Jane Steele - Lyndsay Faye

Volume One


“I wouldn’t have her heart for anything. Say your prayers, Miss Eyre, when you are by yourself; for if you don’t repent, something bad might be permitted to come down the chimney, and fetch you away.”

Of all my many murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important.

Already this project proves more difficult than I had ever imagined. Autobiographies depend upon truth; but I have been lying for such a very long, lonesome time.

“Jane, will you be my friend again?” Edwin Barbary had asked.

My cousin’s lips were gnawed red, his skin gleaming with exertion and desire. When his fleshy mouth next moved, the merest croak emerged. He breathed precisely five more times, the fat folds of his belly shuddering against his torn waistcoat, and then he stilled like a depleted clockwork toy.

More of my homicides anon—the astute among you will desire to know why a dyed-in-the-wool villainess takes up pen and foolscap in the first place. I have been reading over and over again the most riveting book titled Jane Eyre, and the work inspires me to imitative acts. My new printing features a daring introduction by the author railing against the first edition’s critics. I relate to this story almost as I would a friend or a lover—at times I want to breathe its entire alphabet into my lungs, and at others I should prefer to throw it across the room. Whoever heard of disembodied voices calling to governesses, of all people, as this Jane’s do?

Hereby do I avow that I, Jane Steele, in all my days working as a governess, never once heard ethereal cries carried to me upon the brawny shoulders of the north wind; and had I done, I should have kept silent for fear of being labelled eccentric.

Faulting the work for its wild fancies seems petty, however, for there are marvellous moments within. I might myself once have written:

Why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, for ever condemned? Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win any one’s favour?

I left such reflections behind me in childhood, at the bottom of the small ravine where my first cousin drew his final gurgling breaths. Yet I find myself pitying the strange, kindly Jane in the novel whose biography is so weirdly similar; she, too, was as welcome in her aunt’s household as are church mice in the Communion larder, and was sent to a hell in the guise of a girls’ school. That Jane was unfairly accused of wickedness, however, while I can no better answer my detractors than to thank them for their pains over stating the obvious.

It was the boarding school that taught me to act as a wolf in girl’s clothing should: skulking, a greyer shadow within a grey landscape. It was London which formed me into a pale, wide-eyed creature with an errant laugh, a lust for life and for dirty vocabulary, and a knife in her pocket. It was Charles who changed everything, when I fell in love with him under the burdens of a false identity and a blighted conscience. The beginning of a memoir could be made in any of those places, but without my dear cousin, Edwin Barbary, none of the rest would have happened at all, so I hereby commence my account with the unembellished truth:

Reader, I murdered him.

• • •

I may always have been wicked, but I was not always universally loathed. For instance, I remember my mother asking me at five years old, “Are you hurt, chérie?”

Then as now, I owned a pallid complexion and listlessly curling hair the colour of hazelnut shells. Having just fallen flat on my face in the garden behind our cottage on the outskirts of Highgate House, I considered whether or not to cry. The strawberries I had gathered were crushed under my apron, painting me with sweet gore. I pored over the best stratagems to gain my mother’s undivided attention perennially in those days—back when I believed I might be merely naughty, fit to be punished in the here and not the hereafter.

As it happened, my mother had been well all day. We had navigated no weeping, no laudanum, no gnawing at already-bleeding fingernails; she was teasing and coaxing, snatching my hand up as she wondered whether we might cover some biscuits with berries and fresh honey and host an impromptu picnic.

Therefore, I saw no need to cry. Instead, I stuck out my tongue at the offending root