Faye puts a murderous spin on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in Jane Steele: A Confession (Putnam, Apr.).
Once upon a time, I read The Lord of the Rings. Now, bear with me. I know you have feelings regarding Bilbo Baggins, and Frodo, and Sam, and so many other small people who accomplish great things. My personal experience was slightly horrifying, however.
I didn’t have much in the way of money as a kid (although my parents were clever enough that I didn’t notice), and therefore my books came from the Longview Public Library in Washington State. These people had a few carpeted bathtubs filled with pillows, and if you were lucky, you could snatch up a book and settle down in one for ages. So I was reading The Lord of the Rings—as one does—and then I came to the end of The Two Towers and thought I would probably die if Frodo wasn’t rescued from the orcs immediately.
Then it turned out that The Return of the King was checked out. And then it was renewed by the library patron. I waited six bloody weeks to learn whether or not I could ever get the picture of Sam Gamgee face-planting against the door of an evil fortress out of my head. And we didn’t really have the Internet back then, so I couldn’t rely on GIF sets to give me hope. All was darkness... until it wasn’t, and I got the third book, and I was being told a story again.
Ultimately, I came away from this experience with a strange lesson. We all feel small. We all feel as if we are up against impossible odds. We all feel that people have misplaced their trust in us, and that we are inadequate to the tasks we’re most afraid of. But every single one of us also has the potential to say, “I will take the ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way.” And that is mother-loving beautiful. And it inspired me to do many things I might not have done if I hadn’t read those books.
When I set out to write Jane Steele, it was out of a profound respect for Jane Eyre. The fact that the protagonist has to survive a wretched boarding school becomes much more resonant when you understand that Charlotte Brontë lost two sisters whose health was ruined by a similar establishment. She didn’t sit down and sip a cup of tea about it. She didn’t take a turn in her garden about it. She wrote a novel about it, invented a pen name so that her gender could be masked, and captured many, many hearts with her fearlessness and wild Gothic prose.