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Études littéraires
Les Brontë et la notion d'influence
The Brontë Influence in literature

“What’s Next?” Jasper Fforde’s Attempts on Jane Eyre

 « What’s Next ? » Quand Jasper Fforde s’attaque à Jane Eyre
Wolfgang Funk
p. 1-16


Cet article entend analyser l’interaction entre Jane Eyre et l’une de ses réécritures les plus audacieuses, celle du roman The Eyre Affair de Jasper Fforde (2001), qui sera présenté comme un « parallélotope ». Il s’agit de se concentrer essentiellement sur la relation intertextuelle entre les deux textes ; l’interaction et l’imbrication des deux romans seront étudiées comme une forme particulière de pastiche postmoderne (selon la définition de Fredric Jameson), dont la caractéristique principale est l’attitude auto-réflexive. Ce pastiche ne déstabilise pas seulement les attributions traditionnelles de rôles dans le cadre de la communication littéraire (auteur, intrigue, lecteur), il pourrait servir également de paradigme absolument nouveau en matière de lien entre la littérature et la manière dont elle est perçue, qui, comme le souligne l’article, sera fondé sur une « esthétique de l’insolence » plutôt que sur celle de la méfiance, comme c’est habituellement le cas.

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Entrées d’index

Index de mots-clés :

intertextualité, Jane Eyre, pastiche, réécriture

Index by keywords:

intertextuality, writing

Index chronologique :

XXe siècle
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Texte intégral

1One of the principal characteristics of literature is that it allows us to enter a different universe, to escape from everyday life, to have adventures alongside heroes and heroines, to weep with the mourners and exult with the newly-weds, or vice versa. It is only when literary criticism enters the frame that the world of texts becomes subject to interpretation, being elucidated instead of being discovered. The innocent attitude of trust in the power of a story is replaced by analytical scepticism and the irremediable compulsion to scrutinize and deconstruct, to uncover and investigate. Although poles apart from one another, both of these approaches to literature are primarily based on the assumption of a very definite line of demarcation between reality and the world of fiction. The fictional universe is there to be accessed at will by means of opening a book, watching a movie or—in the future perhaps— switching on your Kindle, but at the end of the day what really counts, is how you can translate here and now your journeys into this universe, into what Pierre Bourdieu calls “cultural capital”, to be measured in creature comfort, publications, reading lists, etc.. The world of literature in this sense (to use a huge over-simplification) is at best a quaint haven for those unable to cope with the vicissitudes of real life, at worst a self-service outlet for students and academics chasing grades, exams, deadlines and junior professorships. To modify John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, the question what your literature can do for you has always taken priority over what you can do for your literature.

2Undoubtedly, Jane Eyre has done all sorts of good for generations of readers and interpreters and has spawned an inextricable net of adaptations and revisions, which have tried, with varying success, to interpret Charlotte Brontë’s timeless heroine in the light of their own particular social, political and personal context. In this tradition, Jasper Fforde’s novel The Eyre Affair presents a world which is both contemporary with and very different from our own. Literature is not only an omnipresent feature of everyday life in his version of Britain, it is also very much taken care of, not by self-centred critics or quixotic scholars, but by a veritable special force, which polices the world of fiction by among other things confiscating counterfeit manuscripts or breaking down poems with the help of a Verse Meter Analyser. Another important aspect of this job is to patrol the borders of reality and fiction, so when Jane Eyre is kidnapped from her eponymous novel, these Literary Detectives, aka SpecOps 27, naturally enter the limelight.

3While this may sound rather like the blurb of any old hard-boiled detective story, this article will argue not only that Fforde’s playing fast and loose with the boundaries of fiction and reality constitutes a very well-wrought and amusing pastiche of Jane Eyre, but also that it can be read as a serious (or at least as serious as possible) utopian essay on the nature of literature itself, its status in our contemporary world, its intrinsic mechanisms of influence and recreation (in a double sense). It shows us how literature works, from illustrating the processes of mental representation in the mind of the individual reader to simulating and subverting the formation of literary canons, thus also inescapably rewriting its Urtext to some extent.

4This article will analyse the textual web—Deleuze and Guattari might have used the term “rhizome”—woven from the interfaces of Jane Eyre and The Eyre Affair (with visitations to other related nodes such as Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea or George and Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody) mainly with respect to ideas of reader-response theory (Wolfgang Iser) and intertextuality (Fredric Jameson), thereby joining Fforde (and with him post-modernism in general) in his playful attempt at re-calibrating the borders of fiction and reality.

 The Next Jane Eyre?—A Few Words on Genre and Plot

  • 1  Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001, 20.
  • 2  Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, New York & London: Norton, 2001 [1847], 216.
  • 3  J. Fforde, op. cit., 2.

