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Texts from Jane Eyre

November 4, 2014

I got a copy of Mallory Ortberg’s Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters from Henry Holt and Company last Saturday, and I immediately opened it up to sample one or two, maybe the title one, about Jane Eyre. Later that day I picked it up again, thinking I would read another one or two, and before I knew it I had giggled my way through the entire book.

Among my favorites were Achilles and Hamlet sounding like teenagers. Someone standing outside the tent of Achilles says “what’s this about, buddy?” and this is the ensuing exchange:

“he took that girl I liked”

“who did”

“that guy
I can’t say his name
the guy with the long name and the sun helmet”

“Agamemnon?”

“yeah that guy
he took that girl I like”

“which girl?”

“I DON’T REMEMBER
GOD
what is this
name remembering day”

Hamlet, similarly, is in his room and his mother is asking if he wants to come down to dinner. When he indicates that he is not coming out of his room, his mother offers to bring him a sandwich, which initiates the response “I wish I was dead.” She persists, though:

“okay honey
but do you want a sandwich first”

“what kind of sandwich?”

“we’re having tuna fish”

“okay”

“okay you still want to die?
or okay you want me to bring you a tuna fish sandwich?”

“uuuuughh
you don’t get it”

The texts from Lord Byron also have an adolescent feel:

“uuuuuuuughhh
nothing’s any good”

“what’s the matter”

“EVERYTHING
do you realize I’m never going to be able to have sex with the rain”

Because, as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of Jo marrying Mr. Baer at the end of Little Women, I enjoyed the text exchange between Jo and Laurie when she tells him her decision:

“his mustache is enormous
bushy and gray and covered in crumbs
all of him is covered in crumbs
he’s filthy haha”

“well that’s just”

“oh and he just hates my writing
criticizes my work unceasingly”

“I see”

“I really cannot overemphasize
how much he disapproves of my voice as a writer
wants me to change everything about it”

“well
how can I compete with that”

“exactly
please don’t blame yourself”

Like the texts from Hamlet, there are texts about Daisy Miller sprinkled throughout the book, each one from someone else who disapproves of Daisy’s polite responses to invitations. The Daisy Miller texts begin with:

“Daisy
there’s a castle just up the hill I want you to see
it’s absolutely beautiful this time of year
please say you’ll come
we’ll walk the ramparts together and find lilac growing in the walls”

“oh how lovely
I’d be so pleased to come”

“oh my god
you were really going to do it
you were going to go to a castle alone with me”

“I don’t understand”

“you wouldn’t
you slut”

and the Daisy Miller texts end with:

“look have you seen Daisy
I need to talk to her”

“oh my god
you haven’t heard”

“heard what”

“that Daisy diiied”

“what”

“yes”

“nooo”

“yessss”

“oh my god
what happened”

“she went for a walk outside
with an Italian
at night
under the MOON”

“oh god of course”

One of the best exchanges in the volume is from William Blake. This is a small part of a much larger whole:

“I drew you something”

“oh wow
is it horrifying?”

“no”

“do you promise?
William?
do you promise me that it’s not horrifying?”

“I drew you something”

“William
you know what I mean”

“what do you mean by horrifying”

“is anyone being
flayed alive in it
or committing suicide
or does something have eyes that shouldn’t have eyes
you know what I mean
horrifying”

“never mind
sorry I bothered you”

“William
it isn’t that
you know I like your drawings”

“I know”

“I just already have so many watercolors of flayings already
I wouldn’t know where to put another one”

The best part of the whole book, at least for me, is an exchange in the middle of a long series of texts between Cathy and Heathcliff, from Wuthering Heights:

“I love you so much
let’s break each other’s hearts”

“oh my god let’s
I love you so much I’m going to marry edgar”

“I love you so much I’m going to run away”

“I love you so much I’m going to make myself sick”

“good
good that’s so much love”

“I love you so much I’m going to get sick again
just out of spite
i’ll forget how to breathe”

“I’ll be your slave”

“I’ll pinch your heart and hand it back to you dead”

“I’ll lie down with my soul already in its grave”

“I’ll damn myself with your tears”

“I love you so much i’ll come back and marry your sister-in-law”

“god yes”

“and i’ll bankroll your brother’s alcoholism”

“i always hoped you would”

This exchange goes on to even greater heights of passion, and surely you want to read the rest.

