Fair warning: I started reading Mallory Ortberg’s new book, Texts From Jane Eyre, while waiting for the bus late at night, and I was giggling so relentlessly the last bus of the day passed me by. No worries: I kept laughing every step of the two miles home. Ortberg, who cofounded the massively popular feminist humor website The Toast, is a master of text message-based humor, wielding all lower case missives and well-timed misspellings like a sculptor. Texts From Jane Eyre compiles one of Ortberg’s most-followed series on The Toast, wherein she reimagines classic works of literature as a series of texts between characters.
Ortberg’s particular genius is marrying high and lowbrow humor, often in the same sentence. Texts From Jane Eyre reveals that she has read widely and deeply from exactly the same canonical reading lists any high school or college English student will recognize. Her familiarity with Hamlet, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Macbeth, Daisy Miller, Katniss Everdeen, and of course, Jane Eyre, is such that she can satirize them all intelligently, in the cadence of the original, and ruthlessly at the same time. (Watch out, Agatha Christie!) Highlights include Daisy Buchanan pestering Nick Halloway for a ride from the Valley of Ashes, Scarlett O’Hara trying to sext Ashley out of his marriage to Melanie, and The Lorax giving a series of caps-lock pro-Diva Cup directives from the inside of a leather purse.
Texts From Jane Eyre is irreverent in all the best ways. Ortberg is a confident, hilarious writer whose career has been built on saying what we’re all thinking (or saying what never would have occurred to us, and is now stuck in our heads forever). She takes the idea of a “canon” to task; particularly a male-centered canon that privileges some stories over others. Lucky for us, Mallory is up to the task of flipping the script. Reading the classics will never be the same again after reading Texts – which seems to be exactly the point.