5At first glance, the two novels do not seem to have too much in common. While Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 masterpiece is a classic Bildungsroman, which follows its eponymous first-person narrator through the vicissitudes of childhood, education, work and finding the right husband until, Reader, she marries him and becomes a proto-feminist example of female self-assertion and independence, Thursday Next, when we first encounter her chasing the stolen manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit, comes across as a fully-fledged cynic in the midst of a veritable identity crisis. Her job with the LiteraTec branch in London is a dead end, her love-life not worth mentioning and when she looks in the mirror, a woman with “no cheekbones to speak of”, whose “hair [is] a plain mousy colour”1 stares back at her. This self-description is, of course, no far cry from Jane Eyre’s famous “I am poor, obscure, plain, and little”,2 thus early establishing the parallelism between and indeed sometimes interchangeability of the two heroines, which will be elaborated on in subsequent chapters. Reprieve from Thursday’s “ocean of day-to-day mundanities”3 seems to be imminent when she gets a special commission from higher up to observe Acheron Hades, a former university professor of hers, who is suspect number one in the Chuzzlewit case. The observation job soon turns nasty and ends with two of her colleagues dead and the blame all on her. So, when a job offers itself in her home town of Swindon, she accepts it in the firm belief that she has seen the best of life and resigns herself to an uneventful life in the provinces with only her rather old-fashioned pet dodo, Pickwick, to keep her company. Far from it, though. By the end of the novel, Thursday has not only tied the knot with her hearth-throb of old, but has also acquired a certain fame and stardom by saving and changing the ending of one of the most famous and popular novels in her world and ours, Jane Eyre.

  • 4  This term owes its existence partly to the article by Berninger and Thomas, who classify The Eyre (...)

6For much of its plot, The Eyre Affair, with its shoot-outs, car chases and 30-something female anxieties, comes across as a mixture of James Bond and Bridget Jones. In order to understand why the novel can nevertheless gain significance in terms of post-modern thinking, we must first take a closer look at the setting of the novel, which I would describe as a “parallelotopia”,4 i.e. an essentially utopian text which, unlike the most prominent utopias, is set neither in the distant (Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Wells’s The Time Machine) or not-so-distant (Orwell’s 1984, McCarthy’s The Road)future nor in some remote and inaccessible part of the universe (Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, More’s De Optimo Republicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia, Cavendish’s The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World). Instead, it confronts readers with an apparently familiar world, which is peppered with just enough manifestations of the unfamiliar to set them thinking about the validity of their individual mnemonic archives and sensory apparatus, which construct what we perceive to be “real”. The utopian/parallelotopian Gestus of The Eyre Affair will be taken up again later on; suffice it to say for the moment that while traditional utopias distance the depicted society far enough to lay open (by means of satire or parody, which are both didactic in purpose) perceived weaknesses, a parallelotopia in this sense of the word ultimately collapses the distinctions between the actual state and the target state, by undermining the faculties of judgment as to which is which. This dazzling effect is amplified by the fact that Fforde’s novel not only presents a mirror version of late 20th century England, but also, in so far as it combines this social parallelotopia with a mirror version of one of England’s great literary classics, confronts both the here-and-now with the as-if and the well-established product of literary canonisation (Jane Eyre) with the process of its re-writing (The Eyre Affair). The preferential stylistic device for achieving this blend of parallelquel and paralleotopia, this article argues, is the use of pastiche.

  • 5  J. Fforde, op. cit., 116.
  • 6  On these infrequent occasions time stands still, which more than once saves Thursday’s life.

7The 1985 in which Thursday Next operates is only very superficially the 1985 we seem to know and remember. Society is regulated and human interaction is conducted according to the same principles which we experience as determining our station in and outlook on life, such as romantic love, bonds of kinship and friendship, hierarchical relationships in the workplace and so on. There are, however, also certain moments of contingency and pointlessness that make everyday life both incalculable and fascinating; the novel, in this respect, is marked by a very high level of realism in the traditional sense of a mimetic representation of a world as it could be. We soon realise, however, that, within the framework of this apparently very familiar version of England in the mid-80s, not everything is quite as is dreamt of in our philosophy. The political agenda is very much dominated by the Crimean War, which is in its one hundred and thirty-first year and still nowhere near any sign of a cease-fire. Airships are the main means of travelling, with railways and planes completely unheard of, a fate they share with the banana, which will only be “designed completely from scratch seventy years from now”5 according to Thursday’s father, who, in another substantial departure from the world as we know it, travels in time working as a ChronoGuard (SO-12) and inhabits a universe, which only rarely intersects with Thursday’s.6

  • 7  J. Fforde, op. cit., 2.
  • 8  Ibid., 40.

