Published: 1940, reprinted 1967
William Collins Sons & Co Ltd
After thoroughly enjoying Miss Buncle's Book (reviewed) I knew I had to read more of Scottish author, D. E. Stevenson's works. However I've learned that most of her books are connected either in a series or through characters that make reading the books in order of publication definitely preferable, if not a must and since nearly all of her books are out of print I found myself at a loss of which book to read next. After some digging I decided to read Rochester's Wife. It was available at my local library AND it was a stand-alone story.
Rochester's Wife is a story about a young doctor, Kit Stone, who returns to England after years abroad. Upon Kit's return his brother Henry and Henry's wife strongly encourage Kit to settle down somewhere nearby. They've even got a job possibility lined up thanks to Mrs. Rochester, the wife of one of Henry's business partners.
Initially Kit is hesitant, but agrees to try the job as assistant to a country doctor for thirty days. He heads to the town of Minfield and immediately feels at home in the town and with his boss, Doctor Peabody and forms a special bond with Peabody's imaginative and joyful young grandson, Jem.
The plot thickens when Kit meets Mrs. Rochester, the woman who recommended him for the job. Kit wonders why would a woman he'd never met be so determined that he get the job?Although the answer to that question remains a bit of a mystery Kit does discovers for himself a special bond with Mardie Rochester and before he knows it he has found himself in love with the woman... who appears to be unhappily married. But after a chat with Doctor Peabody Kit decides to take the honorable route and not confess his feelings to Mardie.
It is only after it is learned that Mardie's husband, Jack Rochester, is actually insane and mysteriously disappears that Kit and Mardie find themselves admitting to each other their feelings and struggling to do what is right. And yet Kit maintains his honorable position and does not push Mardie to begin a relationship with him. His desire is for Mardie's happiness above all, even if that means the possibility of Jacks' return.
Meanwhile, Mardie, believing her husband is still alive and will come home some day, heads to her homeland in the Scottish Highlands where she will wait for Jack's return and hope that Kit will forget her and move on with his life.
What unfolds is a story of romance, mystery, and the day to day adventures of an English country doctor during the early 1940s.
When I first began reading Rochester's Wife I was reminded of two very different books. First, the whole concept of a young doctor coming to a country town to work with an older doctor reminded me a little of the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot. (Yeah he was a vet, not a doctor, but still there was a very fine connection that I couldn't help but notice.)
The other book was Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. In that story there is a Mr. Rochester who falls in love with the protagonist of the book, Jane Eyre, but can't marry her because of his marriage to Mrs. Rochester, who happens to be insane.
Although it deals with some serious topics I found Rochester's Wife still an entertaining read. There were parts of the book that were very funny, especially where Jem was involved. He was my favorite character -- a cross between Davie Keith and Paul Irving in Anne of Avonlea (reviewed). His personality is to lively, so imaginative, and says the funniest things. As for the serious aspects, I felt that Ms. Stevenson handled them tactfully and yet realistically.
Overall I enjoyed Rochester's Wife. It was hard to put down. For a while I thought it might be an inverted take on Jane Eyre, as I mentioned above, but in the end it wasn't. The ending to the story is bittersweet and realistic, which for some readers might make it a bit disappointing. But one thing is for certain, the ending is not predictable.
On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate Rochester's Wife a 3.5 to a 4. I liked the book, but didn't really like how D. E. Stevenson wrapped up the story. It might sound a bit arrogant for me to say this, but if I had written the book I'd have chosen a different ending. Still, I am glad I read it and look forward to reading other works by the author.