Until this year, I’ve been neutral about Jane Eyre. I’d read it once, so I was familiar with the fundamentals: Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 Gothic novel about the orphan Jane’s grim journey from unhappy schoolgirl to unhappy governess to unhappily falling in love with her unhappy employer, the emotionally unavailable Mr. Rochester. Until this year, I thought the extent of my Jane Eyre experience was checking it off the list of Required Reading. Well, I was wrong, and there is no denying it anymore. Jane Eyre is flying at me from all directions lately and it’s starting to unnerve me. I am smack in the middle of an unintentional Jane Eyre moment. Until this year, I’ve never needed a literary exorcist. I don’t even know how to go about finding one. Craigslist? But it’s time to bring in a professional because Charlotte Brontë is messing with me. I’m not sure why she has singled me out for her Jane Eyre immersion. I didn’t even know Charlotte Brontë read this blog.
This all started innocently enough this past winter at the sublime Kramerbooks in Washington, DC. (If you have never been to Kramerbooks, drop what you are doing and go RIGHT NOW. It’s beautiful. It’s got a bar. In the middle. Of the bookstore. GAH perfect bookstore is perfect.) Browsing the stacks for some holiday reading, my eye fell on The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. It was not the title of the book that grabbed me so much as the author’s last name. It has two Fs. I admire a man who doubles down on consonants, so The Eyre Affair went on my buy pile. The Eyre Affair is the ffirst book in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, taking place in a clever alternate universe where classic literature rules pop culture and special agent Thursday Next is kept busy trying to save valuable first editions from a mysterious criminal. There’s also a portal that allows people travel in and out of their favorite novels, which sets the stage for an extended chase through Jane Eyre. I cracked it open New Year’s Day. It’s a ffun and very ffunny book.
One Eyre encounter does not a haunting make, right? Hang on. A few weeks after I read The Eyre Affair, I landed on the 2011 movie version of Jane Eyre during some late-night channel surfing. I’d just had my Eyre Affair refresher course, so I thought it was neat that I’d stumbled across the movie and settled in to watch it for a bit. I’d tuned in near the end after the fire destroys Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield Hall. (True confession: I don’t like Mr. Rochester so much. He makes me stabby. All props to Michael Ffassbender, but even he can’t make Mr. Rochester appealing to me.) By the time the movie was over, I’d decided what Jane really needs is some mascara and a less rigid class system and then fflipped over to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the 18th time, um, ffor science.
Big deal. Encounters with a book and a movie, both based on the same classic novel. So what? OKAY you asked for it. A couple of weeks after the movie, I have my hands on Lyndsay Faye’s tremendous new book, Jane Steele. Someone more attentive than I am would probably pick up from the title that I had another Jane Eyre-ster egg, but I am not known for my attention to detail or powers of concentration. This is because shiny things exist, and I should look at them. Jane Steele is Lyndsay Faye’s reimagining of Jane Eyre with Jane cast as a serial killer. I read the book and love it, but I am now taking notice there is a lot of Jane Eyre in my vicinity.
Coincidence, right? I figure since things happen in threes I must be done with Jane Eyre. NOPE. Charlotte Brontë is apparently just getting warmed up, because a month or so after I finish Jane Steele I idly click on one of those round-up articles, something like “Ten Of Today’s Novelists Recommend Other Novels” and out of the ten novelists, three—THREE—mention Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. Guess what? It’s a Jane Eyre-inspired book that imagines the backstory of Mr. Rochester’s attic-dwelling mad first wife. Charlotte has my attention. I immediately go get the book and immediately start reading.
Jean Rhys published Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966 as a prequel to Jane Eyre. It follows the marriage of an English gentleman (a huge jerk in this book–preach, Jean Rhys, preach) to Antionette, a Jamaican heiress. Cold and demanding, Antionette’s English husband changes her name, makes her move from Jamaica to England, and locks her in an attic after driving her insane. Hahaha! Just a story, right, Charlotte? We’re all just reading here, right? Right?…
I know better than to fight a riptide so I am going to flip onto my back and float this one out. If I’m really living in a Gothic novel this year, then all of these Jane Eyre coincidences are actually foreshadowing and I’m due for some kind of freaky supernatural event any day now. Charlotte, if you’re listening? I am already going to re-read Rebecca, so please don’t send me any Daphne du Marier hints. I don’t think I can stand the strain.
Also, if nobody hears from me for a few days, just do me a ffavor? Please check the attic.
Spend New Year’s Day next year reading anything entitled A Non-Haunted Book About How To Be Ffabulous.