8The principal difference with “our” world, though, is the omnipresence and significance of literature and the arts, which seem to permeate all aspects of existence. The need for literary detectives (plus another Special Operations Department, which deals with “Art Crime”) can be taken as an indicator of the economic significance of the literary market, since criminal interest in the form of “illegal traders, copyright infringements and fraud”7 is only invested in areas which promise rich pickings. But literature is more than that. There are “Will-Speak machines” on every corner, which dispense quotations of the Bard for ready money, Baconians (like Jehovah’s Witnesses) go from door to door to dissuade infidels from believing that “a Warwickshire schoolboy with almost no formal education could write works that were not for an age but for all time”,8 Pre-Raphaelites and Neo-Surrealists fight it out in the streets, a brawl which ends in a siege of a pub, charmingly named “Ceci n’est pas une pipe; literature, in short, is a mass phenomenon. The most powerful manifestation of this popular enthusiasm for classic texts comes in what is surely one of the most successful scenes in the book, when Thursday and Landen Parke-Laine, her former and future love-interest, attend a performance of Richard III. The evening’s performers are not only randomly picked from the audience, a procedure which presupposes a certain level of familiarity with the text, but when the performance actually gets under way, it is the anticipatory audience who kick-start the action, thus pulling down the text from its pedestal and integrating it discursively into a simple, but finally very significant question-and-answer game:

Richard opened his mouth to speak and the whole audience erupted in unison:

When is the winter of our discontent?”

Now,” replied Richard with a cruel smile, “is the winter of our discontent…

  • 9  Ibid., 182.

A cheer went up to the chandeliers high in the ceiling. The play had begun.9

Imaginary Gaps—How Jasper Fforde’s Opens up Jane Eyre

9In a world where literature is of such paramount importance and presence as described above, it is small wonder that books can quite literally save one’s life. In the case of Thursday, it is Jane Eyre, or rather its back cover, which fulfils this function. She only survives a messy shoot-out with Hades in chapter four because his bullet cannot pierce the copy of the novel she put in her breast pocket shortly before. Bullets stopped by books (usually of religious provenance) have been a staple feature of literature and films and, due to their unquestionable propaganda potential, part and parcel of war narratives from the American Civil War10 to the invasion of Iraq.11 The hierarchies between reality and the different levels of fictionality are untangled and in place up to this point. At the level of the reading experience, there is the construction of a fictional world (which we might call the “Nextian experience level”). In this fictional universe, readers encounter another level of fictionality (let’s call it “fictionality-once-removed”), which is constituted by the (fictional) Urtext of Jane Eyre.12

  • 13  J. Fforde, op. cit., 62.
  • 14  Ibid., 63.
  • 15  This term is borrowed from Douglas Hofstadter’s seminal elaborations of self-referentiality (1979, (...)

10The hierarchies between these last two levels are seriously destabilised, as things quickly get out of hand. When Thursday awakes in the hospital, she finds herself in possession of a handkerchief with “an embroidered monogram in the corner that read[s] ‘EFR’”,13 which, so the nurses tell her, belongs to a man who dressed her wounds and kept her alive until the medics arrived. The attentive reader’s suspicion is aroused and corroborated when Thursday recounts an earlier meeting with Edward Fairfax Rochester, which happened at a time when her “mind was still young and the barrier between reality and make-believe had not yet hardened into the shell that cocoons us in adult life”.14 During a family visit to Haworth House, a Japanese tourist read to her from the original manuscript on display there and she was instantaneously transported into the plot of the novel, where she altered the plot of Jane Eyre for the first time. Let me nowas the first of three instances of tangled hierarchies15 between the texts of Jane Eyre and The Eyre Affairparallel the two passages describing the first encounter of Jane with Rochester in order not only to demonstrate Fforde’s ability to first create gaps in Wolfgang Iser’s sense in the narrative of the Urtext (who has ever wondered why Rochester’s horse shied?) and then immediately to fill them, but also to ultimately pose the question if the tangling of hierarchies at the Textual (T)-levels might not eventually also affect the Inviolate (I)-level.

  • 16  C. Brontë, op. cit., 95f.

It [Rochester’s horse] was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one mask of Bessie’s Gytrash—a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it would. The horse followed—a tall steed, and on its back a rider. The man; the human being, broke the spell at once. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone; and goblins, to my notions, though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in the commonplace human form. No Gytrash was this,—only a traveller taking the short cut to Millcote. He passed, and I went on; a few steps, and I turned; a sliding sound and an exclamation of “What the deuce is to do now?” and a clattering tumble, arrested my attention. Man and horse were down; they had slipped on the sheet of ice which glazed the causeway. The dog came bounding back, and seeing his master in a predicament, and hearing the horse groan, barked till the evening hills echoed the sound, which was deep in proportion to his magnitude. He snuffed round the prostrate group, and then ran up to me; it was all he could do—there was no other help at hand to summon. I obeyed him, and walked down to the traveller, by this time struggling himself free of his steed. His efforts were so vigorous, I thought he could not be much hurt; but I asked him the question, “Are you injured, sir?”16

  • 17  J. Fforde, op. cit., 66ff.

