“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.
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.