If you ever longed for Jane to take revenge against the hateful Mrs. Reed and her awful children, this is the novel for you. Lyndsay Faye reimagines a different character, one who may share Jane’s name, but who approaches life from a different angle. This Jane has also been abused by her aunt, and when Jane is sent away to boarding school, her revenge takes the form of murders. She may be kind to her friends and fiercely loyal, but she also carries with her darkness and secrets. Lyndsay Faye gives voice to those Victorian women who struggled against a culture that spent more time telling them what they couldn’t do than it did offering to them opportunities. How Jane Steele moves through that culture makes for fascinating reading.
Jane Re’s life is circumscribed by the disappearance of her new career and her return to working in her Korean-American family’s small grocery store in Flushing, Queens. When an opportunity arises to work as an au pair for a Brooklyn couple, she answers the ad. At 646 Thorn Street, she is taken aback by them; Beth Mazer is an ardent feminist and a college professor, and her husband, Ed Farley is devastatingly handsome. Their nine-year old adopted Chinese daughter, Devon, needs after-school and weekend care. But as Jane settles into the work, she is hit with demands and rules that take her outside her comfort zone. When she meets another nanny who shows her the New York City nightlife, the conflict between tradition, duty, and independence explodes.
Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca is not the name of this classic novel’s narrator—we never learn her name—but rather, it’s the name of the first wife of Maxim de Winter, the very wealthy and smooth widower who sweeps the young woman off her feet. At first, she believes she’s been brought to the enormous estate and all of her dreams will come true there. But almost from the start, something is not quite right at Manderley. The house is isolated and remotely located on the coast of Cornwall, but far more troubling are the ways that Manderley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, nurtures the memory of Rebecca as if she is still alive and judging the woman who wants to take her place. When she begins to feel as if Rebecca herself is playing her part in driving her from the house, the young bride is forced to discover the truth.
The Vanished Bride
Imagine that Emily, Charlotte, and Anne had opted for careers as detectives rather than as writers: what types of mysteries may they have solved? In this fun romp, the three sisters investigate the disappearance of a young wife and mother who left behind her small children and a pool of blood that points at a tragic end. But where is she? As the sisters become increasingly drawn into solving the crime, they also run up against the prejudices of 1845 society, which disapproved in every way possible of women who chose detective work over being wives and mothers. And as details of the crime emerge, they soon find that society’s attitude toward their investigations may be tied to what became of the missing woman.
Becoming Jane Eyre
Those hungry for more information about the remarkable family that produced three literary legends will find plenty to love in Kohler’s reimagining of the events that led to the writing of Jane Eyre. In addition to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, there were three other siblings. Their mother Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest sisters, perished from tuberculosis at the ages of eleven and ten respectively. Sole brother Branwell was a painter, but he was also an alcoholic and laudanum addict. His death at age thirty-one disrupted the family once again. The three surviving sisters each turned to words and writing as comfort and a chance to explore the darkness. As Kohler takes readers further into Charlotte’s imagination, the familiar figures of Jane, Rochester, and the kind Mrs. Fairfax emerge.
Max Winter is a wealthy and powerful politician who brings his new fiancée to the Asherley Estate. But when she arrives there in anticipation of her becoming mistress of the manor, she begins to hear stories about Max Winter’s first wife, Rebekah, who died under mysterious circumstances. A modern retelling of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca brought to American shores, the influence of the Bronte sisters can be felt in its evocation of the themes of how the ghosts of past relationships can destroy new loves. If you’ve ever wondered what Jane Eyre would be if it were set in the 20th century, this is the book for you to read next.
The Eyre Affair
In Jasper Fforde’s first comic novel featuring Detective Thursday Next investigates a series of incidents in which well-known characters from famous novels are kidnapped from the books’ pages. When Jane Eyre disappears from her eponymous novel, the detective sets out on his witty literary investigation that will tickle the funny bones of Jane’s fans. Acheron Hades—with his hellish name—provides the perfect foil to Next’s bumbling. And great news for those who fall in love with The Eyre Affair: there are more of these quirky literary mysteries featuring the great characters from literature.
If you ever thought that Wuthering Heights could be turned into a fantasy novel, Alison Croggon has you covered. Lina and Damek grow up so tightly bound to each other that others think they’re obsessed. But Lina is also of royal birth, which means that their love for one another crosses class lines and brings them into conflict with those in power. Emily Bronte’s original material becomes a new kind of haunting tale. When Lina is accused of witchcraft, the resulting devastation blights hearts and the kingdom.
The Woman in Black
As fans of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights know, nothing makes a ghost story tingle the spine like an old house full of secrets and lies. In Susan Hill’s novel, the young, ambitious solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to a tiny English town to settle the affairs of a client who has recently died. But when he arrives, the house at the end of the causeway is a place where no one else will go. Alone in that house he discovers the secrets encased in its walls, and is confronted with sounds and images that haunt his every moment.
Sarah Waters has been writing near-perfect gothic novels for the past two decades, and for those who love the Brontë sisters’ portrayal of life’s shadows, I highly recommend her. It’s hard to choose just one, but I would go with Fingersmith about the orphan, Sue, who grows up in Mrs. Sucksby’s kitchen. When a mysterious gentleman shows up and offers the now-adult Sue the opportunity to escape poverty and to pull a con on a wealthy woman, Sue tumbles into his trap. But Maud, their intended victim, is not what Sue was led to believe. As Sue grows closer to her Maud, the unexpected happens.
“Reader, I married him.”
If you ever read those words and thought, “Wait. What????” then these eleven books may be what you’re looking for. Both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights have inspired other writers to imagine different pasts, futures, and lovers for both Jane and Catherine. Whether it’s the revelation that Jane became a serial killer or that Catherine was a witch, authors have used the original novels as launching pads for rocket-fueled retellings. And while most of these books are loosely based on the two novels, a few of them are based on the feelings evoked by the novels. So if you’ve been hoping for a chance to indulge in the Sturm und Drang of the Gothic or you prefer your Jane as the rebellious au pair to Brooklyn hipsters, Read it Forward has got you covered.
Featured image: Robert Driscoll