I was just thinking about asking her where the museum had gone when a sound in the lane made us both turn. It was an approaching horse, and the young woman seemed startled for a moment. The lane was narrow, and I stepped back to give the horse room to pass. As I waited, a large black-and-white dog rushed along the hedge, nosing the ground for anything of interest. The dog ignored the figure on the stile but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me. […] He had sniffed along this hedge during every single reading of the book for over a hundred and thirty years, but had never come across anything that smelt so, well … real. […] I looked up and noticed that the horse and rider had just passed the young woman. The rider was a tall man with distinguished features and a careworn face, bent into a frown by some musings that seemed to envelop him in thoughtful detachment. He had not seen the small form and the safe route down the lane led right through where I was standing; opposite me was a treacherous slab of ice. Within a few moments the horse was upon me, the heavy hooves thumping the hard ground, the hot breath from its velvety nose blowing on my face. Suddenly, the rider, perceiving the small girl in his path for the first time, uttered: “What the deuce —“ and reined his horse rapidly to the left, away from me but on to the slippery ice. The horse lost its footing and went crashing to the ground. I took a step back, mortified at the accident I had caused. The horse struggled to gain a footing and the dog, hearing the commotion, returned to the scene, presented me with a stick and then barked at the fallen group excitedly, his deep growl echoing in the still evening. The young woman approached the fallen man with grave concern on her face. She was eager to be of assistance and spoke for the first time. “Are you injured, sir?”17

11The interplay between the two passages in bold print very evidently illustrates Fforde’s technique of inserting his own narrative authority into the original text, thereby not only paralleling the two plots but intertwining them insolubly. Without Thursday being in the way, Rochester’s horse would arguably not have slipped, and without Rochester’s fall, he would not have met Jane out there in the country lane, which in turn leads to her supporting him, while he limps to recapture his horse. This again foreshadows Jane and Rochester’s eventual married state, which can only materialise after the hierarchical structure of master and governess has collapsed, together with Thornfield Hall, bringing Rochester back full circle into a position of again having to rely on Jane’s support. Thursday is thus at the same time the instigator of the plot of Jane Eyre on the level of fictionality-once-removed and the beneficiary of the novel’s (and thus Rochester’s) existence at her level of experience.

  • 18  C. Brontë, op. cit., 364.
  • 19  J. Fforde, op. cit., 338.
  • 20  C. Brontë, op. cit., 365.
  • 21  J. Fforde, op. cit., 340. By depriving Bertha of the ultimate gesture of self-determination, Fford (...)

12This is not the only example of a tangling of hierarchies between the two texts. Thursday is not the only person in Fforde’s fictional universe with the ability to transcend the borders of fiction and reality. With the help of the Prose Portal, an invention by Thursday’s uncle Mycroft, the villain Acheron Hades manages to enter the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and abduct the novel’s heroine in order to hold her to ransom. The attempt to hunt him down finally results in Jane, Thursday and Acheron all ending up inside Jane Eyre, where they are responsible for a familiar course of events. Again, however, the relationship of cause and effect to which we are accustomed from our knowledge of the Urtext is turned upside down. It is not Bertha Mason, who “set fire first to the hangings of the room next to her own; and then she got down to a lower story, and made her way to the chamber that had been the governess’s […] and she kindled the bed there”,18 but Hades who “took a spirit lamp from the sideboard and hurled it to the end of the corridor; it burst into flames and ignited some wall hangings”.19 Bertha’s madness, which precipitates the blaze and which in Brontë’s text represents the dangerous backlashes of the suppressed Victorian “Other” to be finally overcome and self-annihilated before the “happily-ever-after”, is transformed into an almost Mephistophelian force, “which still produceth good, while ever scheming ill”. It is through Bertha’s frenzied, random attack on Hades with a pair of scissors that Thursday finally understands that her arch-enemy (who so far has proved to be immune to every weapon fired or thrown at him) is vulnerable only to silver, a susceptibility which aligns him with literary villains from Stephen King’s werewolves to Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones. At this point, Fforde not only inserts his narrative into possible gaps of the original, thus manipulating the imaginative level of the reader, but he actually reconstructs the events of Jane Eyre on the textual level. For, while Brontë’s Bertha visibly commits suicide by jumping from the roof (“she yelled, and gave a spring, and the next minute she lay smashed on the pavement”)20, Fforde’s “Hades took two quick steps to the parapet and threw Bertha over, her yell only silenced by the dull thud as she hit the ground three storeys below”.21

  • 22  J. Fforde, op. cit., 38.

