Looks to me as if our favorite Gothic governess, Jane Eyre, is decidedly in the spotlight in new fiction. A spotlight doesn’t do much for the Gothic mood, to be sure… it may be more apt to say she stands alone on the moors, with the full moon shining down, the moonlight broken by ragged clouds. Here she stands in four recent works:
Jane Steele, by Lindsay Faye (2016). The tone of this novel is best encapsulated in the sentence, “Reader, I murdered him.” You don’t have to wait for it long, either; there it is, right on page five. Jane Steele’s story parallels Jane Eyre’s in many ways; it is set in Victorian England, there is the school where nobody gets enough to eat, there is the employment as a governess in a rich man’s house. Don’t mess with Jane Steele, though — she is dangerous and has a list of murders to her credit. This is a refreshing take on the Victorian novel, with a heroine who takes care of her problems in a permanent fashion.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey (2012). The plot is an echo of the original, featuring an orphan in search of her true identity. The settings are Iceland, Scotland, and the Orkney Islands in the 1950s. Gemma is mistreated at at a school where the scholarship pupils are treated like servants, and takes a job as an au pair at the mysterious Blackbird Hall. The story unfolds from there with considerable drama, which is true to the original story. This is a quiet, restrained novel in tone; but there is the passion seething underneath which is a must for any retelling of Jane Eyre.
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell (2016). This is not a straightforward retelling. Samantha Whipple is an American who is descended from Patrick Bronte, the father of the three Bronte authors. Brought up by her divorced father who home-schooled her, she is newly arrived at Oxford University. References to the Brontes and their work are everywhere and resonate especially in the relationship between Samantha and her tutor (beware the older man in a Jane Eyre spin-off!). This is a zany, present-day story of a young woman trying to figure herself out. No governess role in this one.
Re Jane by Patricia Park (2015). This protagonist, Jane Re, is a Korean-American woman whose journey leads her from Queens, New York to Seoul, and then back again. Brought up by her uncle’s family, she takes a job as an au pair with an eccentric husband-wife-adopted daughter family in Brooklyn. Again, beware the older man. Jane abruptly leaves her employment and flies to Seoul, Korea on September 11, 2001, without informing anyone of her plans, never expecting the drama and self-realization that await her there.