Jane Eyre is a beloved classic, a curriculum staple, and an all-time favorite for many. When Book Riot conducted a survey asking people what their favorite book was, Jane Eyre came in third place. Its remarkable popularity since the time of its publication in 1847 has led to many books inspired to varying degrees by the story, alongside myriad adaptations and even a Broadway musical. Jane Eyre follows its eponymous main character from her childhood as an orphan, dependent on her relations, to her position as a governess at the imposing Thornfield Hall and beyond as she learns how to pursue happiness and love without compromising her principles or her selfhood. Whether you like the book for its Gothic style, its love story, or its development of Jane as a character, the list below will point you to your next great classic.
1. Villette, by Charlotte Brontë
If you love Jane Eyre, exploring Charlotte Brontë’s other books is a logical next step. While Villette is more melancholy than Jane Eyre, both have a Gothic mood and are centered on distinctive first person narrators. Lucy Snowe, left without home, family, or employment after an unnamed tragedy, travels from England to the French city of Villette to teach English at a girls’ school. This story invites nuanced conversations around gender, isolation, and role of the narrator in fiction, and its slow-burn romance and detailed portrait of Lucy’s consciousness will appeal to fans of Jane Eyre. Believed to be inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s own time teaching at a school in Brussels, Villette poignantly explores loneliness, grief, and the inner life of its protagonist.
2. Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
There are enough retellings of Jane Eyre to populate another full list, but this one has received so much literary acclaim that it is impossible not to discuss it here. Wide Sargasso Sea is a feminist and anti-colonial response to Jane Eyre and traces the backstory of the character of Bertha. The book follows Bertha—born Antoinette Cosway—as she grows up in Jamaica, marries, and eventually collides with the plot of Jane Eyre (no spoilers!). In vivid prose, Wide Sargasso Sea makes explicit the colonial power structures that implicitly underlie Jane Eyre and will give you a different perspective on the familiar characters from Brontë’s novel. This book may be particularly appealing to those interested in the way literary classics are received, interpreted, and adapted by their readers—the way stories live on after their tellers have died.
3. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca‘s opening line is one of the most famous in fiction: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” From that first moment, external reality and internal experiences—memory, dream, suspicion—twine together to create a tale of suspense and intrigue. The novel follows a young woman who meets and marries a well-to-do widower, only to discover that he and his household seem figuratively, and perhaps literally, haunted by his deceased first wife. The novel shares several parallels with Jane Eyre, including a Gothic mood, a large old house, and an investigation of the problems caused by a past marriage. Everyone at Manderley has secrets, some of them too terrible to be revealed.
4. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
Another Gothic classic, The Turn of the Screw follows a governess who becomes convinced that her charges are being stalked by two ghostly figures. Like Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw uses the unique position of the governess in society—in the home, but not part of the family—to raise unsettling possibilities. Readers will find the book suspenseful and tense as they wonder whether there are truly supernatural figures involved or if the heroine is simply losing her mind. This short novella is also a good pick for new classics readers who might be intimidated by longer novels.
5. A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
If you are looking for a title comparable to Jane Eyre to share with a younger reader, or if you enjoy children’s classics yourself whatever your age, A Little Princess is a great option for you. The book follows Sara Crewe as she begins boarding school as a wealthy young heiress. However, when tragedy strikes and she is left penniless, she must work at the school as a maid instead. Sara vows to try to be as good and generous in penury as she was in times of better fortune, because what makes one a princess isn’t one’s status in society, but the content of one’s character. Like Jane Eyre, the book follows a distinctive and principled heroine as she grows up and grows into herself.
6. White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi
A contemporary Gothic pick centered on an imposing old house, White is for Witching follows a young woman named Miranda as she struggles with grief over her mother’s death, an eating disorder called pica that compels her to eat inedible things, and her family’s house, which seems hostile to strangers but very possessive of the women who live there. Then Miranda disappears. White is for Witching is an atmospheric, fairy-tale-esque ghost story told by those she leaves behind, including the house itself. This updated take on the Gothic trope of the old, dark house will delight readers seeking a return to Thornfield Hall.
7. The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
Reclusive, mysterious author Vida Winter published a famous collection of thirteen tales—but one has always been missing. She has told reporters many fabulous stories of her life, but all of them contradict each other. Aging and ailing, she summons young, bookish Margaret to write her biography. Vida is ready to tell the truth and reveal the secrets of the Angelfield family for the first time. The tale she spins, including a large, foreboding house, a ghost, a governess, and a destructive fire, draws Margaret deeper into the secrets of her own past. An excellent choice for the writer, bookseller, or bibliophile in your life, The Thirteenth Tale is a celebration of both the Gothic and the art of storytelling itself.
8. Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës, by Isabel Greenberg
There are many fiction and nonfiction books about the lives of the Brontë siblings, but I have chosen a graphic novel as an entry point into that category of literature. Glass Town begins with the deaths of the eldest two Brontë siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, prompting the surviving four to create an imaginary world together to help them escape reality. Through moody, dynamic art and a unique blend of biography, primary sources, and historical fiction, Glass Town traces Charlotte Brontë’s life, her griefs, and how she synthesized both by writing stories.