Reader, she married him…

“Reader, I married him.”

Sorry, no prizes for guessing, but that’s Jane Eyre in the novel of the same name published in 1847 by ‘Currer Bell,’ aka Charlotte Bronte, and one of the best-loved novels in English Literature.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I can visualize Miss Bronte, the lonely parson’s daughter — few offers of marriage, almost none of work except as underpaid teacher or governess — gazing out over the bleak, frozen Yorkshire Moors out her frosted, weepy window

and exulting when her heroine says “Reader, I married him” in that Neverland where Plain Jane governesses marry handsome dark horse playboys and live happily ever after.

But who’s crying in the attic there?

Why, the handsome, dark horse playboy’s old wife, Bertha Mason, a Caribbean plantation heiress who’s White But Not Quite. And why’s she crying? Oh, because she’s mad and her husband Mr. Rochester has locked her up for life in the attic and left her there except when he goes in to beat her for being out of her mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I fell in love with Jane Eyre at eleven. Until almost a decade later I wanted to BE Jane. What ugly duckling doesn’t feel like Jane at eleven? Oh, it was good to know my sheer wondrous character and heart would earn me another Rochester without even trying. Simply because I was so scrumptiously small, plain but good. And not at all like that heavy-set, dusky-skinned Bertha whose money all went to Rochester when they married, and then he forced her to leave her native tropical island for cold, friendless England where she rebelled, broke down, and he had her lock up for her own good. He had to.

And a little bit his.

But then, about a decade later I realized that I, a woman of color from India, would only be allowed to play Bertha, never Jane, in any remake of Jane Eyre. And that once upon a time many women from my country were Berthas, until their Rochesters got tired of them and decided they needed to save their souls by mating with pure-hearted and spirited Englishwomen.



And then, to tell you the truth, I felt rather angry, and also saw that in COLONIALISM, A TRUE LOVE STORY, the Global South has always been Bertha and the Global North always Jane, and Rochester now flies First Class to find the foreign wife whose resources he WILL steal to decorate his new church, the United Evangelical Ministries of the Neoliberal World Order.

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From my novel Love’s Garden, forthcoming September 2020!

Dear Future Readers, I can’t wait to share the whole novel with you, but here’s a tidbit

Chapter 3:

Love is an enigma, but marriage is serious business. Girls can only leave home when they marry. This is well known. Any girl or young woman who does otherwise is, of course, ruined.

Before marriage girls have to wait somewhere between bliss and hell. All girls. Prem and the raggedy girl who once loved her included.

There hadn’t been many cozy spots for Prem between hell and bliss in the village in 1914, in the days before all the marrying started, except in the love and the loving of that raggedy girl. This girl’s name was Kanan. Prem and Kanan would meet and day-dream as often as possible by the placid, stagnant pond behind Manohar Mishra’s farmhouse. Though this was a community pond, it only came alive at mid-day for about two hours when women came to wash and bathe. The last bathers left only an echo in the air and a ripple at water’s edge. The rest of the time the pond was quiet, shaded by the spreading and interweaving branches of banyan, mango and saal trees.

One afternoon — all bathing and washing ended for the day — Prem and Kanan set their heist of stolen fruit on the pond’s crumbly edge. Beetles and ants hurried away in frenzy. No one would see, so the girls loosened their saris around the waist, to ease the bruising from the petticoat cord, and hitched up the hems. The saris, which they had to wear tucked into petticoats tied tightly at the waist and covering the legs entirely, made them sweat and itch. Boys could just run around and shimmy up trees anywhere, anytime, clothed or bare-bodied.

They didn’t really know any boys. Something called a Great War, they heard, was taking some village boys to faraway places, but generally boys were as much a part of their daily lives as enchanted forests and flying horses. Aimlessly, they rooted up tufts of grass. They soaked their feet, shivering and squealing lightly with pleasure as inch by inch they lowered them into the chill water. The water was like cool, green limeade. Their pale feet unhitched from them under water. Prem fiercely bit into a whole mango — they never let her do that at home — and juice streamed down her face, chin, neck. It was bliss, that lawless afternoon, Kanan with her, by the pond.