Reader, I Married Him – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
Edited by Tracy Chevalier
“Reader, I married him” at the conclusion of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, must rank among the most famous last lines of any work of fiction. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Bronte’s birth, Tracy Chevalier approached a number of contemporary women writers and asked them to use Jane Eyre’s famous declaration as a springboard for a story. This anthology of 21 short stories is the result and includes stories by Susan Hill, Jane Gardam, Helen Dunmore, Emma Donoghue and Chevalier herself among others.
Jane Eyre tells the story of a young orphan who, after a traumatic childhood spent among relatives who don’t want her, is sent to the infamous Lowood Institution, a charity school for girls. After six years as a student and two as a teacher at Lowood, Jane leaves to become governess to a young girl living at Thornfield Hall, where she meets and falls in love with the enigmatic, Mr. Rochester. After a turbulent period at the Hall, Jane runs away, having been left at the altar by Mr. Rochester who, she discovered, was already married and whose mad wife had been kept locked up in the attic. Later, on learning that the Hall had burnt down, his wife was dead and Mr. Rochester was now blind, she returns and the novel ends with “Reader, I married him”
The writers in this collection have each taken some character or aspect of Bronte’s story and based their story around it. In some cases there is no direct reference to novel but the writer has chosen to take a similar theme in a completely different context. For example, Susan Hill’s story is told from the point of view of Wallis Simpson, and the “him” is Edward, Duke of Windsor, the man who was briefly King Edward VIII. Similarly, Tessa Hadley’ story, “My Mother’s Wedding”, tells of her mother’s plans for an unconventional wedding in the 1970’s and in “Since First I Saw Your Face,” Emma Donoghue comments on the bonds of marriage in a story that tells of a passionate and loving relationship between two women.
However, other stories are more directly linked to Jane Eyre. “The Orphan Exchange” by Audrey Niffenger focuses on Jane’s life as an orphan in a contemporary war-torn country. Helen Dunmore’s is one of the best stories of the collection. Told from the point of view of Grace Poole, the servant who looked after Bertha, the mad wife of Mr. Rochester, she defends her mistress and calls into question the general opinion of Jane Eyre. Similarly, in Salley Vickers “Reader, She married Me”, seen through the eyes of Mr. Rochester, we meet a manipulative and scheming Jane. The tables are turned, however, in Francine Prose’s “The Mirror” where it is Mr. Rochester who holds all the power.
With a wide range of styles, comic, tragic, romantic, there is something here to please every listener. The characters are represented in youth, middle and old age, in traditional marriage and in gay relationships, and their stories are set in many different locations. The narrator, Laura Kirman, is skilful in adapting tone and accent to suit the different settings and moods. This anthology is an original and stimulating concept and will be great appreciated by lovers of short stories and will be particularly treasured by all admirers of Jane Eyre.
The audiobook is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 7h 21mins