Reader, I Married Him
As anyone with even a passing familiarity with Charlotte Brontë knows, “Reader, I married him,” is the climactic sentence of Brontë’s book for the ages, Jane Eyre. Conceived of, edited by, and with a contribution from Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring), this collection of stories is out in time to celebrate Brontë’s 2016 bicentenary, and it features wonderful writing by a cast of strong female authors, each contributing one of these “stories inspired by Jane Eyre.”
Inspired, that is, by both the book and the titular character, who – for many girls who are now women of a certain age – was the first strong, independent-minded female character in literature we ever met. She made an impression.
These stories make an impression too; each one is thoroughly engaging beyond the frisson of discovering how each author uses the shared springboard. One of the most thought-provoking is Susan Hill’s title story, “Reader, I Married Him,” which gradually reveals the identity of the historical character who is narrating, and demands that the Reader rethink probably knee-jerk assessments she may have about one of modern history’s most notorious and reviled home-wreckers. Helen Dunmore gives us “Grace Poole Her Testimony,” offering a decidedly different take on the ever-stoic Grace and her true role at Thornfield, while Salley Vickers paints a not-so-happily-ever-after picture from Mr. Rochester himself in “Reader, She Married Me.” Finally, Elizabeth McCracken’s story is a fully modern take on the construct of marriage as two men take their young son on a day trip in “Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark.”
Just know that after enjoying this story collection, you’ll be certain to pull out your old, yellowed copy of Jane Eyre (mine is a Signet Classic from 1960) and enjoy it one more time.