Tag Archives: Jane Eyre

A Different Jane

Today is the 200th birthday  of Charlotte Brontë. Her groundbreaking novel Jane Eyre is a book that I often go back to when I need a little comforting; I am not sure charlotte_bronte_square_sticker_3_x_3what it is about Brontë’s title character, but Jane has been a part of my life for so long that re-reading it feels like visiting an old friend. I have a tattered copy under my bed that I still reach for at times.

Honestly, it is a bit embarrassing; it feels a little stereotypical for a female librarian to be obsessed with what some would argue is a dated classic. But the truth is that Jane Eyre was groundbreaking in its day for featuring a heroic female lead who took charge of her own fate. It caused quite a stir, and Charlotte even addressed some of her critics in the forward of the second printing. It also helps my pride that my favorite literary classic is beloved by many others and has inspired a number of spin-offs.

bookcoverOne of the most recent spin offs out there is Jane Steele: A Confession by Lyndsay Faye. This re-telling gives us a female lead aptly named  Jane Steele, who happens to be a contemporary fan of Brontë’s novel. This new Jane is inspired by the biographical similarities she shares with Jane Eyre (the character) to pen her own autobiographical confession.

You see, Jane Steele faced similar circumstances to Jane Eyre early in her life, but unlike the mousy future-governess sitting in the window seat behind the curtains, Jane Steele faces her enemies head on and becomes a heroic serial killer. Her first murder, that of her older cousin, is truly an accident perpetrated in self defense, but Jane believes that her actions have uncovered her true nature. When she is sent to boarding school her ability to lie and steal keep her safe for a time but can’t save her from the evil intentions of the headmaster. And so it goes for Jane Steele, time and time again she is presented with ill-intentioned people and dire situations common to women of her period, but this Jane is a fighter and meets these challenges head-on.

Despite a climbing body count, Jane Steele isn’t completely at peace with her actions and does believe her immortal soul to be damned, and when she finds herself in the company of people who truly care for her she begins to fear that the truth will destroy her chance at happiness. I began this book excited at the idea of a Jane with an edge, a Jane who stands up for herself. So many times I have wondered what a Jane Eyre unhampered by the conventions of her day would have accomplished, and Jane Steele gives readers a glimpse  of what could have been.

bookcover

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…but that is pretty rad cover art.

Initially, I wasn’t in love with Lyndsay Faye’s writing style; it was a little heavy in my opinion, and I felt like we were taking a great deal of time and descriptive language to get on with it. I found myself skipping several of her more wordy passages, but by the time Jane makes her way to boarding school the pace picked up and I found myself rooting for this new, homicidal Jane just as fervently as I had my old beloved one.

Faye’s new take on the novel also introduced a more globally rich history of Jane Eyre’s world. When Jane Steele arrives at Highgate House, her own personal version of Thornfield Hall, she becomes tangled in the past of Mr. Charles Thornfield.  This sardonic, yet gentle, man grew up in India and doesn’t take much stock in the rules of society that seem to dictate the lives of Englishmen. He has surrounded himself with servants from his home country who seem more than dedicated to him and his young charge Sahjara and hires Jane because of the inconsistencies she presents rather than inspite of them.

Of course, all is not as it seems in this household and when an agent of the East India Trading Company makes an unexpected visit he is met with weaponry from almost every member of the immediate household. Jane feels at home for the first time in a long time among this band of warrior misfits and sets out to solve the mystery plaguing her new friends. The story follows the general path set out by Brontë but takes unexpected turns, keeping Jane on her feet. This was an enjoyable take on Jane Eyre, just different enough to feel new, but retaining many of the familiar emotions of the original. If you are a fan of crime drama, dark humor or just an ardent fan of the original Jane, then try this new take. I think you’ll like it.

Reserve a copy of Jane Steele now.

-Natalie

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Reader, She Nailed It

You know what’s better than a classic novel? A classic novel retold in a fresh, exciting way. I recently stayed up way past my bedtime to finish Patricia Park’s Re Jane, and am completely delighted with how Jane Eyre’s story might have played out if Jane were a 21st century Korean-American woman from Queens. Park has captured the spirit of the original novel while also exploring how a story’s theme–in this case, the story of an orphan trying to find her rightful place in the world–can be influenced by a character’s race, class, and culture.

Photo by Allana Taranto, all rights reserved. Click through to read the New York Times review of Re Jane.

Photo by Allana Taranto, all rights reserved. Click through to read the New York Times review of Re Jane.

21st-century Jane is an orphan who just had a sweet job offer rescinded due to the bad economy. Now she’s stuck working for her uncle at his grocery store, and his whole family is getting on her nerves. Because she’s honhyol (only half Korean), she gets a lot of flak–and pity–from both her family and the local Korean community. Fed up with having to be on her best behavior all the time (a strict code of respect called nunchi), Jane takes a job as a live-in au pair with the Mazer-Farleys, a pair of college professors in Brooklyn.

Jane and Ed Farley develop feelings for each other much in the way that Jane #1 and her Mr. Rochester do: slowly and awkwardly. But then the narrative takes an unexpected turn, sending present-day Jane off on a literal voyage of self-discovery. The more she learns about Korean culture, her family, and herself, the more Jane comes to realize that she’s going to have to take charge of her own destiny if she wants her life to have a happy ending.

Click through to read an excerpt of the novel and listen to an interview with Park on WBUR.

Click through to read an excerpt of the novel and listen to an interview with Park on WBUR.

When the world is full of unread books to consider, and your TBR list takes up multiple bookshelves, it’s a pleasure when such a terrific piece of literary fiction finally makes its way to the top of that list. Re Jane is a thoughtful exploration of a woman’s life that’s grounded in an obvious respect for, and careful study of, the text that inspired it. It’s difficult to discuss more of the plot without giving away a major spoiler; No matter where in the world Jane happens to be, though, her tone remains true to Bronte: although the language is contemporary, it’s not hard to imagine the original Jane having the same kind of thoughts and feelings, and going through similar internal struggles with belonging and self-image. A little moody and melancholy, but at the same time, focused and determined. I was so captivated that I’m probably going to grab an audio version, too, so I can hear how the narrative voice I imagined plays out in a recording.

If you find re-examinations of classic themes as fascinating as I do, you should definitely check out Re Jane in your format of choice. Have you read Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea? How do you feel, in general, about modern twists on classic lit? The floor is yours in the comments section.

–Leigh Anne

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