I didn’t even mention the all-cap texts from Sherlock Holmes or the lines from Emily Dickinson as she is declining to come out. The whole book is a joy; it brightened up a dark November day.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2014 11:13 am

    I liked that Jo married her professor!

  2. November 4, 2014 11:41 am

    This sounds Amazing. MUST HAVE.

    • November 5, 2014 10:12 am

      Since I know there are those in your household who don’t love Wuthering Heights (as I have loved it since I first read it at the age of 13 or 14), I have to say that I admire the way she can make me laugh about Cathy and Heathcliff as readily as I laugh at the perspectives I already agree with, like that Byron was over-the-top about almost everything and if you don’t understand enough of the history of a culture like the one in which Daisy Miller was written you’re going to impose your ignorant modern interpretation on it so you’ll miss the tensions and fail to anticipate the conflict.

  3. November 4, 2014 12:14 pm

    Wow looks like i passed up the wrong review copy. Alas, I’m holding steadfast to no more review copies for the rest of 2014. Maybe I’ll pop this on my wish list for Christmas

  4. November 4, 2014 4:07 pm

    I debated and debated about whether to accept this one and like Serena now I’m kind of kicking myself a bit. Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. November 4, 2014 4:54 pm

    Oh too fun. I have to add this one to the to-read list for sure.

  6. November 4, 2014 5:41 pm

    Well THAT sounds like fun!

  7. rohanmaitzen permalink
    November 5, 2014 9:52 am

    I think I would find a whole book like this unbearably irritating. Even the excerpts make me irritable, in fact. This seems to be a thing now, recreating literature in frivolous ways. I see that it’s witty and clever, but I don’t really see the point of it! Maybe (probably) I’m just a curmudgeon.

    • November 5, 2014 10:07 am

      Many of us do get curmudgeonly about genres that recreate characters from literature in frivolous ways; I think sometimes you’re just not in the mood. If I’ve just seen a scene from Othello and thought about it anew, I’m not ready to have the ridiculousness of some aspect of the passion ridiculed.
      In fact, I was tired of trying so much and caring so much about everything, so I was the perfect audience for this book at this time.

  8. November 5, 2014 11:52 am

    “do you realize I’m never going to be able to have sex with the rain” ha! that’s good! Sounds like a fun books for dipping into

    • November 5, 2014 11:58 am

      Yes, it would be better to dip in here and there than to sit down and read it all the way through the way I did!

  9. November 5, 2014 4:38 pm

    You convinced Mumsy to want this! She was telling us about it at dinner yesterday! Meanwhile, I have plans to arrange it to be gotten for my adjunct little sister for Christmas, so all around, financial gains for Mallory Ortberg. :p

    (You’ve read her series of books reimagined as if Ayn Rand had written them? The Harry Potter one is really good.)

  10. November 7, 2014 2:33 pm

    Ha! These sound better than I would have expected. Also, hmm — think about Dorothea’s choices in Middlemarch in comparison with Jo’s in Little Women — I am suddenly thinking I am disappointed in Dorothea’s marriage to Will Ladislaw because he’s too much like Laurie. Not that I liked Casaubon — but the description of Baer above is a lot like casaubon. Huh.

    • November 7, 2014 3:02 pm

      Interesting. Baer does sound like Casaubon to me–the kind of man who can never admit he might be wrong about anything.

  11. November 11, 2014 4:11 pm

    This sounds cute but I’m probably not well read enough to get a large part of it.

    • November 11, 2014 4:15 pm

      Oh, I should have mentioned that there are some “texts” from characters in contemporary fiction (Hunger Games, etc.). I didn’t think they were as funny, but they had some good moments.

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