Unabridged Chick

I'm Audra, a 30-something married lesbian. I love interesting heroines, gorgeous prose, place as character, and the occasional werewolf.

Book Review: The Jane and Bertha In Me

The Jane and Bertha in Me - Rita Maria Martinez

In my ongoing (but entirely accidental) Year of Eyre, this collection of poetry fits perfectly. It has a fierce, unapologetic, and wildly imaginative nature, mixing feminist critique and pop culture with an unabashed love for Charlotte Bronte and her classic novel.

In this book, Martinez evokes the multitudes of Janes and Berthas that exist now: Janes that are heroines and Janes that are doormats; Berthas who are misunderstood and Berthas who need major therapy and meds. Undoubtedly, one can find a Jane or Bertha in this collection that echoes the woman one sees in the novel; the others will challenge and provoke (and undoubtedly polarize), and it's this edgy, reckless collage of personalities that I found most enjoyable.

There are more than 35 poems, divided into three sections. Some take on the "legacy" of beloved authors, like in her piece "Postmortem Lament for Charlotte":

You’re a commodity now. They will pillage your life.
They will raid the closets of your memory—
auctioning, trading, and stealing your correspondence
for posterity, entertainment, or several hundred pounds.
Everyone will know you had the hots for your French
teacher because his wife will salvage your ripped
scrawl from the trash and stitch the pieces together with cotton
and gum.

Others are more outrageous and button-pushing (and polarising!), as Martinez gives new voice -- and interpretation -- to the characters in Jane Eyre. From "Rochester Triptych":

At first it was curiosity, whim.
I wanted to know if she was a private
school girl with public school pizzazz,
fire and ice, you know the kind:
ankle-length skirts, panties optional.

Tenacious of life, eager plums,
these Lowood girls.

and "Blanche Ingram’s Bitterness":

Their engagement portrait and my modeling pics are smeared
across the tabloids like bird shit on a windshield.

That smug mug, Miss Hoytoytoy’s blotchy pinched face
makes me puke. Never trust anyone named Jane—

especially a loose tooth who futzes with her fork
and doesn’t know how to butter her bread.

Good riddance to him and his French freeloader,
says mom. You’re in the bloom of youth, honey bunny.

Martinez includes a "glossary" identifying some of the figures she quotes from or name drops in her pieces, which is helpful, as well as a Notes section with sources for her quotes or poetic inspiration.

As someone who doesn't love Jane Eyre, I appreciated the less-than-flattering reinterpretation of Jane and Rochester throughout this collection. Fans of the novel might take umbrage, but there might be something here that clicks as well.