13The last example of the tangled hierarchies has the most far-reaching consequences for Thursday. It also introduces a new level of Fforde’s manipulation of the readers’ imagination. The readers learn that it is Thursday who is to be credited with the novel’s eventual happy ending. Before Thursday’s intervention, in the supposed “original” manuscript of Jane Eyre (at the Nextian experience level), Jane had accepted St. John’s proposal to join him on his missions to India and become his wife. According to Thursday, this “rather flawed climax of the book was a cause of considerable bitterness within Brontë circles. It was generally agreed that if Jane had returned to Thornfield Hall and married Rochester, the book might have been a lot better than it was”.22 So, why not take the opportunity to set things right, when a chance offers itself to Thursday. As all well-versed readers of the original know, Jane’s decision to come back to Rochester is the consequence of hearing his voice calling out for her over the moors, an instance of the unexplained supernatural that has provided both food for thought for generations of scholars and also a welcome opportunity for someone like Fforde to insert his own narrative.

  • 23  C. Brontë, op. cit., 357.

I saw nothing; but I heard a voice somewhere cry, “Jane! Jane! Jane!” nothing more. “O God! what is it?” I gasped. I might have said, “where is it?” for it did not seem in the room—nor in the house—nor in the garden: it did not come out of the air—nor from under the earth—nor from overhead. I had heard it—where; or whence, forever impossible to know! and it was the voice of a human being—a known, loved, well remembered voice—that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe—wildly, eerily, urgently.23

  • 24  J. Fforde, op. cit., 346.

I made it back to Ferndean and Rochester just before Jane did. I met Rochester in the dining room and told him the news; how I had found her at the Rivers’ house, gone to her window and barked: “Jane, Jane, Jane!” in a hoarse whisper the way Rochester did. It wasn’t a good impression but it did the trick. I saw Jane start to fluster and pack immediately. Rochester seemed less than excited about the news.24

  • 25  Remember also that it is exactly the very last (supposedly new) part of Jane Eyre that saves Thurs (...)

14In assuming the role of an author herself, Thursday explicitly crosses the border between her “real” experience level and that of fictionality-once-removed. In the crucial act of changing the outcome of “Jane Eyre” (the fictional meta-text, which forms the level of fictionality-once-removed in Fforde’s fictional world) into that which we know from our collective reading experience of Jane Eyre (Brontë’s original text), Thursday becomes the focal point for all the tangled hierarchies in the book.25 It is through her character that the narrative strands converge, and therefore the analysis of the effects and possible repercussions of Fforde’s tangling of hierarchies will inevitably centre round her.

How to do Things with Texts—Literary History in Terms of Post-modern Pastiche

  • 26  Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Post-Modern C (...)
  • 27  Blanche Ingram’s counterpart in The Eyre Affair is named Daisy Mutlar, a name taken from the unsui (...)
  • 28  F. Jameson, op. cit., 114, 115.

15The terms “parody” and “pastiche” (most notably discussed by Fredric Jameson in his essay “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”) will in the following be used to analyse the various interconnections between the texts of Jane Eyre and The Eyre Affair. In doing so, I will, however, slightly re-define the terms with regard to their effect on the relationship between the constituents of the literary communication process. I agree with Jameson about the notion of parody, which in his view “capitalizes on the uniqueness of […] styles and seizes on their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities to produce an imitation which mocks the original”. Although the general effect of parody is “to cast ridicule on the private nature of these stylistic mannerisms and their excessiveness and eccentricity with respect to the way people normally speak or write”, it still retains “some secret sympathy for the original”.26 In the context of this investigation, “parody” is seen as all those elements in The Eyre Affair, which parallel and mock events, constellations and characters from its Urtext, without, however, interfering with the structural separateness of two texts. The characters of Jane and Thursday, for example, not only share a rather unassuming outward appearance, but the love plot of Fforde’s book is also in many ways a blatant copy of Jane Eyre. While Jane has to decide between the uncouth and apparently recalcitrant Rochester and the zealous but ultimately mind-numbing St. John Rivers, Thursday is courted by her kind-hearted if slightly dull colleague Bowden Cable, who asks her to accompany him not to India but to Ohio, while she is secretly (or not so secretly) carrying a torch for Landen Park-Laine, a writer who not only shares Rochester’s bodily impairment (he lost a leg in the Crimea) but also his rather curt and capricious behaviour. Just like Jane, Thursday is suddenly confronted with the prospect of her heart-throb marrying another, apparently completely unsuitable, woman.27 While these analogies do produce humorous and sometimes startling moments of revelation and might even be suitably employed to discuss the timelessness of certain character constellations or emotional quandaries or even be read as a powerful manifestation of the continuing significance of Brontë’s text in our post-modern world, I propose to locate the merit of Fforde’s treatment (using a term as neutral as possible) of Jane Eyre at a different level, which can be summarised by the term “pastiche”, meaning the tangling of hierarchies between the Urtext and its adaptation. Unlike Jameson, who rather negatively defines pastiche as “blank parody, parody that has lost its sense of humour”, representative of a “world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible”,28 I want to stress the superior creative energy inherent in the re-interpretation of literary traditions, which might undermine the authority of the original text by playing fast and loose with its claim to (fictional) truth, but which in return forces the reader’s imagination to consider its own perspective and role in the literary communication, thus ultimately resulting in a much higher level of creative engagement with the Urtext. Pastiche might be, as Jameson himself argues, a quintessentially post-modern reference form, since it does not accept, much less secretly sympathise with, the authority of tradition (as parody, a very modern art form in this respect, does) and it is in the playfulness which results from this freedom of influence that lies its potential for opening up new epistemological ground in terms of the structures of literary communication. The difference, one could flippantly remark, is between labouring under the “anxiety of influence” (parody) and wallowing in an “aesthetics of insolence” (pastiche), between dryly interpreting a given work of art or playfully incorporating it into a new work of art.

