Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 05 Feb 2024

Jane Eyre, abridged for Young Readers by Patrice Lawrence

I would imagine that it is quite daunting for an author to be asked to abridge a much loved classic text such as this. Even in the more than capable hands of award winning Patrice Lawrence, it is a challenge to know what to leave in, leave out and to change in a way that keeps the original spirit of the novel. More than anything, it has to be judged on whether it stands alone as an engaging and well written story in its own right.

The author acknowledges these dilemmas in a thoughtful introduction which prepared me for some of the changes and modifications. The four phases of Jane’s difficult life take place in different physical settings that each have an distinctive atmosphere. Each one of her rich relations at Gateshead Hall where she spends her early childhood, have appalling characteristics, particularly her sadistic, much indulged cousin John:

‘He went to the dovecote, twisted the necks of the pigeons and killed their chicks. He set the dogs on the sheep, stripped the hothouse vines of their fruit and broke the buds from the best plants in the conservatory.’

At the age of ten she is sent away to Lowood, an ‘educational’ charity institution for orphans. There she experiences a different kind of cruelty and neglect, although this time she is not the only target. A glimpse of how society treated poor unwanted children at that time will doubtless be an interesting talking point for school pupils.

The author has toned down the nastiness and emphasised how one compassionate teacher, Miss Temple, makes life a bit more bearable. Life is still very hard for these unfortunate children and when typhus rages through the school, many girls fall fatally sick. Jane remains healthy and begins to relish the relaxation of rules that the epidemic has caused. There is still great sadness, especially when her dear friend Helen succumbs to the illness and dies but she tries to be optimistic because there is now more food for the survivors and she begins to take pleasure in the beautiful woods and garden.

This eight year period of her life allows her to become both reflective and grateful for her circumstances. After the epidemic, Lowood becomes much improved by the attention brought to the dreadful conditions at the school and she works there for two years as a teacher.

When Miss Temple gets married and leaves, Jane decides that she needs an adventure and so places an advert to become a governess to a private family. She is taken on at Thornfield to teach Adele, a charming little French girl who is the ward of the often absent Mr Rochester. This is a relatively happy time in her life as she enjoys her new role and grand new home, that is apart from the ghostly laugh that she hears at night and the puzzle of Grace Poole, a servant who seems to be blamed for any mysterious happenings.

Everything shifts dramatically when Jane meets and eventually falls in love with the enigmatic Mr Rochester. He is a fictional character that I have never warmed to as I’m not sure that I would trust a man who locks his mentally-ill first wife in the attic and keeps it a secret! He has plenty of flaws that become apparent to Jane but she is pretty besotted nevertheless. At first it seems that he will marry Blanche Ingram who is a local society beauty. But her dreams come true when he expresses his love for Jane and proposes marriage. When this is rightly challenged by his brother in law, she has to make another escape.

She travels far away from Thornfield and has a miserable time wandering around trying in vain to find shelter from the rain:

‘I would rather take my last breath on the moorland and let the birds pick the flesh from my bones.’

Her fortunes change again when she is taken in by a kind family at Moor House and she becomes very close to them over a period of time. This is the part of the story that has a distinct fairytale quality because she first inherits money unexpectedly and then returns to Thornfield in response to a mysterious voice in the night. For those of you that don’t know the unlikely ‘happy ever after’ ending, I wont spoil it.

I enjoyed reading this abridged version and commend the author for packing in all of the main events in a measured and evocative way. She explains that ‘it was wonderful to wallow in Charlotte Bronte’s gorgeous language’ and I think that this version complements the quality of the original novel. It makes me want to reread this and wonder if some younger readers will be intrigued to try it for themselves.

Published by Walker Books, Jane Eyre is available from your local independent bookshop - who will be happy to order it for you if they don’t have copies on their bookshelves.


Karen Argent

February 2024