Each chapter of The Eyre Affair opens with a small epigraph underneath the chapter title, all from a variety of inter-textual and extra-textual sources. Typically light, funny, or satirical, these epigraphs play and extremely important role in the form aspect of The Eyre Affair's content, and to the tone of the entire novel.
Oftentimes, these epigraphs act as an establishment of theme such as in chapter 6, in which Thursday discusses how the "barrier between reality and make-believe...was soft, pliable"(63) in her autobiography, published presumably after the novel itself takes place. This chapter introduces, for the first time in the novel, the idea of traveling inside works of literature, as Thursday did once as a child when she was read aloud to from the original manuscript of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. When transported into Bronte's narrative, Thursday Next changes the course of the book as easily as Jasper Fforde changes the ending earlier in The Eyre Affair.
Another way Fforde makes use of these epigraphs is to set the stage of a scene and expand his universe. Because this novel takes place in such a scattered, jarring world, the absurd quirk of epigraphs such as Chapter 26's description of the Earthcrossers Society, that looks on the "...arrival of an asteroid at a planet as the return of a lost orphan, a prodigal son"(243), feels only appropriate to The Eyre Affair. Millon De Floss, after the George Elliot Novel The Mill on the Floss, also makes a frequent appearance in the epigraphs by detailing the various aspects of SpecOps, the "Special Operations Network...instigated to handle policing duties considered either too unusual or too specialized to be tackled by the regular force"(1) from the first page entering readers into this idea of such a multi-faceted organization that has to maintain control over this multi-faceted universe.
The epigraphs another function slightly more complicated--simultaneously, they both foreshadow and relieve, two very opposite techniques in literature. With Thursday Next's autobiography in so many of the epigraphs, readers know right away that Thursday does not die by the end of the book, losing it a great deal of suspense even when some of the entries have darker tones of foreshadowing, like in her Chapter 14 description of Bowden Cable, claiming that honest, dependable people like him "...are all worth ten of people like me"(143). Like the rest of the book, this double-function is an example of Fforde taking into account multiple writing tropes to suit this world-of-many-worlds-and-of-many-writings.
Thursday Next's Perspective
As a general rule of literature and life, point of view matters. The perspective from which a story is told can change everything that happens in said story. Since Thursday Next is not the exclusive first person narrator she originally seems to be, The Eyre Affair's content is complicated even further than we already knew it would be. Next's icon, Jane Eyre, tells her tale in an extreme, unforgivingly first person narration, but Thursday's tale, though predominantly told as if by her, strays out of her mind and travels from England to Wales with only so much as a chapter change's notice.
Chapter 11, for instance, very awkwardly begins with an internal monologue of Thursday's, "As I was dealing with Landen in my own clumsy way, my uncle and aunt were hard at work in Mycroft's workshop. As I was to learn later, things seemed to be going quite well. To begin with, at any rate"(122). The chapter then goes on to describe in vivid, third-person-seeming detail about Mycroft and Polly's work and conversation with as much specificity as to mention the way Polly sucks "...the end of a well-worn pencil"(122). Is this third person? If so, why begin that way with Thursday's typically styled narration? Fforde does something very odd with his use of her perspective and his sudden discarding of its importance. Similarly, he’ll often switch character perspective in between lines of dialogues, such as when Thursday and Victor are having a conversation and then Victor “…looked at me strangely. He hadn’t dared tell anyone about his theories for fear of being ostracized, but here was a LiteraTec nearly half his age going farther than he had ever imagined. A thought crossed his mind”(207). Thursday is not telepathic, yet she narrates inside Victor’s head and it doesn’t feel like speculation on her part.
Possibly Fforde was doing this in an attempt to reflect the in-and-out easiness of entrances and exits into and from books. Arguably, books are perspectives in and of themselves. That the entire text is based on Jane Eyre, such a strictly one-minded narrative, matters a great deal. Fforde's overturning of that strictness, making that fictional world into something malleable, almost seems to require such flimsily structured narration to reinforce that. See our Discussion Questions for further conversation on this topic.
The Young Adult Novel
While reading The Eyre Affair, the fact that it was published originally as a young adult novel is something to be considered. In some ways, it allows Fforde to get away with breaking several rules of literature that usually deter members of a more mature audience of traditional readers (such as the distractingly inconsistent POV, the uncomfortably cliché dialogue, etc.), but the labeling of The Eyre Affair serves more purpose than a simple excuse.