  • 29  I use this term in the way that Thomas S. Kuhn first suggested in The Structure of Scientific Revo (...)
  • 30  There is another very potent and clever example of a similar tangling of a hierarchy of authorship (...)

16Returning to Hofstadter’s concept of the tangled hierarchies, let us recapitulate the different ways in which The Eyre Affair involves itself and its Urtext in a tangled web of inconsistencies and, in a further move, attempt to make a case for the paradigm-shifting29 potential behind these ploys. With reference to the three levels of reality and fictionality, mentioned above, it has been argued that the first important hierarchy to became tangled is one of competency between the author of the fictional text (Jasper Fforde in this case) and the author of the fictional text once-removed (Charlotte Brontë). Fforde not only uses Brontë’s text as the backdrop for his book, but he insolently inserts his own narrative into gaps or lacunae (according to the post-modernist jargon) he himself has gushed into the original narrative, as in the example of Jane’s first meeting with Rochester. The second tangled hierarchy, which is closely connected to the first one, concerns the authority of the author of an Urtext (Charlotte Brontë) over her narrative. By not only lacerating the original to incorporate snippets of his own plot but also by slyly falsifying certain elements of the original narrative (as in the case of Bertha’s death), Fforde disrupts the suppositional understanding between author and reader that the consistency or truthfulness (not truth!) of a story is guaranteed by its being firmly anchored in the author’s imagination. The most important obfuscation of traditional literary hierarchies, however, is represented by my third example, where a character in the novel (Thursday Next) is invested with the authority (albeit fictional) over the fictional text once-removed, as is the case when Thursday changes the “original” plot of Jane Eyre through her imitation of Rochester’s voice crying across the moor.30 In this last instance, the traditional stable relationships between author, reader and story (in the form of the Jakobsonian model of literary communication) are most evidently collapsed with Thursday Next and Charlotte Brontë being reconstructed as competing authors of the Urtext, while Thursday and Rochester (and with them we as readers) can at the same time cross easily between the two levels of fictionality.

  • 31  C. Brontë, op. cit., 246; J. Fforde, op. cit., 352.
  • 32  As is “really” the case in The Diary of a Nobody. This novel too would be worth including in a clo (...)
  • 33  J. Fforde, op. cit., 354.

17It is in keeping with the post-modern “insistence on inconclusiveness” (an apparent contradiction, which, nevertheless, incorporates the creative capability of post-modernism, which I would define with a nod towards John Keats as “transcendent capability”), there is a moment in the text, when parody and pastiche blend into one another. This occurs when Landen and Daisy Mutlar are to be married and a familiar voice (at least to those who have been inside the universe of Jane Eyre, be it in person or in thought) calls from the back of the church: “The marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment”.31 It is of course Mr Briggs, who discloses Daisy Mutlar’s previous marriage to one Murray Posh,32 rendering her marriage to Landen impossible, thus paving the way for the “happily-ever-after” of Thursday and Landen. This is an explicit and in parts verbatim parody of the events in Jane Eyre, albeit with a contrary structural function (complication in the Urtext, resolution in The Eyre Affair), and a pastiche in the sense of an entanglement of hierarchies, since upon further inquiry, Mr. Briggs concedes that the Rochesters have sent him.33 This again marks the interference of one level of authority (the Rochesters from the fictional text once-removed) with another (the Nextian experience level).

