Sharing a loved book with a beloved person is one of the sweetest pleasures I can imagine. That’s why reading Jane Eyre with my husband this past month has sent my cup of joy spilling over the edge. Though I could never forget my first passion for this masterpiece—my initial reading was at fourteen and I flew through the second half in one night in an absolute fever of impatience to see how it ended—I felt its majesty dawn on me afresh after all these years as a wholly new thing.
Jane Eyre is an untarnishable, unfading beauty of English literature: this I knew right well. But to hear the mighty words slipping off my own tongue, hanging breathless in the air between us for a fraction of a second, was to give them a life even I scarcely imagined. I found myself alternately amazed, shocked, delighted; “surprised by joy, impatient as the wind…” We have spent some lovely winter evenings over this book, sitting by a crackling fire. And equally lovely Sunday afternoons, a tea tray before us bearing a pot of the much-cherished tea room blend my mother brought me from England—reserved for only such worthy occasions. (Philip said he loved my ‘St. John voice’—I infused it with all the pomposity and cold dignity I could muster, almost looking down my nose at him as I read!) And now that we’re done, I think we’re both a little let down. I’ve about stopped dreaming about it at night. But we haven’t stopped talking about it yet. And this weekend, both of us being subject to nasty colds, we holed up and watched 5+ hour 1983 BBC movie version, in my opinion the definitive as far as accuracy to the text, however lacking it may be in cinematographic beauty. But the various film renditions of Jane Eyre, and my very decided opinions on them, are another post altogether and will have to wait for another day. 🙂
Last week I had the privilege and delight of attending a ‘drawing room’ lecture on this most beloved book and the excitement of it all still stirs my heart. I listened—first to a brief sketch of the lives of the Brontes and then to a discourse on the Biblical allusions of the text, the magnificent and brilliant super-structure of the plot—with a soaring mixture of elation and aspiration. It seems such a humbling thing, a thing to be cherished and grateful for, that Charlotte Bronte should have given to the world a gift such as this book most surely is. That there are books like Jane Eyre in the world seem to me a token of God’s love: in his liberal bestowing of both the creativity to write it and the eager minds to feast upon it. His riches are everywhere, truth and beauty and goodness shining out in radiant gleams from art and music and literature. I feel almost giddy at the thought of all there is to see of him in all that I love in general and in English literature in particular. It makes me want to lift my own little voice, like a wren among nightingales and larks.
God forbid that there should ever come a day that girls are not reading Jane Eyre. Men and women, too, for that matter, but I think primarily of its noble influence upon young minds. I know its ideals somehow became a part of me back when I was fourteen, without my even realizing it. And as a woman I’ve had my faith immeasurably strengthened by it. I feel simpler, broader, more resolute for the time I’ve spent pondering its verities. Thank you, dear Charlotte…with all my heart.