38 pages 1 hour read

Rachel Hawkins

The Wife Upstairs

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2021, Rachel Hawkins’s thriller The Wife Upstairs adapts Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for the 21st century. Best known for Hex Hall, her trilogy of young adult paranormal romance novels, Hawkins tells the story of Jane Bell: a young woman with a traumatic, mysterious past who starts over in the affluent community of Thornfield Estates. Hawkins alternates the narrative perspective throughout the novel to build suspense and highlight the shared experiences of outsiders Jane, Eddie, and Bea. Through her relationships with Eddie and Bea Rochester, Jane confronts her past and learns the consequences of blind ambition.

Plot Summary

Six months after the disappearance of Birmingham, Alabama residents Bea Rochester and Blanche Ingraham, Jane Bell meets Eddie Rochester as she walks dogs in Thornfield Estates—the missing women’s wealthy neighborhood. Jane is a 23-year-old woman from Phoenix who has escaped a traumatic past in search of a fresh start. Jane and Eddie feel an instant connection. Jane soon learns about the mysterious circumstances of Bea and Blanche’s disappearance: The women never returned from a boat ride at the Rochesters’ lake house and are presumed dead. Jane and Eddie begin to date. Desperate for stability and an escape from her roommate, John Rivers, Jane is eager to solidify her relationship with Eddie.

Meanwhile, Bea Rochester writes in her journal while confined in the panic room on the third floor of her home. Eddie has imprisoned Bea upstairs. Bea claims Eddie murdered her childhood friend Blanche.

Jane moves in with Eddie and befriends her neighbors in Thornfield Estates, learning about the complex relationship of Bea and Blanche. John Rivers begins to blackmail Jane, revealing that someone from Phoenix has called looking for her and asking about a woman named Helen Burns. Fearful, Jane pays John and attempts to manipulate Eddie into proposing. Jane and Eddie get engaged. As she plans her wedding, Jane meets Tripp Ingraham, the husband of Blanche, who hints at Eddie’s involvement in the disappearance of his wife. Jane begins to hear a thumping coming from the third floor of the house.

Bea writes about her suspicions that Blanche and Eddie were having an affair. Eddie visits Bea regularly to replenish her supplies of food and water. Bea remembers how she and Eddie met in Hawaii.

A detective named Laurent visits the Rochester home and informs Eddie that Blanche’s body has been found with a fracture to the skull. Meanwhile, John Rivers continues to harass Jane for money. She pays him $2500 with Eddie’s money but keeps the blackmail a secret. At his suggestion, Eddie and Jane travel to the lake house for the weekend. Jane finds Eddie searching for a key in the middle of the night. She senses that Eddie is hiding something.

Curious about the dynamic between Bea and Blanche, Jane invites Tripp to lunch. Afterward, Eddie confronts Jane about her lunch with Tripp and withdrawal of money. They argue, and Eddie reveals that he knows about John’s blackmail and gives Jane the phone number from Phoenix. Two days later, they learn the police have arrested Tripp for the murder of Blanche. Jane apologizes to Eddie for doubting his innocence. The couple reconciles.

Upstairs, Bea seduces Eddie in an attempt to escape from the panic room; the second part of her plan is unsuccessful, but the pair do have sex. Bea reveals that she had sex with Tripp as revenge for the suspected affair between Eddie and Blanche.

Jane and Eddie plan their wedding while Tripp awaits trial for Blanche’s murder. When John Rivers attempts to blackmail her once again, Jane calls the number from Phoenix and lies about her identity, which she now reveals to be Helen Burns. She adopted the name Jane Bell in honor of her adopted foster sister who died because of the negligence of her foster father. In vengeance, Jane did not intervene when her foster father had a heart attack. No longer fearing discovery, Jane confronts John and stops the blackmail.

In her journal, Bea recalls a company party her mother attended years ago. After Bea openly lied about the origin story of her company, her drunk mother called her out publicly and embarrassed her. Bea killed her mother shortly afterward by pushing her down a flight of stairs. In the present, Eddie and Bea continue to have sex regularly in the panic room. Bea writes a letter to Jane with instructions for how to find her and hides her journal in Eddie’s jacket pocket. Bea recounts the history of her friendship with Blanche and Blanche’s accusation that Bea stole her designs for her company.

Jane meets with Tripp for a second time. He warns Jane about Eddie and swears he himself is innocent. Unconvinced, Jane searches Eddie’s house for proof of his guilt. She discovers Bea’s journal and unlocks the door to the panic room, where Eddie finds her with Bea. Jane knocks Eddie unconscious and locks him inside. Eddie remembers following Tripp, Bea, and Blanche to the lake house and discovering Bea after she murdered Blanche and framed Tripp. Desperate to protect Bea, Eddie imprisoned her in the panic room.

Jane and Bea share a glass of wine downstairs. Bea proclaims her innocence and attempts to convince Jane of Eddie’s guilt. Jane does not believe Bea and suggests that Eddie did not turn Bea into the police because he loves her. This theory touches Bea, who in her narration admits to killing Blanche to prevent her from unveiling Bea’s hidden past. Meanwhile, Jane attempts to call the police, and Eddie starts a fire in the panic room in an effort to escape. Bea rushes to save him. Jane follows Bea but then instinctually runs outside to save herself. Bea and Eddie perish in the fire, which also destroys their house.

Jane attempts to start over. Eddie leaves all of Bea’s fortune and company shares to Jane. Now wealthy, Jane moves to a small cabin of her own in North Carolina and begins her new life.