This collection of original stories by today’s finest women writers takes inspiration from the famous line in Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel, Jane Eyre.
A fixture in the literary canon, Charlotte Brontë is revered by readers all over the world. Her books featuring unforgettable, strong heroines still resonate with millions today. And who could forget one of literatures’ best-known lines: “Reader, I married him” from her classic novel Jane Eyre?
Part of a remarkable family that produced three acclaimed female writers at a time in 19th-century Britain when few women wrote, and fewer were published, Brontë has become a great source of inspiration to writers, especially women, ever since. Now in Reader, I Married Him, twenty of today’s most celebrated women authors have spun original stories, using the opening line from Jane Eyre as a springboard for their own flights of imagination.
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I first encountered Jane Eyre in a Classics Illustrated comic book when I was a young girl. We were on a trip to my grandparents' farm, and I read the comic book again and again. I was very young and still reading children's books ... but I was fascinated by this story. I sought it out later in the library, and fell in love with this classic. It was a book I reread over my teens and twenties, often back to back with Wuthering Heights, which is so different but just as compelling.
When I first read about a collection of stories inspired by Jane Eyre, I was eager to read this book. Everything about this book is interesting, from the lovely cover art, to the title Reader, I Married Him, to the introduction by Tracy Chevalier, and most of all, the collection of stories.
Tracy Chevalier's Foreward is so well written and insightful. She writes: "'Reader, I married him' is Jane's defiant conclusion to her rollercoaster story. It is not, 'Reader, he married me' - as you would expect in a Victorian society where women were supposed to be passive; or even, 'Reader, we married.' Instead Jane asserts herself; she is the driving force of her narrative, and it is she who chooses to be with Rochester" (p. 2).
There are 21 stories included in this book, by some of today's finest women writers. Some of the stories are contemporary takes on marriage inspired by the line "Reader, I Married Him." Some are more closely inspired by the novel Jane Eyre. The quality is astoundingly high, and the variety of tone and subject matter is a delight.
A few of my favorites included:
"My Mother's Wedding" by Tessa Hadley. The young woman in this story remembers her mother's plans for an unconventional wedding in the 1970's. She describes her mother's beauty and then talks about her own fascination with the Pre-Raphaelites. "That was the way life was divided up between me and my mother. I knew about things, and she was beautiful" (p. 10). This story has one surprise and then another, as the young woman takes charge of her own destiny.
"Grace Poole, Her Testimony" by Helen Dunmore. This story is told by Grace Poole, who is Bertha's caregiver in Jane Eyre. It seems she was once young and very taken with Rochester.
"The Mirror" by Francine Prose continues the story of Jane and Rochester after their wedding, and into marriage counseling and their future.
"Reader, She Married Me" by Sally Vickers tells the story of Jane and Rochester from Rochester's perspective. I found this passage intriguing: "With the hazily restored sight of my one eye I observe her nightly at her desk, where she sits writing furiously. She tells me she is writing an account of her life, and I have every confidence that she will turn our story as her will would have it - herself my saviour, her fierce morality triumphant, a truly righteous heroic love conquering all. Which is why I have seen fit to write down my own version of events in the hope that some future reader might ponder an alternative" (pp. 169 - 170).
"The Orphan Exchange" by Audrey Niffenger. This story focuses on Jane's life as an orphan in a contemporary war-torn country ... with a very different conclusion than Jane Eyre.
It is a pleasure to read fine short stories, and even more of a delight to read such imaginative work. I recommend Reader, I Married Him to anyone who loves Jane Eyre, to anyone who enjoys the short story genre, and to anyone who craves strong writing.
I received this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.