After Thursday originally enters Jane Eyre as a kid, she doesn’t tell anyone a thing about it save for her odd Uncle Mycroft, eccentric inventor of the bookworms and the book portal, because she knows that “Ordinary adults don’t like children to speak of things that are denied them by their own gray minds”(69). Such rare, poignantly wise lines throughout the novel point to Fforde’s understanding of this book he’s writing and the way he intends it to be received. “Gray minds” and “ordinary adults”, in Fforde’s eyes, will not be able to enjoy this novel, and he seems to have accepted that. So he publishes it for young people who, though not as young as Thursday Next when she enters Jane Eyre for the first time, still have similar capability to simply read without question, absorb and be absorbed.
Something interesting to note is the fact that, although published as a young adult novel, Fforde still clearly expects that adults will read The Eyre Affair. Since more mature works (Shakespeare, Dickens, and obviously Bronte) are used to market it, it seems that Fforde is once again trying to lump typically separate conventions together. Adults who read young adult fiction read it for fun, and Fforde is very aware of this. Any grown person who reads The Eyre Affair will have already been looking for it in the YA section of the bookstore and therefore is more likely to have something other than a “grey” mind.
The amount of overused lines, plot devices, and character constructs in The Eyre Affair equally balances out the never-before-heard-of bizarre elements in the book. Lines such as “Love is like oxygen”(171) and “The first casualty of war is always truth”(200), lines that can no longer be traced back to an original source because they’ve been quoted so many different times, litter the already-stocked narrative. In addition, along the way, we are introduced to such a wide range of stereotypes that cover just about everything, from female cops to evil corporations the size of (and named after) unbeatable giants.
Thursday, as a police officer and modern female, can easily attract criticism by being, as Bowden sighs, “‘…everything a woman should be. Strong and resourceful, loyal and intelligent’”(171). The idea of “everything a woman should be” is often advice given to writers as a character not to create. Thursday is certainly not without her flaws, as we see the in some of the most compelling moments of her narration (the scene in which she is rejected by Spike, or when we learn how she still holds a grudge against Landen after ten years, or her multi-layered, bitchy relationship with her brother Joffy). Yet some of her ridiculously heroic actions in the novel (ending the Crimean War with a few-sentence-long speech, changing Jane Eyre for the ((debatable)) better, seemingly being the only woman Acheron Hades couldn’t seduce) definitely come close to completely boxing her up as a flat, too-tough, typical heroine.
Similarly, Acheron Hades, who can’t be killed and makes statements such as “Goodness is weakness, pleasantness is poisonous, serenity is mediocrity and kindness is for losers”(154), definitely belongs in a comic-book villain box. Every mustache-twirling cliché, from his Underworldly name to his lame seduction techniques and lines “‘You turned me down and, as we all know, there is nothing more seductive than resistance’”(53), makes an appearance in this novel and mirrors the typical corporate evil represented by Goliath. Heavily involved with weaponry and ownership, Fforde lays every kind of despicable on the Goliath Corporation, going so far as to name its predictably corrupt mouthpiece Jack Schitt “…Mr. Schitt to you, Next!”(167). Another way Fforde makes use of the Goliath Corporation’s capacity for overreaching evil is by casting its leaders as the architects of the Crimean war. Several of the main characters are veterans of this horrible war that we never actually get to see, and it’s shaped all of them. Use of fictional war as a means of character-maturation has also become a common trope in literature, one of the easy ways to supply depth, history, and complication.
As much as cliché usage is criticized, in this and other works by everyone from literary circles to the avid movie-goer, Fforde’s usage of it in The Eyre Affair is fascinating. Inescapable is the fact that clichés are still around because people still keep reading them, and Fforde uses that to his best advantage. By banking on the success of other popular tropes (in the same way he advertises the book by way of Jane Eyre’s Victorian success), Fforde has created a super-book, almost laughably so. Readers of The Eyre Affair will either overlook the clichés, stop reading the book so as to avoid them, or indulge in them like crazy. The one-liner, the tough female cop, the mustache-twirling villain, the corporate devils, and the war that’s lasted decades, all contribute to this in a way as multilayered as the rest of the book.
Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair