One of the arguments that I regularly have is about Jane Eyre. I hate that novel, and I talk about my hatred for that book more than a little bit. Almost always there is a woman standing nearby who is shocked at that revelation, and I get up on my soap box. The other thing about hating Jane Eyre, is that as an English major I have read the book at least 3 times cover to cover. Each time, I got a little more annoyed that Jane is kind of a boring character. That Rochester is a complete asshole who is rude to Jane, then admits that he loves her, then tries to marry her even though he’s already married to a crazy lady who is living in his attic that he was hoping to never have to mention. I’m not rooting for that couple, and then when they finally get together at the end, Rochester is badly injured and by marrying him Jane becomes not only wife but also nursemaid to a complete jerk. Nothing about that makes me happy.
What does make me happy is the update to Jane Eyre called Jane Steele.
The book does not try to hide that it is drawing from the source material, and references to that dreaded Victorian inspiration appear throughout the book. My favorite two are one where Jane Steele mentions that Jane Eyre was kind of a lousy detective, and the other is that very early on in the modern update, the line “Reader, I married him” is updated to “Reader, I murdered him.”
She is not referring to her love interest but rather of an abusive cousin–something the two Janes have in common–which is revealed within the first few pages of the book, so it is less a spoiler than it is a reason to consider reading this book.
The author, Lyndsay Faye, seems to have more general affection for Jane Eyre than I ever did, but she has made modern updates that change Jane from a silently suffering victim of abuse, to a novel about a strong heroine who fights back. Often fatally.
While those changes feel very satisfying at a time where women are fighting and celebrating their reputations as “nasty women” who insist on persisting, which are definitely my kind of women. So, not only does a heroine willing to get blood on her hands pretty satisfying, but Jane Steele features a love story that I can get behind.
Her love interest, Mr. Thornfield, is a modern day Rochester complete with some mysterious secrets and an ability to look sexy while brooding. The difference is that he is also funny. He speaks to his young ward in a mock-grumbling way that is mixed with a large dose of affection and teasing. Instead of being an actual glowering jerk who is clearly only cruel because he is also damaged (aka the type I was most likely to love in college), he is actually good natured and caring. What’s more, Jane doesn’t have to be nearly murdered in her bed for him to start kind of being nice to her.
This reimagining or update or whatever the proper literary term for it actually is has not made me love Jane Eyre any more than I ever did, but it has made me glad that it existed in order to bring me to Jane Steele.