It has been years since I last read Jane Eyre, although, in my mind’s eye, I can still recall the cover of the copy I left (and misplaced) back home. I can barely remember the specifics of the story; all I remember are the bones: Jane being treated unkindly by her Aunt and cousin, being sent to a girls’ school and still being maltreated there, and then finding a job as a governess, and subsequently falling in love with the master of the house, Mr. Rochester. I loved Jane for having her own mind, and my little tween heart beat rapidly at the love story that developed between her and Mr. Rochester.
Jane Steele, written by Lyndsay Faye, is marketed as “a Gothic re-imagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer”. It was making its rounds on Instagram more than a month before its release, and praises and excitement abound on every post. I grabbed at the chance to have an advanced copy of it*, despite having been severely burned by another classic retelling. I was well ready to write off and avoid all retellings after that painful experience.
I am so glad to say that reading Jane Steele was to the contrary — I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I can even say it was difficult to put down. It had the Gothic theme down, the writing nuance that delighted me with Jane Eyre, and most importantly, for my romance-loving heart, it improved on the Rochester character.
This retelling’s Jane, whose favourite novel is Jane Eyre, is a lovely character. She might be what you’d call grey in her morals, but she is fiery red with passion which she applies herself to anything she sets her self to do. She is independent, and yet it never translated as preachy or better-than-all-you-women. It probably helped that the novel has other independent female characters as well, and they actually outnumber the men! Mr. Thornfield, the Rochester character, was much improved. None of the game-playing Mr. Rochester employed with Jane Eyre, and no locking up of a wife either. I loved how Jane Eyre found her intellectual match with Mr. Rochester, but I found it hard to reconcile with the issues I mentioned above. I was incredibly overjoyed to find out Mr. Thornfield was none of those!
The first third of the book is devoted to Jane Steele growing up, and once it popped in my head how an 18-year-old who had no street skills could manage to survive the streets of London. “Is this going to turn into one of those YA novels, where I have to accept that a teen is as adept as an adult in living the hard life?”, is one of the things I briefly wondered about. I guess I was just looking forward to her turning into a governess, that I was getting a tad bit impatient. It wasn’t a tedious read; I actually liked the friendship between Jane Steele and Rebecca, another girl from the horrible school. I also liked inclusion of the Sikh culture, and actually made me want to ask the author why she chose it for this book.
In all of this, what I loved most is the writing. It was refreshing to again read a novel written in that manner, and the touches of humour and dry wit did not fall flat, in my opinion. I am very grateful to the author for keeping this as close to our beloved Jane Eyre as much as possible, and yet still making it her own, not a carbon copy of the original classic. I would be glad to say that, although I am no Brontë expert, Charlotte would not be rolling in the grave with this effort.
Jane Steele comes out on 22 March 2016, and published by Headline Review, an imprint of Headline Publishing, in the UK. Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Random House, is the US publisher. More about the author Lyndsay Faye on her website.
“I placed the cheque in my reticule [..]. I did this, reader, because the most idiotic thing that Jane Eyre ever did other than to leave in the first place was to depart without her pearl necklace and half Mr. Rochester’s fortune, which he would gladly have given her. If she had been eaten by a bear upon fleeing penniless into the wilderness, I should have shaken that bear’s paw.”
– Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele
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*A great and many thanks to Headline Review for the advanced copy. This review was in no way influenced by this circumstance, however, and I would have freely lambasted this book if it was what it deserved.