It’s a scientific fact (probably) that there’s no such thing as too much Jane Eyre, so let’s all give a literary high-five to the authors that have taken the classic and built their own stories around it. I’m here, in my attic, ready to tell you which ones are worth your precious orphan pennies.
Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre by Tracy Chevalier
I finished this book a few nights ago–some of the stories are still running around my brain like tiny electric ants. Some feature characters from Jane Eyre, some take the themes and build entirely new stories, all are miniature masterpieces. It’s to be expected when the contributors are people like Emma Donoghue, Helen Dunmore, and Namwali Serpell. Some of my favorites include a bitchy Grace Poole, a Jewish/Persian marriage ceremony, and Audrey Niffenegger’s nightmarish “The Orphan Exchange.”
Verdict: Buy it with your first governess’s wage.
Re: Jane by Patricia Park
This Korean-American spin on the classic took me completely by surprise – in an unexpected cake way, not a spider in your underwear drawer way – and turned a British classic into something beautiful and relevant for a multicultural modern world. Forget beautiful old houses and English lawns, this is a world of New York grocery stores and Seoul skylines. Park writes as someone who not only loves the original novel, but understands it down to the very inky marrow of its bones.
Verdict: Buy it, read it, then read it again.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
A prequel to Jane Eyre that focuses on Bertha, Mr Rochester’s first wife and her troubled beginnings in a volatile Caribbean. At times the book is uncomfortable the way a too humid day can be, making you sigh and shift in your chair and want to splash cold water on your face. It’s a triumph of both the heady language Rhys employs and the sense of impending doom she builds drip by drip. You might think you know everything you need to about the mad lady in the attic, but borrow this short book to understand her. Oh, and it’s really not going to improve your opinion of Rochester.
Verdict: Borrow it from a friend’s dusty attic.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
You know you’re going to love a Jane Eyre adaptation when it starts with the line “Reader, I murdered him.” Probably not one for the Jane Eyre purists, this one turns into a serial killer. It actually makes perfect sense: Jane Eyre’s harsh upbringing was basically Sociopath 101 and Faye revels in the macabre thrills of that premise. Forget Rochester and prepare to meet Mr. Thornfield and his butler, Sardar Singh. I really want to see Faye go buckwild on Wuthering Heights next– I’ve always suspected Kathy is basically Charles Manson in a dress.
Verdict: Borrow it then hide the evidence.