Reader, I Married Him

Reader, I Married Him

Event: Reader, I Married Him 

Venue: The Word Factory salon at Waterstones Piccadilly 

Report by Eleanor Baggley

‘Reader, I married him’ is one of the most famous lines in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and probably one of the most famous lines in the history of literature. It’s not surprising then that it has been taken as the focal point and inspiration for a new anthology of short stories edited by Tracy Chevalier. This anthology, released in time for the bicentenary of Bronte’s birth, was the subject of the Word Factory’s salon in Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday night.

The anthology’s editor, Tracy Chevalier, and two contributors, Helen Dunmore and Evie Wyld, joined Word Factory director Cathy Galvin for an evening of readings and conversation.

Helen Dunmore kicked off proceedings by reading her short story, ‘Grace Poole Her Testimony’. The story re-imagines Jane Eyre from the perspective of the nursemaid Grace Poole, who Dunmore says has the ‘most beautiful name in the book’. Dunmore was drawn to the character and found herself wondering about Grace’s history.

Dunmore’s story suggests that Jane Eyre is somehow more than she appears to the reader. She believes that ‘Jane could be many things’, and in writing her story she wondered how it would feel to come against that force.

Evie Wyld’s reading strayed further from a traditional re-imagining or adaptation of the novel. Instead she took the atmosphere and emotions of Jane Eyre and transported us to the Canadian mountains with a story of longing and hunger.

‘Creepy’ Rochester

Reader I Married Him

‘Reader I Married Him’: a new anthology of short stories

Wyld’s story perfectly reflects her own feelings about the novel. For her the book is a classic horror story and was the ‘first book that really scared [her]’. This is an intriguing reaction to a novel that is generally accepted as a romance, but she was supported by an audience member who thought Mr Rochester ‘creepy’.

Later on in the evening the group were joined by three other contributors to the anthology who happened to have attended the event: Joanna Briscoe, Esther Freud and Lionel Shriver. It was a joy to behold these six brilliant authors as they talked keenly and captivatingly about Jane Eyre and their short stories.

As I listened to the conversation between the authors it struck me that the novel is different for everyone and various sections resonate more with some than others, often depending on age and situation. One audience member questioned how the authors felt about the opening scenes of the novel when Jane is a child, as she personally found her memory of that section hazier than the rest. Interestingly each author had her own response to this part of the novel. For example, Joanna Briscoe felt a very strong connection to it, which she thought was due to the age she was when she first read Jane Eyre (10).

As the event ended I found myself feeling a sudden urge to revisit Jane Eyre, having not read it for several years. That is surely the sign of a fantastic evening! Both thought-provoking and entertaining, the evening gave me a taste of Chevalier’s anthology and of the style of event organised by the Word Factory. I hope to attend more in the future.

Ultimately, what could be better than spending a Wednesday evening in the company of wonderful authors who feel passionately about Bronte’s novel? Nothing, I feel.

Report by Eleanor Baggley

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