I’m delighted to welcome Cassie Browne, Editorial Director of The Borough Press, to the blog to talk about the Jane Eyre inspired collection Reader, I Married Him.
Last week The Borough Press published the short story collection Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre. The idea for the book came from Tracy Chevalier, who, in her work curating a series of events and exhibitions with The Bronte Parsonage in the year of Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary, struck on the idea of commissioning stories by women writers inspired by one of the (or perhaps the) most famous lines in fiction. Out of this idea came this treasure chest of a collection.
Some of the stories take literal direction from Jane Eyre’s, using the voice of Jane herself and even Mr Rochester’s, while others loosely take themes from the novel and run far and away from its nineteenth-century moors setting. Tessa Hadley’s ‘My Mother’s Wedding’ opens at a bohemian wedding party which then takes an unexpected turn for the bride and her daughter; Elizabeth McCracken’s portrays a family trip to a Texan waterpark, which prompts a life-changing decision. Grace Poole defends Bertha Mason and calls the general opinion of Jane Eyre into question in Helen Dunmore’s ‘Grace Poole Her Testimony’, and in Salley Vickers’ ‘Reader, She Married Me’ Mr Rochester reveals a long-kept secret. Francine Prose boldly imagines Jane’s married life after the novel ends in ‘The Mirror’ and in Sarah Hall’s ‘Luxury Hour’, a new mother encounters an old lover after her daily swim and inexplicably lies to him. Kirsty Gunn’s ‘Dangerous Dog’ depicts a fitness instructor who teaches teenage boys how to handle a pit bull terrier by telling them Jane Eyre’s story.
The stories are brilliantly varied but, as Tracy Chevalier says in her Foreword, ‘Always, always in these stories there is love – whether it is the first spark or the last dying embers – in its many heartbreaking, life-affirming forms.’
This is such a wonderfully strong collection, which showcases some of the best women writers working today. Read it in order, read it backwards, or dip in at random. In whatever way you decide to start, I promise that you will be rewarded with twenty-one literary gems, which speak to so many contemporary themes, and remind us how very modern Charlotte Brontë – and her Jane – were for their time. As Chevalier says in her Foreword, ‘Charlotte was one of a trio of sisters who grew up in a parsonage in a remote Yorkshire village on the edge of the moors, who all published novels around the same time, with strong characters and storylines, before dying young. If you visit the atmospheric Brontë Parsonage in Haworth, where I first had the idea to create this collection of stories, you will be struck by what a strange, intense family the Brontës were: a hothouse of creativity springing from unpromising surroundings. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë often sat together in the severe dining room, all writing and talking about what they wrote. Women just didn’t do that back in the nineteenth century.’ The fact that Charlotte Bronte – and Jane Eyre – have inspired such a brilliant group of writers to write these stories is surely testament to how important they both continue to be.
I have Reader, I Married Him on my post-Bailey’s Prize reading pile. I’ve been fascinated by the Brontës since studying Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights for my A Levels so I’m very much looking forward to seeing what some of my favourite writers have done with the concept. In the meantime, there have been a number of blogposts about the collection in the last week if you’re keen for more information.
Huge thanks to Cassie Browne for the guest post.