18The question now is: can all this ever amount to more than just a very elaborate jest by an allowedly very erudite and well-read author? This article would again like to adopt a very post-modern stance over this and answer: maybe. It seems to be unambiguous that the principal hierarchy (or Inviolate level in Hofstadter’s terminology), i.e. that between the author and the reader of The Eyre Affair,remains, well, inviolate, so that it could be argued that the tangling of the T-levels is limited to the story of that particular novel, which in turn means that the traditional model of agency in literary communication remains firmly in place. This would be a comprehensible and unassailable argument. But what if there is more to it? What if Fforde’s incessant disarrangement of hierarchies on the fictional T-levels transcends the experience of reading The Eyre Affair? Does the experience of reading The Eyre Affair not in a very real sense alter the experience of reading or having read Jane Eyre? It might be said to open up the Urtext to the authority of the reader, who is not only stimulated to construct a fictional universe (which is the prerequisite for every reading of a literary text), but also to take into account the possibility of this universe always having been rather different.


  • 34  Again, Jasper Fforde’s Nextian universe is representative in this regard. His website <http://www. (...)

19In other words, this particular version of post-modern pastiche, the prime characteristic of which is its self-reflexivity, could be said to represent a literary equivalent of the “many-worlds-interpretation” of quantum mechanics as formulated by Hugh Everett and Bryce DeWitt in so far as it projects the ambiguity of post-modern identity constructions into the literary tradition and thereby reintegrating canonical works into contemporary discourse in a new and unprecedented way. The prospect that this development from serious interpretation of a literary work, based on the stability of the roles in literary communication (which I would propose to call an “aesthetics of diffidence”) towards a ludic and integrative interplay between tradition and adaptation to the point where the former inextricably merges with the latter (what I have earlier called an “aesthetics of insolence” and which is illustrated in Fforde’s book by, for example, the performance of Richard III, very much appropriated by the audience) might in the long run do away with the division of literary creation, and interpretation could be considered as a pleasant side-effect. Literary experience in the 21st century will have to be a common enterprise, a concourse of stories, authors and recipients, unfettered by the constrictions of media,34 genre or literary role, where traditional texts lose their sacrosanct status in order to become once more means of individual cognition and discovery.

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Alter Robert, Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre, Berkeley: U of California P, 1975.

Berninger Mark & Katrin Thomas, “A Parallelquel of a Classic Text and Reification of the Fictionalthe Playful Parody of Jane Eyre in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair”, in Margarete Rubik & Elke Mettinger-Schartmann (eds.), A Breath of Fresh Eyre: Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007, 181-196.

Brontë Charlotte, Jane Eyre, New York & London: Norton, 2001 [1847].

Dupuy Jean-Pierre, “Tangled Hierarchy: Self-Reference in Philosophy, Anthropology, and Critical Theory”, Comparative Criticism 12, 1990, 105-123.

Fforde Jasper, The Eyre Affair, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001.

Fludernik Monika, Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology, London & New York: Routledge, 1996.

Foucault Michel, This is not a Pipe, transl. James Harkness, Berkeley: U of California P, 1993 [1968].

---, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, London and New York: Routledge, 2002 [1970].

Hateley Erica, “The End of The Eyre Affair: Jane Eyre, Parody, and Popular Culture,” Journal of Popular Culture 38, 2005, 1022-1036.

Hofstadter Douglas, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, New York: Basic Books, 1979.

---, I am a Strange Loop, New York: Basic Books, 2007.

Hutcheon Linda, Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox, Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1980.

---, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction, New York & London: Routledge, 1988.

Jameson Fredric, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Post-Modern Culture, Seattle: Bay Press, 1989, 111-125.

Kaviraj Sudipta, “The Imaginary Institution of India”, Subaltern Studies VII, New Delhi: OUP, 1993, 1-40.

Kuhn Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago & London: U of Chicago P, 1962.

Neumann Imke, “The Past is no Foreign Country“: Der neo-viktorianische Roman in Großbritannien und Irland, Trier: WVT, 2008.

Nünning Ansgar, Von historischer Fiktion zu historiographischer Metafiktion, 2 vols, Trier: WVT, 1995.

Rubik Margarete, “Navigating through Fantasy Worlds: Cognition and the Intricacies of Reading Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair”, in Harri Veivo et al., Cognition and Literary Interpretation in Practice, Helsinki: Helsinki UP, 2005, 183-200.

---, “Invasions into Literary Texts, Re-Plotting and Transfictional Migration in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair”, in Margarete Rubik & Elke Mettinger-Schartmann (eds.), A Breath of Fresh Eyre: Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre, Amsterdam und New York: Rodopi, 2007, 167-180.

Waugh Patricia, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Selfconscious Fiction, London: Methuen, 1984.

Wells Juliette, “An Eyre-Less Affair?: Jasper Fforde’s Seeming Elision of Jane”, in Margarete Rubik and Elke Mettinger-Schartmann (eds.), A Breath of Fresh Eyre: Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre, Amsterdam und New York: Rodopi, 2007, 197-208.

