On Apr. 4, I had the immense pleasure and honor of talking to Sophfronia Scott about her new novel titled Wild, Beautiful, and Free. Scott is the brilliant director of Alma College’s MFA program centered on Creative Writing. The program offers three main areas of study: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Scott is just one of many talented and genuine writers that help compose this esteemed faculty.
Wild, Beautiful, and Free is a retelling of the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. In the book, Jeannette Bebin is the biracial daughter of an enslaved woman and a plantation owner born in the pre-Civil War era. Jeannette grows into an intelligent, strong woman and becomes an educator. It is in this role that Jeannette meets Mr. Colchester, another complex character who may or may not be hiding a history of his own.
This book was truly an enjoyable story to read and is easily one of my top books of 2023. With a reading goal of 300, that’s saying a lot. I am particularly enamored by Chapter 12 in which I found myself having a physical reaction, therefore highlighting how powerful words on a page can be. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
“The story [of Jane Eyre] is in me,” said Scott. “It influenced me because Jane taught me how to think as somebody who was living in a certain way in my house. I had an illiterate father and opportunities seemed limited. Jane, who had few opportunities of her own…there are scenes in that book where all she is doing is thinking her way [through those situations].”
Scott achieves what can be a rare feat in today’s literary world and that is creating whole characters. As we talked about the relationship between Jeannette and Mr. Colchester, I recognized the role of Colchester as a man of his own accord rather than purely a love interest. Another big part of the discussion was how these two characters interacted with each other in a way that showed they were not afraid to learn from each other.
Scott used the structure of the original novel as a template and described her creative process as “laying her story over” the original text. Scott also revealed that Ballyhoo Books owner Dawn Daniels was the only one besides Scott’s editor to read the novel in manuscript form.
“I just felt that Dawn’s not only a bookseller, but she’s a reader and a compassionate heart. If Dawn gets this book, then I would’ve done it. I would’ve gotten this right,” said Scott. If you are interested in picking up a copy of your own, Ballyhoo Books in downtown Alma offers them.
Overall, the conversation between Sophfronia and me was enlightening. “This book is [a part of the history of looking at mixed race characters. Just think about what it means to put an inspiring work into the world since there are students who are writers that will be reading this,” said Scott.