Bibliophile

Ever since we started in on this whole BronteAlong madness, I’ve been reminiscing about how I grew up loving Jane Eyre. When I was about 12 years old, I suddenly graduated from obsessively re-reading Little Women (and Little Men, and Jo’s Boys, and Rose in Bloom — I do nothing halfway) to obsessively re-reading Jane Eyre.

As I have mentioned before, I grew up in a rather run-down Victorian house on Cape Cod that we inherited from my Great Aunt Eva. We had been living in a little house three doors down the street from her.  When I was born, bringing the total child count to 3, we were officially Too Big for That House.

When Aunt Eva died a few years later, it made sense for us to move into her old house and sell the wee house down the lane. Our new house came complete with all Aunt Eva’s gorgeous old things — mahogany secretaries and marble-top sideboards, hooked rugs and needlework samplers, and, of course, rooms and rooms filled with books.

War-time cookbooks. Leather-bound Shakespeare. Maps of the world predating World War I.

Aunt Eva wasn’t a snob, either — I found plenty of mystery novels (lots of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers), adventure-on-the-high-seas books (ooh la la Horatio Hornblower), and various novels of an even pulpier variety.

It would seem that Eva was as much of a literary omnivore as I would become.

It was her copy of Jane Eyre that I fixated on during my early teen years. Part of a 1904 series of “great books,” all published as part of something called The Everyman’s Library, they were nicely bound in red, and decorated with flowing art nouveau frontispieces.

I asked my mother if she could dig up those old books for me, so I could be reunited with them, for obvious, BronteAlong-related purposes.

She just dropped them off today — Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights among them. Guess which one I liked best when I was a girl:

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

I took that book with me everywhere. Thought absolutely nothing of sticking it in my back pocket and going to the beach with it. Or on a long bike ride to read in one of my favorite spots — an old abandoned house on the north side of town. Later, they boarded that place up and I could no longer crawl through the broken windows to sit on the ground and read while the sun set over the dunes. Yes, I do go in for the overly dramatic. What of it?

In the front of the book, there is Eva’s name, just where I remembered it:

Inscription in Aunt Eva's Jane Eyre - 1908

It was apparently a gift from my great-grandmother, Minnie:

Bottom of the same page (Jane Eyre)

Wilhemina Baker, whose long, silver hair I can remember brushing out when I was a little girl. She lived to be 101. Her husband, Samuel Baker (“Pop” to me), lived only 6 months longer, dying at 102 years old. They had been together since they were teenagers. Here’s Minnie at about 19 years old (when she graduated from Boston University – note the diploma scrolled up in her hands):

Minnie Baker

Back to the actual book:

Jane Eyre Title Page

So pretty!

Jane Eyre Frontispiece

…you ain’t kidding, mister.

And oh look at that! Guess which page it still opens up to:

Jane Eyre

…also known as “the fireplace scene.” I loved it even then.

In contrast, let’s see how comparatively pristine the copy of Wuthering Heights is. Even the frontispiece is noticeably less faded and manhandled:

Wuthering Heights Frontispiece

Although it, too, opens up to a favorite scene:

Wuthering Heights

I am so happy to have these back in my hands!

Since we are moving on Wuthering Heights next in our BronteAlong, I will clearly have to manhandle this copy a little more in the coming weeks, and make it look a little more well-loved.

Although I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that it can catch up to how well-loved that copy of Jane Eyre is. No 38-year-old woman, however hard she might try, can possibly love a book with anywhere near the devotion and ferocity of a 14-year-old girl. At least not the 14-year-old, book-obsessed girl that I was.

What books grabbed you by the throat when you were young?

9 Thoughts.

  1. i love how worn that JE spine is! I wish I were cool enough to be able to say I was swooning over classic novels when I was 12, but I was all about Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Twins. I am making up for it now though. With a veangeance :o)

  2. that is really amazing! I wish I had copies of those books like that. I wish I had been into books like these at 12 too, it wasn’t Sweet Valley for me though, I shunned those lol it was the RL Stine’s for me, loved those horror books

  3. I, too, was obsessed with Jane Eyre…I love your worn copy. My other favorite was “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith (her other claim to fame was 101 Dalmations.) It’s a story, set in the mid-20th century, of a quirky family who live in a castle, with an actual moat. And two handsome young men move into the manor house next door. There’s mishaps, love, and sorrow, and….. well, I won’t tell it all. I re-read that one about every 5 years or so.

    I never warmed to Wuthering Heights like I did to Jane Eyre, but the latest Masterpiece version with Tom Hardy is delicious. I’ll be watching it again.

  4. oh, the fireplace scene! where he first calls her “jane” and not “miss eyre”. i loved jane eyre, too, and also have never really liked wuthering heights. cathy and heathcliff drive me crazy. lucy, i just read i capture the castle this year, and it’s absolutely delightful!
    let’s see … when i was 14, it was *definitely* jane eyre, and rebecca and all of austen (except emma, which i didn’t appreciate until i saw clueless …), and a tale of two cities. but i also loved pulpy stuff and silly books – still do! but mr. rochester was definitely my first true love (we met when i was 11).

  5. Ok, unrelated to the whole Bronte point of the post…

    Your Grandma’s name was Minnie! She looks smart!

    lololol, I’m a dork…I know this.

    Fantastic post though. I have a collection of books that were given to me when I was around ten by my Aunt Cheryl’s Father-in-Law. He was a history teacher, and an elementary school principal. He took to me when I was a sprout because I was so bookish. He couldn’t get over that I could read an entire Laura Ingalls Wilder book in one sitting (about 4 hours) with perfect comprehension. He gave to me this wonderful collection of books that had army-green, cloth covers and unique embossed pictures of characters from the book on the front. The set had all of the classics in Children’s literature, works by Lewis Carroll, The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, etc. I loved those books more than my friends loved their Cabbage Patch dolls!

    Great post! I’m so glad that we’re doing this, because of all the new blogs I’m getting to check out.

  6. Thanks for this post. And sorry for missing your prior ones…reader malfunction now corrected!

    The first time I read JE was in the lovely Random House Fritz Eichenberg-illustrated collection double-bound, naturally, with Wuthering Heights which interested me not a whit. :) I devoured it in the library of Blessed Sacrament Parish while my mom was attending extremely boring meetings.

  7. Melissa and Casey – don’t forget, I read my fair share of trashy pulp, too. I can’t begin to describe the vast quantities of Harlequin romances I was devouring during this same period of time.

    Lucy – I agree, the Tom Hardy version of Heathcliff is supremely tasty. Can’t wait to watch it again for BronteAlong!

    Meghan – I feel about Mr. Rochester the way the main character in Lost in Austen feels about Darcy… like I’ve been in love with him my whole life.

    Minnie – Minnie rocked. I am so glad that I got to know her when I was little. I have many more stories I should share about her, and her infinite awesomeness.

    Erin – Funny, I spent a great deal of my childhood in church libraries, waiting for my mother to finish with her interminable meetings! Very conducive to lots and lots of reading. And to feeling entitled to being constantly surrounded by gorgeous gothic architecture.

  8. It made me so happy to hear someone else obsessed with Eight cousins & Rose in Bloom. Both my copies completely disintegrated recently due to too many readings of it. :)

    loves, another Minnie

  9. What an amazing story! For me, growing up on the edge of the wilderness in southern Oregon, I read and reread my mothers copy of My Side of the Mountain about 300 times between the ages of 8 and 14. Burning out the inside of a tree and then living in it? Scraping deer hide with my teeth and then wearing it? Are you kidding me?? I’m in!!

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