Mallory Ortberg's Texts from Jane Eyre And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters is one of the cleverest concepts I've seen lately. In fact, even before I read the book, I suggested to an English teacher that he might want to use parts of the book and have his high school students compose text conversations between some of the characters in the books they're reading. I would use caution, though, in sharing the book with the students. You know those classics. Some are a little outrageous, sometimes a little too sexually oriented.
I did learn one thing. I know much more about early literature than I do about more recent classics. Ortberg organized the texts in chronological order. Medea's conversations with Jason's second bride are quite funny, but you had to have read the play or know the story. And, the witch, Circe, has the funniest conversation with Odysseus, but, again, it helps to have read The Odyssey. And, that's actually true of all of them. I was a little in the dark when it came to Fight Club and William Carlos Williams. But, anyone who ever read Gone with the Wind will recognize Scarlett O'Hara as she tries to lure Ashley away from Melanie. And, the conversations between Hamlet and his mother show that he was actually a spoiled son throwing a tantrum.
None of the conversations are long ones. Remember, the characters have to pay for their text-and-data plans. But, so many of literature's great characters and authors appear on the pages, from Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester to Edgar Allen Poe. Ortberg even brings the books into contemporary times, including Nancy Drew, who continually texts Ned for help because she's tied up somewhere.
And, it wouldn't be fair to write about such an amusing book without giving you a taste of it. So, here's the opening of the text conversation from my all-time favorite play, Les Miserables. (Admittedly, it won't read as well as it does formatted for text as it is in the book.)
"where are you?" "I am so there this barricade is going to be an absolute HAPPENING you guys don't start without me I am on my way like in five minutes" "Marius I'm concerned you don't really understand the reason for our movement" "oh my god what do you mean" "I sometimes question your commitment to the cause" "how could you possibly even question that" "I don't know, Marius maybe it's because you have missed every one of our clashes with the police because you were still studying for the bar" "to bring down the system from within!"
Believe me, Marius' on-going conversations with everyone proves how clueless he is, about everything from the revolution to Jean Valjean. It's just fun.
In fact, despite the few conversations that I didn't understand at all because I never read the work or the author, that sentence sums up Texts from Jane Eyre perfectly. It's just fun. If you can laugh at literature, Ortberg succeeds in pointing out how ridiculous it is at times. Henry David Thoreau may have gone to the woods, but he depended on friends. Would any woman really have wanted to be Don Quixote's love interest? A few of literature's great characters and authors are a little too obsessed. Their text messages prove it.
Mallory Ortberg's website is The-toast.net
Texts from Jane Eyre And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg. Henry Holt and Company. 2014. ISBN 9781627791830 (paperback), 240p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.