Wolf Werner, Ästhetische Illusion und Illusionsdurchbrechung in der Erzählkunst, Theorie und Geschichte mit Schwerpunkt auf englischem illusionsstörenden Erzählen,Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1993.

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1  Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001, 20.

2  Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, New York & London: Norton, 2001 [1847], 216.

3  J. Fforde, op. cit., 2.

4  This term owes its existence partly to the article by Berninger and Thomas, who classify The Eyre Affair as a “parallelquel” to Jane Eyre, defining the term as a “story line which runs parallel to (and sometimes against) an established, well-known text” (181).

5  J. Fforde, op. cit., 116.

6  On these infrequent occasions time stands still, which more than once saves Thursday’s life.

7  J. Fforde, op. cit., 2.

8  Ibid., 40.

9  Ibid., 182.

10 See <

11  See <>.

12  In a subplot of the novel, Wordsworth’s poem “Daffodils” constitutes a similar level of fictionality-once-removed. In order to blackmail Thursday’s uncle Mycroft, Acheron Hades imprisons his wife Polly in the poem in question, where she meets an understandably baffled Wordsworth.

13  J. Fforde, op. cit., 62.

14  Ibid., 63.

15  This term is borrowed from Douglas Hofstadter’s seminal elaborations of self-referentiality (1979, 2007) and Eric Dupuy’s subsequent attempt to utilise them for literary and cultural purposes (1990).

16  C. Brontë, op. cit., 95f.

17  J. Fforde, op. cit., 66ff.

18  C. Brontë, op. cit., 364.

19  J. Fforde, op. cit., 338.

20  C. Brontë, op. cit., 365.

21  J. Fforde, op. cit., 340. By depriving Bertha of the ultimate gesture of self-determination, Fforde objectifies her to an even greater extent than Brontë does (see Imke Neumann, “The Past is no Foreign Country“: Der neo-viktorianische Roman in Großbritannien und Irland, Trier: WVT, 2008, 185). It is, however, never his aim to subvert or disclose the hidden mechanisms of Victorian identity constructions with his book, as Gilbert & Gubar and Jean Rhys have done with their re-interpretations of the “Madwoman in the Attic”.

22  J. Fforde, op. cit., 38.

23  C. Brontë, op. cit., 357.

24  J. Fforde, op. cit., 346.

25  Remember also that it is exactly the very last (supposedly new) part of Jane Eyre that saves Thursday’s life in the shoot-out with Hades. This again constitutes a reverberation of the level of fictionality-once-removed onto Thursday’s experience level.  

26  Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Post-Modern Culture, Seattle: Bay Press, 1989, 113.

27  Blanche Ingram’s counterpart in The Eyre Affair is named Daisy Mutlar, a name taken from the unsuitable bride-to-be in George and Weedon Grossmith’s 1892 novel The Diary of a Nobody. For further elaboration on the parallels between the plots of the novels, see Imke Neumann, op. cit..

28  F. Jameson, op. cit., 114, 115.

29  I use this term in the way that Thomas S. Kuhn first suggested in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1962.

30  There is another very potent and clever example of a similar tangling of a hierarchy of authorship and authority in Fforde’s novel. Thursday asks her father, a ChronoGuard with the ability to travel in time, about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, upon which he tells her that he himself “took a copy of the complete works back with [him] and gave them to the actor Shakespeare in 1592 to distribute on a given timetable” (J. Fforde, op. cit., 368).

31  C. Brontë, op. cit., 246; J. Fforde, op. cit., 352.

32  As is “really” the case in The Diary of a Nobody. This novel too would be worth including in a close examination of the tangled hierarchies between the texts, but this would clearly exceed the scope of this article.

33  J. Fforde, op. cit., 354.

34  Again, Jasper Fforde’s Nextian universe is representative in this regard. His website <> continually expands and transcends the level of his novels by providing, among many other things, book-updates, merchandise or related background information.

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Wolfgang Funk, « “What’s Next?” Jasper Fforde’s Attempts on Jane Eyre »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Le coin des écrivains, Études littéraires, document 5, mis en ligne le 09 mars 2010, consulté le 24 janvier 2022. URL :

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Wolfgang Funk

Wolfgang Funk studied English, German, History and Transnational Competence at the University of Regensburg, and graduated with an M.A. and a Teacher’s Diploma in 2005. From 2006-2008 he taught Gender Studies and English Literature at Regensburg. Since 2008 he has been working as a research assistant at Leibniz University, Hanover, while preparing his PhD thesis with the working title “Metafiction and the Quest for Authenticity”. He has published articles on contemporary British drama and fiction, among others on Bryony Lavery (2007), Matthew Kneale and Martin McDonagh (forthcoming).

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