NancyKay Shapiro is the author of a previous novel, What Love Means To You People. She lives in New York City.
NancyKay, your novel Céline Varens gives resounding voice to a minor character in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. In the excerpt we find Céline in Paris discovering that the woman whom she left her young daughter Adele with years before has already turned the girl over to Adele’s father, Rochester. Céline tells M. Carmichael that Rochester only took the girl “To punish me. To punish me. To punish me.” What intrigued you about Céline that inspired you to write a novel in which she becomes the protagonist? Do you feel she was overlooked in Jane Eyre?
Not overlooked. In Jane Eyre Céline’s not a character—she’s a necessary object, part of the plot function, referred to in dialogue but not otherwise seen by the reader, who has to take Mr Rochester’s word for her. Céline is a key figure in Rochester’s past, which he’s got to confess and live down in order to be worthy of Jane in the end. She helps make the story wheel turn, by representing for him the venality of women in general, and birthing the little girl whose presence requires Rochester to need a governess.
But to step back from the immediate question, I’d like to describe a little about where the idea to write a novel in conversation with another novel came from.