Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 12:43 am by Cristina in , ,    No comments

Reader, I Married Him
Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre
Edited by Tracy Chevalier
Stories by Tracy Chevalier, Tessa Hadley, Sarah Hall, Helen Dunmore, Kirsty Gunn, Joanna Briscoe, Jane Gardam, Emma Donoghue, Susan Hill,  Francine Prose, Elif Shafak,  Evie Wyld, Patricia Park, Salley Vickers, Nadifa Mohamed, Esther Freud, Linda Grant, Lionel Shriver, Audrey Niffenegger, Namwali Serpell, Elizabeth McCracken.
Harper-Collins.  Imprint: William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN: 9780062447098
After over 10 years of scanning news sites for mentions and references to the Brontës, we have remarked that one of the most malleable and adaptable phrases to come from literature into widespread news reports and columns is without the shadow of a doubt Charlotte Brontë's 'Reader, I married him'. We have seen the 'married' bit used with countless other verbs to suit the context  and we have seen it used as is in many contexts. You don't need to be a Brontëite to recognise it. Heck, you don't even need to know who the Brontës were at all.

As Tracy Chevalier argues in the introduction to her compilation of stories, it has a 'powerful resonance'. It's a triumphant phrase and, when in the context of Jane Eyre, it's both elated and quiet. Just four words that show Charlotte Brontë's mastery of language.

And just as it has inspired journalists from all over the world to create their own witty turns of phrase, so it has inspired 21 excellent writers. Each of them has crafted a short story based on what the line suggests to them. They may or may not refer explicitly to it. Some of them use the phrase as a distant echo (The Self-Seeding Sycamore  by Lionel Shriver, Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark by Elizabeth McCracken) while others are firmly based within the context of Jane Eyre (The Orphan Exchange by  Audrey Niffenegger, Grace Poole Her Testimony by Helen Dunmore, Reader, She Married Me by Salley Vickers) while others yet take us further into Brontë territory, with nods to other writers in the family (Dorset Gap by Tracy Chevalier) or Charlotte's own life story (Since First I Saw Your Face by Emma Donoghue).

Some of the reviews of the book so far seem to complain about the 'inequality' in the quality of the stories and while we think that some may suit some tastes better than others, all seem top quality to us. Some of them make the reader think hard to make the connection to 'Reader, I married him' but that's part of the fun. This books is, in a way, a literary version of what we encounter in our newsrounds. The phrase - or the inspiration behind it - takes the reader to Africa, to South America, to Texas, to England, to Switzerland.

In spite of the above, we can't help but pick some favourites. Patricia Park, already famous in Brontëland because of her novel Re Jane, has written the wonderful The China from Buenos Aires. It has a sense of time and place that is certainly reminiscent of what the Brontës were capable of in that sense. and it's a beautifully-crafted story that reveals its author, once again, to be a great lover and connoisseur of Jane Eyre. A couple of our favourite stories are among the farthest from actual explicit references to the novel but are so well-written that they would have been a delight to read in any collection: The Self-Seeding Sycamore and Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark. Tracy Chevalier not only deserves a mention for her editing skills but also because her own story, Dorset Gap, is a wonderful tribute to any Brontëite/bookworm. Salley Vickers' Reader, She Married Me, Francine Prose's The Mirror and Helen Dunmore's Grace Poole Her Testimony were all somewhat unsettling to read as they present different versions of events told in Jane Eyre. The Orphan Exchange by Audrey Niffenegger shows a different, rather apocalyptic approach to Jane and Helen Burns's friendship.

A remark on the Notes on the contributors. we loved reading those that, rather than rattling off the list of awards received and books written, offered a short anecdote concerning some life event or other connected to the Brontës or their books, even if it's only to point out that they have never read Jane Eyre, as is Susan Hill's case (whose story, by the way, is told by Wallis Simpson about her relationship with Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, as imagined by the author, of course).

Charlotte Brontë would have a great many things to be proud of, but surely a literary tribute is one of the most moving tributes a writer can receive. We wonder if the plan is afoot but a compilation of short stories for each of the siblings' bicentenaries would be quite the celebration.

In our opinion, summer, with its comings and goings and lack of routines, is the perfect time of the year to read short stories and this collection is certainly a great one for any Brontëite but we would dare to say that it's also a perfect collection for any lover of the genre.


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