books and literature is not, then, something that requires a machine for us to enter; that trip can be taken with any reader who is willing to let his or her feet slip off the floor of reality and take the step into the book.

The next round of discussions in our HogPro Book club will be on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader of the Chronicles of Narnia, so leaving one world behind for another will be a good segue here! Join us for the conversation! If you’ve never gotten around to reading the nautical installment of the Narniad, now’s the time! Or, if you’ve read it a hundred times, make it a hundred and one!


  1. I love the Thursday Next series! They are fantastic and I highly recommend anyone pick them up now if they have not already done so.

  2. I am delighted to see discussion of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next here. How I wish I had time to commit to reading and rereading the works referenced here. Thankfully, I have a Kindle and it is very easy to download free Kindle versions of the classics. For this working mother, I can now reread Frankenstein on my Kindle or using the Kindle app on my smartphone during work breaks and lunches.
    Thank you for creating this community here. As my daily life responsibilities keep me busy, I can still read your blog, which has inspired me to read more, and to find ways to do so within my crazy schedule.

  3. Thank you for chiming in, Denise! We really appreciate hearing from folks who find what we do meaningful, engaging, and useful. You are why we do this stuff! We are thankful for you! Happy reading!

  4. Carrie-Ann Biondi says

    I wasn’t sure where else to post this, so I looked up the most recent Jane Eyre topic I could find…. This is a version of a post I made today over at the Hog’s Head.

    We just saw the 2011 remake of Jane Eyre, which is beautifully filmed and mostly really well acted. It is a darker version than the one starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens (which I utterly love and is still my favorite version overall–a four-part 2006 tv mini-series by the BBC), and Mia Wasikowska is an excellent actress who in this film conveys subtle emotion without saying a word better than anyone I can think of at the moment. Wisakowska captures Jane’s inwardness and sense of longing, while Wilson captures Jane’s spiritedness and expressions of joy. Since so many of you here seem to love the novel, I highly recommend both of these versions.

  5. Elizabeth says

    Thanks, Carrie! I’m hoping to see the film soon, but since I live in a region as remote as Thornfield, movies are scares, especially ones of the artsy variety! I’ve been pleased by what I’ve seen in stills and previews, and I look forward to getting to see the real deal! Thanks, again!

  6. Fabulous. I agree.

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