Saturday, April 02, 2016

Saturday, April 02, 2016 12:48 am by M. in , ,    No comments
Our thanks to the author for sending us a review copy of her book
The Jane and Bertha in Me
by Rita Maria Martinez
Aldrich Press (January 12, 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-0692543412
Almost eight years ago (so many already?) Rita Maria Martinez published a first compilation of poems inspired or heavily influenced by the reading of Jane Eyre: Jane-in-the-Box (2008). Now, the author has expanded that work into a full book of poems, The Jane and Bertha in Me. This new book includes all the poems of its predecessor (16, not in the same order, though) and includes many more (22). The interested reader is referred to our previous review of Jane-in-the-Box for comments of the poems already included there and we will focus now on the new ones and the book as a whole.

Many of the things we said then are still valid. The influences of the Madwoman on the attic school of Gilbert & Gubar, the Bertha backstory recontextualised by Wide Sargasso Sea and the many pop culture crossovers which provides 'extraordinary richness of detail and unashamed intertextuality' to the poems (i.e. 'The Guidance Counselor Interrogates Jane')(1). But several new details are more visible now, illuminating some of the choices and perspectives taken by the author: particularly the identification of the author with Bertha.

In our previous review we said that Bertha was slowly but steadily stealing the book from Jane. This is not the case with The Jane and Bertha in Me which is more balanced (2). Nevertheless. a poem like The Literature of Prescription tells with poignant intensity about the connection of the author with Charlotte Brontë and, in a sense, with Bertha. In this context, the personal history of Rita Maria Martinez's fight with chronic daily headache (CDH) (or more precisely, with a proper diagnosis of the illness) is crucial(3). This is a truly remarkable poem, for what it says, for what it hints at and for what it feels like.

Another fascinating poem is Governess-to-Go where the author places Jane Eyre/Charlotte Brontë, the governess, in a contemporary setting. The poem transpires a strange feeling of melancholic everyday-ness conveying perfectly what the feelings of a 19th century governess with her charges might have been but elaborated through 21st-century feelings and images. A powerful poem which provokes an intense emotional experience in the reader.

This intensity contrasts with the sarcasm and utterly hilarious poetry of, for instance, Jane Eyre. Classic Cover Girl, where she wittingly analyses the covers of several Jane Eyre editions (some actual book covers, a few spoofs made by fans).

The Jane and Bertha in Me is divided in three parts (permeable between them): Femme Covert (where the vast majority of the poems included in Jane-in-the-Box can be found), The Gothic Grotesque and Promiscuous Reading, which is arguably the most interesting one as a whole. The book, in our opinion, confirms the poetical voice of Rita Maria Martinez. Her personal poems celebrate, question and retell Jane Eyre/Bertha. From a very personal reaction (almost physical) to the Charlotte Brontë novel seen as much as a narrative as an icon to a total immersive flow of emotions for the reader. What else is poetry?


(1) The poem I am Thine, Charles Thunder shows an intimate knowledge of Charlotte Brontë's letters,
(2) Even Blanche Ingrm or Mrs Fairfax get a poem too. 
(3) Brontë on the Brain: A Bicentennial and an Unsung Hero by Rita Maria Martinez,  Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life (accessed March 20, 2016)


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