Jasper Fforde has made the world of literary classics into an intriguing and fascinating world of mystery and conflict. With Baconian’s and Oxford supporters promoting the ‘true’ author of Shakespeares plays, SpecOps fighting werewolves and a super-villain who can’t be caught on film, Fforde creates a literary world surrounding LitTech Thursday Next’s adventures.
Fforde’s books, and the subsequence sequels, surround the ‘Book World’ a place individuals from the mundane world and characters from the literary worlds can move between. Encounters with Mr Quaverly, Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre cause chaos in the ‘real’ world where villain Archeron Hades has not only kidnapped Thursday’s eccentric uncle Mycroft and his latest invention, but he steals the original manuscripts of both Charles Dicken’s Martin Chuzzlewit and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
The narrative is constantly moving and evolving, new information coming to light and being cast on the protagonist – Thursday Next. ‘I was born on the Thursday and named Thursday. My brother was born on a Friday and he was named Anton.’ Fforde’s Thursday is considered by critics such as Juliette Wells, as a recreation of the literary classic Jane Eyre, with a plain appearance and a practical nature. Fforde weaves a parallel with the classic, not only in the characterisation of Next, but in the events that follow her through the novel. The man she loves is crippled, the wedding of her partner is interrupted by a solicitor and her uncle, like Jane’s, opens up a whole new world for her.
Fforde provides the reader with a strong background for the adventure in the existing tales of Jane Eyre and Martin Chuzzlewit, that parallel the tale, but doesn’t make it necessary to know more than the basic plot of the narratives in order to follow The Eyre Affair. Of course, having taken ten years to write, and be published, Fforde was sure to provide enough tidbits, much like DVD easter eggs, for those who have enjoyed the classics to enjoy character and plot jokes that the uninitiated would unfortunately miss.
Often a book or novel is thought to be made up of nothing more than the words that create the story. However, it takes much more than just the story for the fantastical secondary world existing within the text to manifest. Few take into account the materials that are crucial to reading and understanding a novel, and most, if not all, contain much more than the words that tell a story. Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair is a detailed example of a story existing beyond its words, for while all texts have the title, cover, publishers, blurbs and acknowledgements that are part of the creation, The Eyre Affair is a stronger, more resounding evidence of paratext.
Fforde doesn’t leave his reader with merely the words on the pages of his book to tell the story, but provides a colourful array of paratext surrounding the narrative. Gerard Genette who conceptionalised paratext explained it as ‘the means by which a text makes a book of itself and proposes itself as such to its readers, and more generally to the public.’ Fforde has created the paratext of The Eyre Affair through a series of websites surrounding his books where he has posted pictures, encyclopaedias, vouchers, advertising and legal notices that bring the world of The Eyre Affair out from the pages. Jasper Fforde’s website, provides the links to the websites of each of his novels, including the Thursday Next Chronicles. Paratext is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon through the advancement of technology, and provides a way for authors to interact further with their fans, through interviews, additional story details and publishing updates.
To truly enjoy the wonderment of The Eyre Affair a reader must enjoy not only the words, but the other myriad details that Fforde provides us with. I recommend Jasper Fforde to anyone with a basic understanding of the classics, and a willingness to find the humour in the most boring of characters.