Please join me in welcoming author Libby Sternberg to My Reading Room today. Libby’s book, Sloane Hall is out now and I will be posting my review later today. For now learn more about how this story came to be. Thank you so much Libby for guest blogging here today!
Hardcover, Five Star, September 2010, ISBN: 9781594149177
In 1920s Hollywood, young John Doyle learns the craft of cinematography when a stupid mistake costs him his job. On a tip, he heads to Sloane Hall, the estate of a famous silent screen actress, Pauline Sloane, where he lands a position as chauffeur. Sloane Hall first offers him peace as he enjoys the bounty of the luxurious home, then unrest as its beautiful namesake returns and starts preparing for her first talking picture. Despite his best efforts to resist, John falls hopelessly in love with his employer. His future brightens, however, when she appears to return his affection, leading to plans for a secret wedding—until other awful secrets intrude, leading to heartbreak and separation. A story of obsession and forgiveness, Libby Sternberg’s Sloane Hall was inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
When I first encountered the novel Jane Eyre, I was in my teens. I wasn't a voracious reader; I often found it difficult to slog through assigned reading for school. But then again, perhaps that's because we were reading things like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome! (I loved Wharton’s Age of Innocence, though. Ethan Frome—not so much!) Maybe because of these dreary reads, I really perked up when a story tugged me in, when it completely captured my mind and heart. Jane Eyre was one of those books.
I remember quite vividly coming upon the scene where the reader learns that Edward Rochester, Jane's employer at Thornfield Hall, might, in fact, love her. She's overheard some swank ladies at his party speaking disparagingly of governesses, of which she is one. She leaves the party, heartbroken on two counts – due to the unkind talk of her profession and the realization that Mr. Rochester might marry one of the ladies. Rochester follows her into the hall and gently tries to find out what's bothering her and to comfort her.
Charlotte Bronte handled that scene with such sweet aplomb, allowing the reader to see Rochester's concern for Jane while also credibly showing Jane's utter obliviousness to her employer's affection. Bronte allows the reader to peer even more deeply into Rochester's heart when he masquerades as a gypsy and tells Jane's fortune a little while later, drawing out the delicious sense that we, the readers, know something our heroine doesn't. It's even more skillful when you realize the book is written in first person, from Jane's point of view! Yet we know more than our narrator does at this pivotal moment. What a masterful author Charlotte Bronte was!
So masterful, in fact, that I could reread her tale of poor, lowly Jane over and over again, never tiring of it.
I may not have tired of it, but the emotional highs and lows were no longer as dramatic with each read, since they no longer contained the element of surprise. How wonderful it would be to encounter this story anew, as if I never had read it before! Short of a mild case of amnesia, however, that wasn't possible.
But then I thought of retelling the story myself, of writing a novel inspired by Bronte's classic that would make those highs and lows as soaring and as plunging as they were in the original.
That's how Sloane Hall was born. I not only changed the time and setting, but also the genders of the main characters. John Doyle is the narrator of Sloane Hall – he’s a lowly chauffeur who works for a skittish starlet about to make her first talking picture in 1929 Hollywood. He and Pauline fall in love, just as Jane and Rochester did. And they both face a heartbreaking crisis that ultimately propels John to question his love for Pauline and whether it can survive if he compromises his integrity.
While Sloane Hall contains the emotional peaks and valleys of Jane Eyre, it is a fresh tale, with new twists designed to create that element of surprise that loyal Eyre fans might no longer experience when rereading the original.
Some early praise has come in, including this lovely review from Fresh Fiction:
“Sternberg never loses sight of the story she's re-telling, but this novel is definitely her own. Readers have things to figure out and look forward to. Her prose flows beautifully with vivid descriptions of people and places, bringing to life a Los Angeles of times gone by. Fans of historical fiction and Jane Eyre in particular will relish this novel, and readers who enjoy a love story should definitely pick this one up.”
I hope readers will enjoy this new take on an old classic.
For more on Sloane Hall, Jane Eyre, and old Hollywood, please visit my blog at www.LibbysBooks.wordpress.com! My website is www.LibbysBooks.com. At both sites, you can read the first two chapters for free. Friend me on Facebook at Libby Sternberg. And do let me know what you think of the book by emailing me at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com.
If you comment on this post within the next 24 hours, your name will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Sloane Hall.