My boss is lovely. Usually. And although he may not agree he is not so much of a man that he would balk at the assignation.
We experienced a rift in our almost eight years of employer and subordinate relationship when he listened to an NPR piece on the movie adaptaion of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and while trying to remember what it was called said, “you know, that famous novel by Jane Eyre.” He furiously tried to backpedal when he saw my face, from which I ordered a swift correction that it was Jane Austen, as Jane Eyre arguably never existed save for the written word.
Even though she was never real she is very real as one of our classic Gothic and bildungsroman (coming of age, not belonging, questioning conventions) heroines. I regrettably did not read Jane Eyre until graduate school when over the summer I began to fill in the gaps of my classic literature exposure (because being a doctoral student the other ten months of the year clearly was not enough). And I nearly abandoned it because it was so depressing, which I think I noted in a my previous post about getting into Gothic lit, save for one of my favorite humans on the planet who promised me that dead halfway through it would pick up. She also convinced me to stay in grad school on a particularly dark day in my life when I was ready to pick up my toys and go home.
Any good story is worth retelling, and for this post I explored three Jane Eyre inspired stories.
Reader, I Married Him, Tracy Chevalier
This is a collection of short stories commissioned by Chevalier with the prompt being the last line of Jane Eyre: Reader, I married him. And she amasses a good list of names: Francine Prose, Audrey Niffenegger, Emma Donoghue, and Evie Wyld, just to name a sampling. (Sadly I never got such an invitation. She must have had my email address incorrect or something). Some of these stories had a link to the classic novel more clearly delineated: Mr. Rochester’s perspective, a modern take on Jane’s relationship with her friend Helen, Grace Poole’s story, Mr. Rochester effectively gaslighting his hapless bride, a wedding of an unlikely pair, some of the stories I struggled to see the connection. However, despite how far any writer spun from the original idea, these stories are entertaining and wonderfully written. Unlike a story collection by one author, this offered different themes and characters and tones. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who claims to be a fan of Jane.
This one came out this spring. Let’s go back to what I think is the quintessential Jane Eyre other side of the story:
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
Who doesn’t really want to understand the perspective of Bertha Rochester and how she came to be spirited from her native tropical island to be locked away in the top of a British manor? Flavorwire actually turned me on to this prequel to Jane Eyre. We learn that she used to be the beautiful Antoinette, and if you must know, Mr. Rochester is as much of a pawn in the dastardly scheme to unload her in marriage before the fatal truth of a predisposition to illness ignited by a trauma manifested as Antoinette is. She’s an unfortunate impediment to Mr. Rochester’s marital availability, but it is not her fault, and the book brings to light the grief she feels over being taken from her beautiful warm home into a cold and barren one, with little company, floating in and out of lucidity. Surprisingly, Rochester is also made more appealing, made him a little more worthy of Jane’s ministrations and love (not so self sacrificing as Bronte heroines have had occasion to be) and better explains why he finds our plain Jane so appealing as well. He has already been singed by the mysterious island flame and is content with a steady, intelligent and kind, if a little self righteous at times governess (although one of the stories in Reader I Married Him will have you believe that Rochester’s love for Jane has lost its luster when finally she returns and assumes the burden of his care, just to make the ending more depressing). I agree this is a beautiful classic. I read it in the dead of winter amongst other atmospheric books while crafting and it felt good to be taken from my snowy reality for a time.
Another modern take:
Jane Steele, Lindsay Faye
I would consider this a spinoff more than a retelling. Jane has some awareness that she shares similarities to our Gothic heroine, but unlike the first Jane, she is much more apt to color outside the lines. Her passions urge her to kill, whereas the original Jane would just pack up and disappear. She is not a serial killer in the traditional, cold blooded and remorseless and senseless killings arising from a neglectful childhood. Jane’s childhood was neglectful but not in the way that would turn her into a Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dalmer. She is searching for redemption for her crimes of passion, not crimes of premeditation and cool calculation. The love interest, Mr. Thornfield, has his own secrets but is a warmer and more lovable character than the at times icy and enigmatic Mr. Rochester.
I found a new author love of Lindsay Faye. Her razor sharp and hilarious prose, drew me in and I was outright laughing at some of the things that Jane Steele said and observed in her living on a shoestring world. Gods of Gotham has made it onto the lengthy wish list because it is old school NYC and I want to see if Faye is just as witty, poignant and appealing as she was in Jane Steele.
Other re-tellings that deserve a read?
Comments/shares/likes are welcome!