Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Penguin Publishing Group
One of the most iconic literary tag lines from the Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre is, “Reader, I married him”. When I heard the tag line from Jane Steele – “Reader, I killed him” – I knew I had to read this book.
I read Jane Eyre the summer before I started eighth grade, and have re-read it numerous times since then. So why mention Jane Eyre, a book published in 1847, in a post about Jane Steele? Because this book does a great job at paying homage to the Bronte classic, and in fact our heroine, Jane Steele, even compares herself to the “fictional” Eyre. It’s done very well, and is really interesting to read Jane Steele’s inner thoughts about Eyre, and how she seems to mock Miss Eyre for being labeled wicked when she hasn’t done anything wrong. Steele, however, believes herself truly wicked, and seems to take offense. It’s almost like she’s telling the reader, “You think she’s wicked? Wait until you hear what I’ve done!” And you can’t wait – the build-up is fantastic.
At the start of the book, Jane and her mother are living in a cottage on her Aunt’s estate. There is some contention that Jane is the true heir to the estate, but circumstances have kept her and her mother living off the charity of her Aunt Patience. That’s never good, and it’s obvious from the start that her Aunt resents the fact that she’s obligated to house them. Add to that Jane’s cousin Edwin, who can’t seem to make up his mind if he wants to torment Jane, or do naughty things to her. Ugh, so creepy!
Then a couple of tragic events take place and Jane finds herself sent off to boarding school. Now, rather than narrate her life in a painstakingly long narrative, Jane tells the reader that she’s going to summarize her life there, as she skips ahead to various times at school. It’s very clever, and you don’t feel like you missed anything – she’s basically saying that some time goes by, and only a small number of events are worth mentioning – so we time jump a couple of years – but not before we learn how horrid her time was there, and how cruelly the girls were treated; and in true Jane Steele fashion she escapes to London – but not alone, Jane’s friend from school comes along as a faithful companion.
After a few years living in a squalid boarding house, with a drunken landlord who also doubles as a business partner, Jane finds herself a sort of “journalist” writing stories about the lurid crimes committed in and around London. But once again, a tragic event occurs, and Jane finds herself trying to reconcile what she’s done; and what she needs to do. Heartbroken, she finds herself alone and in a bad way.
At this point in the story we get a glimpse of Jane living a sort of comfortable life, if not a bit seedy, but we don’t know exactly how she comes to be here as Jane swiftly narrates her way through that part of her life. It’s here that Jane soon reads an advertisement in the paper for a governess in none other than her old home. She learns that her aunt Patience has died and Highgate House has been inherited by a distant relative of her aunt. Jane decides to answer the advertisement, and begins to plot the downfall of the new owner, Charles Thornfield.
Jane easily falls into her routine as governess, and as she begins to learn a little about the quirky inhabitants of the household she finds herself having genuine affection for them. And it’s not before too long that she realizes she’s actually falling in love with Charles Thornfield.
I admit I’m not a fan of romance novels, and I fully expected to part ways with the book at this point because the story does start to take a bit of a romantic twist. But, happily, this is where the book really begins to shine. It’s not overly romantic, and in fact is the best part of the book. The characters are really bright, and Lyndsay Faye does a marvelous job at writing some of the wittiest and smartest dialogue at this juncture. The interaction between Jane and Charles has so much spark and humor that I found myself chuckling quite a bit.
Add to this a mystery about missing jewels, family secrets and tragedies, and a murderess for a governess; what’s not to like? This book is very entertaining, and although there were many points where it could have gotten bogged down, it never did. It was very well paced and the author kept it moving right to the very end. I really enjoyed it!
One last note – there was a recent announcement that Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures has acquired the movie rights, so I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for that. I’m curious to see who they cast for the main characters.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below. And if you’ve already read Jane Steele and are excited about the movie, who do you think they should cast as Jane and Charles, as well as the other characters.