May 10 2016 9:30am

Reader, I Married Him (Again): Jane Eyre Retellings You Haven’t Read Yet

It’s sometimes easy to forget how influential Charlotte Brontë was (and continues to be). Serious and intense where Jane Austen was sprightly and funny; wordy and oblique where her literary descendants tend to be forthright and concise; and relatively sparse in output where other authors were and are prolific, Brontë and her work are easy to admire but not always easy to love.

Nevertheless, her best-known novel, the classic Jane Eyre, casts a long shadow, continuing to influence authors even today. This tale of a plain, quiet, governess who catches the eye of her wealthy, brooding employer, only to be forced to flee when he attempts to (er, spoiler, I guess) lure her into bigamy, has inspired countless prequels, sequels, retellings, and related plots of romances we all know and love.

First, of course, we have the whole “Governess and Rake” plot. Now, Jane Eyre was by no means the first “governess novel”—Brontë was working within a more or less established literary tradition with that particular trope—but it’s probably the best known, and I would guess (without a shred of hard evidence, admittedly) that it’s what most authors have in the backs of their minds when they write about a governess, nanny, or companion.

Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens

…Examples? Happy to oblige. My beloved The Artist’s Daughter features a plucky “paid companion” who falls hard for her employer—a dark, secretive man who rides a big dark horse (sound like anyone you know?) Stephanie Laurens, Lisa Kleypas, and Courtney Milan have all explored this trope (with Devil’s Bride, Married by Morning and The Governess Affair, respectively). The great Georgette Heyer’s The Nonesuch deals with an unassuming governess who attracts the attention of the most eligible bachelor in town. More recently, Grace BurrowesEthan: Lord of Scandals brings both angst and heat to her tale of widowed Ethan and his sons’ governess Alice.

Other novels re-interpret the story from a slightly different perspective. These include:

  • Wide Sargasso Sea: In Jean Rhys’s well-known novel, a staple of women’s studies classes everywhere, we learn the other side of the story—that is, the sad story of Bertha Mason Rochester, the “madwoman in the attic.”
  • In Jane Eyre’s Husband: The Life of Edward Rochester, Tara Bradley offers a biography of The Man himself, from his youth and early marriage to Bertha, through his (technically illegal) pursuit of Jane, his redemption and marriage, and beyond. This is one of several Rochester bios out there; they’re actually pretty easy to find.
  • Jasper Fforde takes a slightly different approach in The Eyre Affair, in which literary characters are quite literally alive within the covers of their books, and Thursday Next, a Special Operative in literary detection, is on the case when Jane Eyre is kidnapped from the pages of her own story. (To thank Thursday for saving the day, the reunited Rochesters join forces to help Thursday to her own HEA in a very…dramatically satisfactory fashion.)

And finally, we have the straight-up retellings. For example, Sharon Shinn’s Jenna Starborn is basically Jane Eyre in outer space. In April Lindner’s charming New Adult Jane, Jane is a college dropout and Rochester—or, in this case, Nico—is a rock star. In A Breath of Eyre, Eve Marie Mont introduces us to modern heroine Emma, who travels through time and leaps, Quantum Leap-style, into Jane Eyre’s body—and then has to decide whether she wants to remain in the past or return to the painful and confusing present. Modern-day nanny Bea falls in love with hotel magnate Ethan, but…well, you know the rest of the story in Chrissy Breen Keffer’s An American Heir: A Modern Retelling of Jane Eyre. And Sherri Browning Erwin’s Jane Slayre, a.k.a. “Jane Eyre with Vampires!” is pretty much exactly what you think it is.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there, so tell us: What is your favorite take on Jane Eyre? Let us know in the comments!

Learn more about or order a copy of the books mentioned in this post:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (start with the source)  
Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens  
Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas  
The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan  
Ethan by Grace Burrowes  
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys  
 Jane Eyre’s Husband: The Life of Edward Rochester by Tara Bradley  
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde  
Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn  
Jane by April Lindner  
A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont  
An American Heir: A Modern Retelling of Jane Eyre by Chrissy Breen Keffer  
Jane Slayre by Sherri Browning Erwin  















Kate Nagy knits in Falls Church, Virginia.


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2. brontëgirl
Cool post!
Patsy Stoneman's Brontë Transformations gives great commentary on and analysis of many adaptations and versions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
Stoneman, Patsy. Brontë Transformations: The Cultural Dissemination of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. London: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1996.
Elizabeth Poteet
3. ElizabethPoteet
Oh Married by Morning, you had me at hello! I've been meaning to check out the April Lindner, but I'd heard mixed reviews.
4. LKC
You missed the most recent (to my knowledge) and my favorite, Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele. (I have a blog post about it because I loved it so much here --
http://www.happyheartreads.com/2016/05/2016s-best-book-so-far/ .) It's not PRECISELY a retelling. More an homage. But if you love these books, as you clearly do, I can't praise it enough!
5. Angie Hocking
J.L. Niemann's erotic re-tellings of Jane Eyre are quite good.
6. LindsayAarons
I've read a couple of these (although I've read more Jane Austen pastiches than Charlotte Bronte), but I'm so glad you included The Eyre Affair! I LOVED that book. Talk about a reader's wet dream--to be able to actually enter a book and interact with its characters? Love love love it, and some of the rest of the series as well.
7. willaful
Betty Neel's Cassandra By Chance is a cute story that has a lot of JE vibes.
8. willaful
Oh, there's also a new anthology out called... guess what... Reader I Married Him! Haven't read it yet, but I think from the authors it may be more literary fiction than romance.
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