Monday, July 14, 2008

If you are cast in a different mould to the majority,
it is no merit of yours:
Nature did it.
Charlotte Bronte

I was a Bronte girl. In the bookworm years of my youth, one was either a Bronte girl or an Austen girl, and I was enough of a dreamer to fall solidly into the first camp. The wild, romantic visions of Emily and Charlotte caught my fancy early on and held me firmly in their grasp. My more pragmatic friends continually extolled the virtues and sagacity of Jane, but I preferred to wander on the windswept moors of the Bronte’s gothic imagination. As I grew older, bit by bit, the quite remarkable wisdom of Miss Austen began to gradually reveal itself to me. The more people I encountered, the more experiences I garnered, the wiser she seemed to become. How did a two hundred year old spinster author know so much about humankind today? As I considered her characters I began to realize that they actually appeared to be prototypes of every sort of individual walking around. That person? “Oh, he’s certainly a Mr. Knightley”. And that one? “Exactly the same characteristics of a Colonel Brandon, don’t you agree?” And who among us hasn’t known an Elizabeth or a Marianne or, God help us, a Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Collins, maybe even a Willoughby? By contrast, while they certainly are enduring characters, it is perhaps less possible we have encountered a Heathcliff, a Cathy, a Grace Poole, or a Bertha Mason in our time, nor, I would guess, would we wish to. Indeed, upon a re-reading of Wuthering Heights this past Spring, the once achingly romantic Heathcliff now seemed just a trifle, dare I say, unhinged?

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend the inaugural meeting of a brand new Jane Austen book club. As I listened to the thoughts of those present on the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants of the land of Austen, I was impressed once again by the singular insight and prescient wisdom she possessed in her understanding of humankind. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. After all , we were told in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. The way we were is the way we are, and Jane makes this clear. The plan for this new club is to read the entire canon of Austen, and I look forward to revisiting these books at this time in my life. I know I will gain new insight, both on myself and on those around me. It should be a fascinating journey.

But still, no doubt, on some upcoming blustery autumn night, you may find me once more up on the moors above Thornfield Hall, with my hood up, my cape billowing behind me in the wind and Pilot by my side.
Once a Bronte girl, always a Bronte girl.