As promised, here is the detailed review of the collection of short stories inspired by Charlotte Brontë, Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier. I liked this collection a lot – I found all of the stories to be very unique, and although I sometimes craved a closer connection to the work that inspired them, Jane Eyre, I did thoroughly enjoy entering each of the different worlds. Some of the stories truly inspired me and I would absolutely recommend this book to any fans of Charlotte who are looking to take their knowledge of her text a step further.
❥❥❥ The Epigraph = “For Charlotte, of course.”
Foreword (by Tracy Chevalier) = of Jane = “we can relate to her, and cheer her on.” !!! friends with Jane Eyre
- “Who can resist a character like Jane Eyre?”
- “The mouse roars, and we pump our fist with her.”
- “Reader, I married him.” = interesting identification that JE is asserting self and agency here; she does the choosing (read my blog post on this concept here)!
- “Always, always in these stories there is love…” Count me in!
My Mother’s Wedding by Tessa Hadley
- Woah! Reminds me of an Alice Munro story. Such a strange, troubled dynamic between Jane and her mother, who seems to be a bit of a Mrs. Reed and a Bertha figure! This Jane is also defiant, claims the man for herself, and is strong, intelligent and unwavering despite her surroundings!
Luxury Hour by Sarah Hall
- seems quite random and unrelated to Jane Eyre. I have to give this one more thought, as it puzzles me. I suppose it would be like JE meeting Rochester in the street if she married St. John = a flash of passion, a flashback of love that never dies.
Grace Poole Her Testimony by Helen Dunmore
“I have not yet lost my voice.” Jane as the villain.
- scene of Bertha rubbing her face with the red satin ribbon is so touching and sad. I almost cried at this story! It made me enraged to think of Grace with Rochester, but it also made me madder than I ever expected to think of Bertha locked up all alone.
Danger Dogs by Kristy Gunn
- I like the idea of Rochester appearing to be “all tough and mean” but just needing to be loved = he is sensitive. This story isn’t my favourite because it doesn’t have much meat to it and is too fast-paced BUT the voice of the narrator is so distinct. You can tell she isn’t a writer and that style must be hard to convey in a story.
To Hold by Joanna Briscoe
- this story is so sad and makes marriage seem formal, devoid of love and only focused on convenience and having a companion for aid in life = True Love is outside marriage and forbidden.
It’s a Man’s Life, Ladies by Jane Gardam
- another bleak picture of marriage. The connection to Jane Eyre is vague here!
Since First I Saw Your Face by Emma Donoghue
“‘Or should I say, Edward married me?’” Opposite of JE. Minnie had no agency in marriage and was “‘picked…out’”.
- narrator, Ellen, like any modern woman, is astonished by lack of choice in marriage.
- Minnie = “‘I’ve never been responsible for my own life.’” = woman has no identity in marriage.
“‘I say Love is God.’” YES!!!
- This story seems a bit gratuitously entered in this collection. Yes, it presents a marriage without female agency wholly unlike JE’s, but since Mary Benson was a real person, the connection between her life and Jane’s story seems a bit random and forced. I very much enjoyed the story and Ellen’s ideas about love and marriage (which evoke Jane’s strength, opinion and defiance) though!
Reader, I Married Him by Susan Hill
“Security was all I ever longed and struggled and schemed for…” “If I did [achieve it], it was through men, not through my own effort.” = it is very problematic for a woman to require men to feel safe, rather than finding it within, as Jane comes to. = marriage is an institution meant to create security, but does it always?
“look at me and judge me from a time when women had so few options.” = but JE had few options too, but she still married on her own terms!
“‘I want to inhabit you, have all of you’” = does love mean losing yourself and your autonomy/identity?
“People who are so comprehensively in love often want to dominate and overpower.”
The Mirror by Francine Prose
- making Bertha into a parrot is hilarious and clever, and probably a lie Rochester would try to get away with.
- this is what all Jane Eyre fans want: a glimpse into Jane and Rochester’s married life, albeit imperfect.
- Prose does a nice job of quoting the original.
- Jane’s obsession with Bertha is made into madness by Rochester = he insists that Bertha died BEFORE Jane arrived at Thornfield = a bit inconsistent with the fact that Jane saw Bertha after the wedding in the original though! ???
- I really hope JE and Rochester were happier in marriage than this!
A Migrating Bird by Elif Shafak
“I cannot help but suspect that while I am wasting time here, my real life awaits elsewhere.”
- this is an impossibly tragic and moving story about religion and love and issues with the two. I loved it but it hurt my heart!
Behind the Mountain by Evie Wyld
Takes place in Canada!
“He is a good man. She will be a good woman.”
- unhappy marriage again!
- quite random and again, no clear connection to Jane Eyre.
