Currently Reading: Inventing Ireland by Declan Kiberd, On Celtic Tides by Chris Duff, and Bossypants by Tina Fey
Unless it's a textbook, I usually don't write in the margins when I read. I have never felt comfortable with doing so. I like to keep the book pure, for it seems almost as if I am desecrating another's work when I add my two cents. Yet as I started out on this reread of Jane Eyre, I practically felt drawn to record my thoughts and note the details as I read. Perhaps this is because I have read it so many times or because I was looking forward to the experience so much that I wanted to preserve it in some way. Regardless, I chose a copy from my shelf that I didn't mind writing in and set to it. I read for pleasure, getting lost in the music of the words and savoring every bit of the world which I love so much. But this time, I also read to take note of the deeper themes and nuances of the book- the symbolism of birds, the themes of independence and freedom, the meaning behind the talk of fairies and the supernatural, the true characters and personalities of the main players- all things I have noticed and written about and pondered before, but this time fixing my thoughts right on the page alongside the printed words.
I finished it tonight. Over time, I have noticed that each time I read Jane Eyre, something new speaks to me or I notice something I never did before or I understand something that previously eluded me. One year, after meeting and falling in love with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, I cried tragically at the scene where Jane leaves Rochester. Never before had I cried at that, but never before had I really been in love and so I could not empathize with the pain in Jane's heart or the willpower it took for her to take one more step away from he who loved her. Yet at that stage in my life, and forever after, I have felt that scene strike me in the gut and I always come away shaken.
This time, my new reading experience was eye-opening.
Like many other women (I assume), I tend to fall into the nasty habit of comparing my life and myself to others. And not in the material, "I wish I had her car" kind of way, but in a "I wish I was as optimistic as she is" or "I wish I could be so confident" or "How come she can seem to get everything done and I can't" sort of way. I second-guess myself, I am quick to point out my faults, and I seem to find the ideal in everyone else around me. Or in a book. For years, Jane Eyre has been my hero. To an eleven-year-old kid (heck, even to a twenty-four year old adult), she is a woman to admire, a woman of so many pure qualities that after twelve years of idolizing her, she no longer seemed human. Ridiculous, isn't it?
For me, this past year has been one intense learning opportunity and I have simultaneously embraced and fought it. More than ever, I feel as if I am in the process of discovering exactly who I am and what I am capable of- while also recognizing and addressing my faults as well as learning to accept the things I cannot change about myself. (Whew!) So perhaps it is because I feel like I have grown as a woman since my last reread in the summer of 2010 that I truly, for the very first time, saw Jane for exactly who she is.... and found her not to be perfect, but to be my equal. There are faults within her, and doubts, and mistakes. She is not a quiet-tempered angel but a fiercely passionate, emotional woman who doubts herself, and has regrets, and gets confused. She sits in her room and practically broods over her decision to leave Thornfield, paralyzed with fear that her actions ruined a man's life; for one agonizing hour, she sincerely doubts Rochester's love for her. She knows herself and has strength beyond measure, but is also capable of being intimidated and influenced, as she was with St. John. She can be frightened and she can lose her nerve to speak. Even when comfortable, she can be restless, wishing herself elsewhere, envisioning a different life. These things don't make me love her less; instead, they make me love and understand her even more. How have I missed these obvious and beautiful depictions of a real woman, one who is not so much different from myself and many others I am privileged to know? Here is a flesh-and-blood woman, with positive and negative qualities, one who has such a capacity to love- who is compassionate, loyal, quick-witted, a hard worker, and one who speaks her mind. A woman like any other, who is guided by reason but who also lets emotion and passion dictate her actions. A woman like me.
This book is truly an Aladdin's cave, a treasure trove of ideas and inspirations and revelations that are always fresh and new to my thirsty mind. I revel in it. And in Jane.
More to come on various themes and symbolism- oh, I had such a wonderful time!