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July 25, 2016

Jane Steele

Jane SteeleJane Steele

By: Lyndsay Faye

When I first heard the premise of this book, I admit I was skeptical. Jane Eyre rewritten with the heroine cast as a serial killer? It sounded like bad fanfiction. However, as an avid lover of Jane Eyre and retellings, I gave Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele a try, and I am very glad I did. The book is written in the same autobiographical style as the original, and having just reread Jane Eyre, I was delighted by the frequent quotes and references Jane Steele deliberately makes to the novel. Steele appears to grow up in a time soon after Jane Eyre was written in the mid-1800s, and she herself notes the many ways in which her life story follows Jane Eyre’s, and the pointed ways in which it deviates. One of the enjoyable aspects of the book is the comparison and contrast between Jane Eyre’s moral fortitude and Jane Steele’s deceptive, even murderous nature. Yet both are passionate, highly self-aware, committed to their values, and loyal to those they love. The reader is left wondering about the nature of morality and sin, as well as the importance of conventional behavior versus inner authenticity. As Charlotte Bronte herself noted in the preface to Jane Eyre, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion.”

Jane Steele is decidedly unconventional, and she leans more towards self-loathing than self-righteousness as she honestly reflects on her sinful deeds. Curiously, she is attracted to both goodness and the macabre in equal measure, while also being sickened by the evils humans commit against one another. Is such a person realistic? If our culture’s current fascination with murder mysteries, zombie apocalypses, and dark superheroes is any indication, then yes, Jane Steele is more like us than not. And by the end of the novel, I felt no qualms whatsoever in rooting for her triumph over all her hardships. I would be surprised if other readers didn’t feel the same. So if you are looking for a book that contains page-turning revelations and induces deep sympathy for the characters, all while managing to present a few thought-provoking ethical questions, then Jane Steele is a great choice, whether you’ve read Jane Eyre or not. With the addition of its compelling romance, Victorian atmosphere, and satirical humor, you’re all set for your next good read.

Review By:  Alison Orpurt