Title: The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Author: Margot Livesey
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Review: Writing a book based on a book as beloved and well-known as Jane Eyre is no easy task. Although it’s been several years since I read Jane Eyre, I went into Margot Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy with high expectations, wondering both how Livesey would honor the original book while still writing something new and original.
Having finished, I think it’s safe to say that while Livesey’s book closely follows the original plot through much of the beginning of the book, she is able to use a new time and setting to transport the spirit of Jane Eyre — strong-willed, feisty, passionate and serious — to a story that both honors and updates the original.
The first section of the book follows the plot of Jane Eyre almost exactly — a young orphan lives with her aunt and uncle after her parents die unexpectedly. When the orphan’s uncle dies, her nasty aunt and cousins treat her terribly until she is able to fine her way to an all-girls school. In Jane Eyre, Jane is a student; in Gemma Hardy, Gemma is a charity case, forced to work for the school in exchange for her education. Eventually, the young woman takes a job as a governess/teacher for a spirited little girl living with her mysterious guardian. A romance begins…
What’s most interesting in reading the book, at least for me with my cursory memory of Jane Eyre, is the way that taking the Jane/Gemma character and putting her in a time when women were starting to have rights and expectations for themselves changes the story. One of the things that always gave me pause with Jane is that, although she does have the power to make her own choices, those choices are so limited as to almost be no choices at all. Jane’s romance with Rochester has always been troubling for me too. I know so people find Rochester deeply romantic, but I always found him manipulative and selfish. I never felt entirely happy with Jane’s decision about him, even though I was happy that Jane was able to find what she wanted in the end of the story.
But Gemma, living about 100 years later, has many more options than Jane ever had — even when her situation seems most dire. Gemma’s romance with Hugh Sinclair doesn’t feel like an option of last resort, but a genuine partnership between equals. Both Gemma and Sinclair grow during the novel, and by the end when Gemma is given a choice of lives to pursue, she does almost have the choice to “have it all” in the most modern sense of the phrase.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy certainly isn’t a replacement for Jane Eyre. And while I don’t think it’s necessary to have read Jane Eyre to really enjoy this story — which does stand on it’s own as a convincing and lovely coming-of-age story — a knowledge of the original does give the book a little deeper reading. The evocative setting and plucky heroine of the book make it a great story to curl up with during one of these last cold days of winter.
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!