In Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye reimagines the classic novel Jane Eyre. But, even readers unfamiliar with Brontë’s work will enjoy Jane Steele, because the work amazes and astonishes (sorry, had to slip a Hamilton reference in there) of its own accord.
Jane Steele is the daughter of a widowed French dancer, Anne-Laure Steele. The mother and daughter live in a cottage on the estate of Highgate House, in which her aunt (also a widow) Patience Barbary and cousin Edwin live. Readers witness formative moments in Jane’s life as she loses her mother and then chooses to allow her aunt to send her to the dark and foreboding Lowan Bridge School. Ultimately, she moves on to secure a position as a governess in the very house in which her aunt and cousin used to reside. Along the way, Jane happens to help a few less-than-kind gentlemen along to their ends (this is not a spoiler, the jacket copy says as much).
This is no accident—when she was younger, Jane’s mother constantly told her that Highgate House was hers—but almost everything that happens when Jane is a governess at Highgate House is. While she seeks the position of governess in order to bide her time as she determines the validity of her claim to the estate, she discovers a web of intrigue surrounding the new masters of Highgate House, Charles Thornfield and Sardar Singh. As her early precocity never left her, she must of course work that web to its core to discover all the truths at the center of the secrets.
I fell in love with Jane Steele during the novel. My emotions when reading went from pity, to outrage (on her behalf), to pride, to love, and then finally to, admittedly, a slight jealousy. She is such an accomplished woman and character in her own right, and her deductive and planning abilities rival that of Sherlock, I would wager. She knows exactly who she is from an early age. One of my favorite moments of her self-recognition was when she discusses her behavior after being thrown from a horse and injured: “…when I had not been pathetic the night previous, I had been glib, and when I had not been glib, I had been obstreperous, a truly heady concoction of undesirable traits.” Still, despite her admitted recalcitrance, she learns so many things about herself, including that she possesses the capacity to forgive herself and love others, despite knowing herself to be “the victim of blighted hopes and blind circumstances.”
Still, all hopes and circumstances considered, I would love for someone, someday, to call me a “contrary sprite” the way Charles Thornfield does Jane.
I not only enjoyed the development of Jane’s character, but Faye’s writing is sharp, witty, and beautiful. I tweeted some of her more moving phrases and sentences as I was reading, but here are some of my favorites:
“Until something has been taken from you, it is difficult to gauge what sort of holes will be left by its absence.”
“Some tragedies bind us, as lies do; they are ropes braided of hurt and bitterness, and you cannot ever fully understand how pinioned you are until the ties are loosened.”
“One is not always directly regarding the full moon, Jane—but should it disappear, the oceans would rot.”
Fans of Deanna Raybourn’s Victorian mysteries, and Faye’s earlier novels will love this new offering from the author.
A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.
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