The China from Buenos Aires by Patricia Park
- well into the story, and I am still wondering what at all it has to do with Jane Eyre!!! (very frustrating!)
- maybe the fact that Teresa decides to leave Juan…but that is because (UNLIKE with Jane and Rochester) she does NOT believe she loves him.
- truly, I struggle to find the link to Jane Eyre here = not my favourite of the stories!
Party Girl by Nadifa Mohamed
- very interesting from a cultural perspective.
❥ “I took him in my arms and let the light in.”
- short, simple and to the point = I enjoyed it! Although it seems only vaguely related to Jane Eyre.
**Sure, all of these stories are about love, and mostly about women navigating love, relationships and their identities, as is JE. BUT is that enough of a connection to say they’re all inspired by Charlotte’s text? Do they all have Jane Eyre essence?
Double Men by Namwali Serpell
- I like the flow and tone of this story A LOT! Well written!
“the willingness to be hurt that marriage breeds in you” = such a sad and tragic story! And very unique in many ways.
Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark by Elizabeth McCracken
“The point was not to stay whence you came, but to move along spectacularly and record every stop.”
- a story of two drastically different marriages which is very interesting. Bruno is gruff but so sweet and I was very fond of his relationship with Ernest! This story was both funny and terrifying at times.
My Favourites of the Collection…
Reader, She Married Me by Salley Vickers
❥ Edward Rochester’s perspective! WOW! This is every Jane Eyre fan’s dream!
“From our first encounter she provoked in me thoughts of other worlds.” ❥
- all of the references to the original are perfectly placed and made new!
- Bertha and Rochester had a child? A clever idea to explore!
- this story is a masterpiece that all lovers of Jane Eyre must read!
Dorset Gap by Tracy Chevalier
- I love this story! It paints a wonderful picture of a serene, simplistic moment in the English countryside.
- the references to Jane Eyre are perfect and subtle (such as Poole being a location) and it is amazing to see JE and Rochester reimagined in a contemporary setting. Jenn and Ed are surprisingly unique and well developed for such a short text. Ed is very witty!
- this story had all the passion for and devotion to Jane Eyre that I felt most of the other stories lacked.
❥ “A governess full of inner strength who marries a completely inappropriate man.”
- I want more of what happens in Ed and Jenn’s relationship/future!
Transference by Esther Freud
❥ “‘You started to glow,’ he said, ‘and I saw you, and I wanted you to know that you are loved.’”
❥ “You can love someone in a pure way. You can hold them in your heart and nothing has to happen.”
- I was engrossed and sucked into this story. It was so psychological and conflicting, but written with such honesty. I loved it!
The Mash-Up by Linda Grant
- issues and conflict in planning a wedding/setting up a marriage. = Ali is Persian (not Muslim); with my own Persian boyfriend, this story speaks to me personally!
- both main characters are NOT religious (even almost atheist = Richard Dawkins is Ali’s parents’ idol) BUT they must still navigate culture and custom to create their own wedding.
- Okay, so this story is basically about my life and my future wedding! LOVE IT!
❥ “We were married; I had married him, the love of my life.”
- Oh dear, the wedding ends in opinionated chaos! What a nightmare! But it does make for a good story!
- Oh gosh! I hope my wedding is nothing like this…but it was a very entertaining story!
The Self-Seeding Sycamore by Lionel Shriver
“A widow of fifty-seven had both too much story left, and not enough.” A snapshot of the imminent end of every marriage (in death).
“the grief had been so immersive…that it verged on pleasure.” What does one do after a spouse dies?
- this story is so beautifully and poetically written. The tone and style are very memorable and stuck with me.
“But a firm purpose was fortifying.”
- quite funny as well! This may be my favourite!
***I am starting to see that the stories don’t have to directly reference Jane Eyre in order to deliver an equally fascinating picture of unconventional romance (like that of JE and Rochester).
The Orphan Exchange by Audrey Niffenegger ❥
- Audrey Niffenegger is my second Charlotte, my other literary soul mate, my artistic idol, the woman who gave me a story that rivaled Jane Eyre for my affections, another female character (Clare Abshire) to learn from and model myself after! She is the reason I bought this collection to begin with; Audrey Niffenegger writing about Jane Eyre?! Sign. Me. Up!
- exploring Jane’s time at Lowood = the beginning of the novel, rather than the marriage at the end.
- a fascinating, more emotional look at how Jane may’ve felt for Helen Burns.
- orphans as guinea pigs or sex workers or maids? Niffenegger paints a horrifying picture! Also a picture of grief and mourning the loss of a first love.
❥ “When it eventually became legal, Reader, I married her.” A lovely story about a genuine and moving romance! Niffenegger knows how to create love in tough circumstances.
Girl with a Green Heart