The literary dynamic duo of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre and Jasper Fforde’s clever spin off novel, The Eyre Affair, are a great read for both casual readers and in-depth literary intellects. The two novels’ plots are so different that the things they share in common thematically seem to be few and far between. However, The Eyre Affair shares a surprising number of themes with its counterpart; Jane Eyre. Among these similarities is both books’ focus on religion. Even though classical religion does not exist in Fforde’s imaginative world, it is juxtaposed with, and carries the same amount of weight and importance of, the institution of religion. The institution of literature in Thursday Next’s realm carries with itself a high level of social power and influence over the people. Fforde implies this concept heavily during his novel, replacing The Bible itself with the complete works of William Shakespeare in hotel rooms. Jasper Fforde replaces the heavy priority of religion in Bronte’s Jane Eyre, quite literally, with literature in The Eyre Affair as a way to show (through science fiction) that some people truly see literature as their religion.
From her stay at Lowood under the devious Mr. Brocklehurst to her unwillingness to elope with Mr. Rochester after learning about his marriage to Bertha despite Jane’s deep, profound love for him; it is clear that Bronte decided to have religion a large part of Jane’s life. Maria Lamonaca cites in her article Jane’s Crown of Thorns: Feminism and Christianity in Jane Eyre that Jane, specifically, rejects the patriarchal religious value system of St. John Rivers, and that radical spiritual autonomy for women was a controversial topic during Bronte’s era. Lamonaca cites numerous accounts of references to Christianity, one of the more blatant ones being Jane’s account of the first Thronfield fire: “I… deluged the bed and its occupant, flew back to my own room, brought my own water-jug, “baptized” the couch afresh, and by “God’s aid”, succeeded in extinguishing the flames which were devouring it” (168). Bronte’s uses notable word choice, as words like “baptized” and “by God’s aid” clearly show the religious mindset Jane Eyre is in, even during a tragic fire. When Jane brings up such religious phrases in a time of panic she points out how “all encompassing” religion is in her mind. Thursday Next, as everyone else in her world, feels the same way about literature.
The key feature of Jane’s faith is that she has been through such a tragic childhood/adolescence. The readers are introduced to a number of “religious” characters during the course of Jane’s story. However, many of these people are merely using religion for self-gain. Mr. Brocklehurst, for example, runs a school for orphan girls, condoned by the church. He seems, on the outside, like a pious man who merely gives what he can to these girls because it is the right thing to do, and because God has called him to do so. In reality, he takes the money he should be using for food, clothes, and shelter for these girls and pockets it for his own greed. A less dramatic example is that of St. John Rivers. Towards the end of the novel he is trying to recruit Jane to follow him to his missionary trip to India , hiding the fact that he only wants her to go with him as his wife, and not simply to help the holy cause.
“God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labor, not for love. A missionary’s wife you must – shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you – not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.” ( Ch. 34) The same hypocritical set of actions can be found in The Eyre Affair as Acheron Hades, an ex-professor, exploits the very medium he had previously dedicated his life to study and teach: literature.
Much like Thursday Next’s experience with Jack Shitt, who wanted to use the prose portal device for the Goliath Company’s gain, Jane Eyre encounters men who exploit their positions with the church to try and use her for their own gain. Thursday has had similar experiences with men, namely with Jack Shitt. Religion is so important to Jane that she is able to dismiss all of these instances of men trying to use it against her in order to follow it herself. It takes a true believer to keep one’s faith through the trials that Jane faced.
In Jasper Fforde’s fictional world, traditional religions do not exist. Instead, we are presented with a realm in which literature is the central ideology. Classic writers’ works are held under lock and key much like religious relics are in our world. Fforde also replaces hotel room Bibles with the complete works of William Shakespeare, as if his transposition of literature with religion wasn’t clear enough. Fforde’s replacement for religion deepens once we find out about the SO-5, a police force who seeks to retain classic books’ original transcripts and protect them from change by terrorist groups. The SO-5 brings to mind their real-world counterpart: the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar who were sworn to protect the Christian faith. Fforde created the SO-5 to show that, theoretically, there could be a group similar the Knights Templar, who are sworn to protect, instead of relics such as the Holy Grail, original transcripts of classic literature. The Knights Templar are also rumored to have protected the Bible of the time from alterations; much like the SO-5 are utilized preserve the integrity of original works of literature.
Both Jane Eyre and The Eyre Affair share an all-encompassing theme of religion. The only difference is that, in Fforde’s world, the institution of religion is replaced with that of literature. Both novels also share instances where men of authority within the institution exploit their powers for selfish reasons. In Fforde’s dream world, literature trumps all things and belief systems, surpassing both religion and science. It is through the portrayal of this world that he drives home his main point that literature can be more important than even religion.