Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

Title: The Jane and Bertha in Me
Author: Rita Maria Martinez

First line: If I could, I’d save you., from "Letter to Bertha"

Review: 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.

Genre: Poetry (Inspired by Jane Eyre / Literary Criticism / Feminism / Romantic Relationships / Mental Health)
Publisher/Publication Date: Aldrich Press (1/2016)
Source: Poetic Book Tours


  1. I am a Jane Eyre fan, but take umbrage to little -- great to see anything in a new light and keep little on pedestals. I'm off to order a book that would have missed my radar if not for you -- so many thanks!

    1. Yes, Jeannine, I love your attitude -- that's how I feel even about the classics I revere! There's something delightful about stuff being "messed with" -- and this volume does so wonderfully. I'm so glad you're going to get this book -- let me know what you think of it when you read! So grateful you stopped by!

  2. Holy shit yes! This sounds AMAZING!

    1. Perfect response! Hope you love this if you get a chance to read it!

  3. Audra, Thanks so much for being on the tour for this collection. It seemed to fit well with the 200th birthday of Charlotte Bronte and a lot of events going on online and on the blogs.

    1. So happy to be a part -- and loved having this be part of my experience of Jane Eyre-inspired lit!

  4. Oh this sounds wonderful! Adding to the list (I do love the novel but I am okay with unflattering takes on the characters).

    1. Let me know what you think when/if you get to it -- dying to discuss it with everyone!