Monday, July 3, 2017
Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre
As a teenager, quite smitten with the concept of love, I summed up the book this way in my mind---Jane and Mr. Rochester were made for each other and wasn't it terribly romantic that they could finally be together after the death of his first wife, who had been trapped in the attic for so many years. Ah.
But after reading these stories, I scurried over to Shmoop to take a look at the themes and what other experts say about Jane Eyre and I realize I missed the point. In fact, I missed a lot of points. First, and foremost, the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester was wrong on so many levels and HE knew it. HE knew he had a wife in the attic when he was courting Jane. HE knew that she was young and vulnerable. It is really pretty creepy to think about, actually. Secondly, the theme of the underdog is quite prominent. Jane was the quintessential underdog and it is likely that most people can relate to her on that level, at least partially. Thirdly, there are more questions than answers to his motives. Was he a serial adulterer? Would he have treated Jane the same way as his first wife when he got tired of her? Perhaps he could lock her in the basement (tee-hee). Was Adele really his own daughter? Was Jane really a martyr when she went back and found the wounded and blind Mr. Rochester but married him anyway? Were they now equals now, both wounded and blind in certain ways?
I suspect it is the questions that the book evokes in the readers' minds which has kept the story popular these past 170 years since it was first written. Readers probe the book looking for the answers.
Tracy Chevalier, the editor of Reader, I Married Him comments on the queer turn of phrase that Bronte used at the conclusion of her masterpiece. Why didn't she say, "Reader, he married me", or "Reader, we married?" Instead Jane finally asserts herself. She decides to marry Rochester, knowing everything she now knows. (2) So taking that phrase and tossing it like a stone into a pond, each author author watches the ripples and creates a story to fit them and their background.
Sally Vickers writes the Jane Eyre story from Mr. Rochester's point of view in "Reader, She Married Me." It was a sort of clearing the record for him. He wanted the record to show that he no longer loved Jane Eyre and didn't want to marry her but did it because he'd been such a lout in the beginning. Audrey Niffenegger, in the "Orphan Exchange", takes the early part of the Jane Eyre story when Jane is in the horrible boarding school, Lowland, and then give it an almost Science Fiction twist, where Jane and Helen are part of an Orphan Exchange in which companies can do science experiments on the orphans since there is no one who will stand up for them and their rights. In this story Jane and Helen eventually find each other again and live happily together.
The funniest story, in my opinion, was "The Mash Up" by Linda Grant. The first line sets the stage---"The wedding was perfect, up to a point." A couple have decided to marry. She is Jewish, he is Persian. They find a Rabbi to marry them who is able to personalize the ceremony to fit both families. But at the point when the perfect wedding goes wrong, so does the relationship. Some issues are insurmountable in marriage, I think.
The multicultural aspect of the stories was refreshing. Namwali Serpell, who is from Zambia, writes a story set in her homeland, "Double Man". In the story we see many of the cultural traditions leading up to a wedding and how the older generation wants certain things to happen for tradition-sake and the younger generation go along with these traditions to make peace. At the point which I imagine is the equivalent of the rehearsal dinner both the aunt and the bride-to-be find the girl's fiance in a compromising situation with the her cousin. The aunt insists that she should marry him anyway. The girl refuses. Some traditions are not worth keeping.
With a few exceptions, I liked all of the stories. Most dealt with the theme of love, either at the beginning of a relationship or at it's dying embers. Most, but not all, brought up the subject of marriage. All the stories were short enough, ten to fifteen pages, to digest in one sitting. And though I wasn't familiar with all the authors in this collection, they all seemed very competent at the craft of writing a short story which left the reader (me) with either a smile on my face or a question in my mind to ponder more fully on my own time.
I know that reading short stories isn't for everyone but if you fancy yourself a Jane Eyre fan or just a classic fan, I recommend this collection. And maybe you, too, will ask yourself if you need to rethink what you thought of the book, Jane Eyre, in the first place.
My rating 4 out of 5 stars.