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:
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:
It was apparently a gift from my great-grandmother, Minnie:
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):
Back to the actual book:
…you ain’t kidding, mister.
And oh look at that! Guess which page it still opens up to:
…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:
Although it, too, opens up to a favorite scene:
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?