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Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre


Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre

edited by Tracy Chevalier

In the world of English literature, JANE EYRE is a giant. It is the wonderful and influential tale of a strong, smart and resilient orphan governess who comes to marry the guardian of her young charge. What makes it such a great and important novel is Charlotte Brontë’s twisting plot, her strange and powerful characters, and her use of ambiguity and moral shades. It has inspired other novelists and writers who have found much to plumb in Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester, Adele and the other figures.

In READER, I MARRIED HIM, Tracy Chevalier gathers short stories from 21 fantastic and diverse female writers, all using JANE EYRE as a starting point for their own narratives. Each engages with the classic in a unique and compelling way. Some retell Brontë’s story, some pick up the plot where the original left off, while others take the setting, characters, themes, or perhaps just a line or feeling from the novel and create something totally new.

“My Mother’s Wedding” by Tessa Hadley opens the collection. At first blush, this story is far from the source material. A young daughter, preparing for her eccentric mother’s wedding to a much younger man, contemplates their relationships as well as the free-spirit community in which they live. Her decision to act of her own accord, to demand notice, holds the potential to free her as well as humiliate her mother. It is a lovely and tense story that will challenge readers to find connections with JANE EYRE.

“Grace Poole Her Testimony” is quite clearly connected to the original novel but is still an innovative and surprising examination of the characters. In it, Rochester’s maid, Grace Poole, offers her side of the story as to what happened between Jane and Mr. Rochester (as well as what went down between herself and Mr. Rochester). A heartbreaking and bitter indictment of the two protagonists, it is reminiscent of Jean Rhys’s WIDE SARGASSO SEA in that it shifts the perspective of the novel and is convincingly critical of Jane and Mr. Rochester. “To Hold,” Joanna Briscoe’s contribution, takes the middle ground, riffing on the theme of gendered choices in marriage and contrasting it with a frank look at sexuality, sexual violence, identity and secrets. Briscoe deftly begins her story with Brontë’s famous line and title of this collection, but takes readers someplace far from Brontë’s emotional landscape. Emma Donoghue’s “Since First I Saw Your Face” also presents a sexual identity different from anything in JANE EYRE; her story is frustrating, sad and moving. “A Migrating Bird” by Elif Shafak is set in modern Turkey and examines a clash of cultures and an unrequited love with a well-crafted tenderness.

Several of the stories feel far longer than their few pages. They are complex and complicated tales with fully formed characters that draw readers in from the first sentence. “Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark,” about partnership, the devastating fragility of life and the joys of parental love, is Elizabeth McCracken’s contribution, and it’s marvelous. Likewise, “The Self-Seeding Sycamore” by Lionel Shriver explores love, in this instance a love that shakes a woman from grief to happiness. It does so in such a sophisticated way but with an enjoyable style.

In truth, all the stories here are very good. A few are really fantastic and worth a second read. Though each is inspired by JANE EYRE, that is just about the only thing connecting them. However, it is the variety of style, plot, setting and characters that make the collection so intriguing as readers search for threads of commonality and whispers of Brontë. Highly literary yet absorbing and entertaining, READER, I MARRIED HIM is an inventive and a satisfying tribute to a great novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 25, 2016

Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre
edited by Tracy Chevalier

  • Publication Date: March 22, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062447092
  • ISBN-13: 9780062447098