“It All Began with ‘Jane Eyre’ or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman” by Sheila Greenwald

When I was searching for books from my childhood to recommend to my 8yo, after I found The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster by Sheila Greenwald, I saw she had another book entitled It All Began with Jane Eyre or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman. Since Jane Eyre is one of my favorites, I checked this out from the library too.

Oh my goodness, what a bizarre, clever, and entertaining relic of a book this is! Published in 1980, its mindset is definitely 70’s New York and the era of Ms. magazine.

Franny is chastised by her parents on two counts. One for hiding in her closet reading and eating potato chips. The other is that she took her favorite book to such an extreme that she began to see echoes of Jane Eyre in real life, going so far to believe the headmaster at her school had a mad wife at home. When one of her friends ratted on Franny, everyone thought she was beyond weird, since the wife of headmaster wasn’t mad and in the attic, only getting her masters at Columbia.

Franny’s mother gets her a new set of books, all about so-called real life, including divorce, abortion, affairs, and diabetes. Franny is urged by teachers and her family to journal about real life, not about Jane Eyre. But Franny starts to read rather too much into the people around her. Is her father having an affair, is her sister’s friend pregnant?

Franny is funny, and smart, and I especially loved her single-minded passion for Jane Eyre:

How she hated the idea of Authors and Authoresses. She could hardly bring herself to look at their photographs on the backs of books. She didn’t like the thought of them meddling in what she believed to be Real Life.


don’t talk to me about Bronte again. I read Jane Eyre, not Bronte.

I was utterly charmed by Franny, and could relate so much to her attempts to lose herself in literature, and I liked the satire of the 70’s young-adult problem novels.

But I didn’t urge this one on either of my sons. Satire and 70’s NYC and the Equal Rights Amendment were a fun fascinating read for me but I’d be hard put to explain it to them.

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