February is the swoonest month

January is almost halfway over! And while that’s certainly exciting from a pay-period point of view (here comes the 15th!), what’s infinitely more interesting to me about it is that it means we are just two weeks away from February.

Who cares about February, you ask? Dratted old month, with its school vacations and its societal pressure to conform to a hetero-normative, monogamous relationship model of love…

Well, yes, all of this is still true.

But I have always been fond of February. For one thing, it is blessedly short. It’s such a neat and tidy little span of four weeks, and I honestly wish all months could have such lovely pressed and folded edges. No sloppy oozing over into five Saturdays for February, oh no no! February knows its place and keeps to its station. Love that in a month.

I tire of January very quickly. It always seems like the watery gruel served after all the rich food of the holidays. Yes, of course we all overdid it in December, and nobody wants to eat and celebrate like that all year long, but January is so damned self-righteous about it all, with its New Year Resolutions, rampant dieting and fitness plans, ruthless taking down of decorations, and getting back to the daily work of living of it all.

But then February comes along, and all of a sudden we are allowed to like cheap chocolate and dinners out again. Such a relief.

And of course this year, February means that it’s almost time to go back to London, as Melissa and I head back to Blighty in early March for the superb-sounding Threads of Feeling exhibit, a night at the Old Vic, scones and tea in Bath, and at least one crafty/writery tweet-up at the V&A.

But before we race ahead to the first week in March, and all of its attendant delights, there’s February waiting to beguile us with her many charms.

One February-focused thing to look forward to is a little project put together by the altogether delightful Erin Blakemore of The Heroine’s Bookshelf called Heroine Love. Erin wrote the book on literary heroines, a splendid and life-enhancing tome called The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and if you haven’t purchased and read it yet, I suggest that you do so immediately.

I suggest this to you in the strongest possible terms.

This will prepare you all the better for the literary fun to come in February, when Erin hosts Heroine Love at her blog.  Erin and twelve other bloggers — including me! — will each be celebrating our love of literature’s greatest heroines through a series of love letters to the women who changed our reading lives. Starting February 1, a different blogger will post a paean to her favorite literary heroine on The Heroine’s Bookshelf. At the end of Heroine Love, we’ll draw winners for a truly swoony collection of related books, artwork, and trinkets.

Check out the sexy animated gif in the sidebar of this blog (look! over to the right!) to get a sneak peek into some of the heroines we’ll be profiling.

And yes, my post will be about that greatest of literary heroines (to my mind at least), Jane Eyre. Look for it in the first week of Heroine Love.

In the meantime, you’d better start getting ready for February by eating at least a little cheap chocolate. Just to keep your spirits up, you understand.

Making fiends

It’s amazing to me how easily we convince ourselves that we are the only oddballs on the planet who like the oddball little things we do. For me, it’s 19th century literature, history, architecture, manners, dress… but you knew that.

But the moment we put it out there that this is the thing that really makes our motors run, suddenly we find legions of kindred spirits, ready to join us in our oddball little pursuits.

Such has been the case with BronteAlong, of course, which has now attracted the participation of no fewer than 32 bloggers at last count. And the number keeps on growing.

Who knew?

It’s a nice reminder that the internet, despite all the negative press to the contrary, is really amazingly good at bringing like-minded people together, building real relationships, and establishing ties of friendship that would never have been built otherwise.

This gal, for instance, I met by reading her blog. And now look what we’ve done.

This week, I’ve been staying in The Samuel Sewell Inn in Brookline, just across the river from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I work. (I sleep over sometimes when the weather is particularly bad, or work is particularly intense. My commute from Cape Cod is very long and occasionally such measures are called for.)

This morning, I left my Jane Eyre DVD out on the TV stand, where I laid it down after watching it last night before falling asleep.  This evening, as I returned home from a long day at work and an evening spent teaching a college class, I found a note attached to my DVD, left there by the manager, who pulls the blinds in each room when the sun sets. (It’s that kind of a great place, with fanatical attention to detail. I love it here.)

Here’s what the note said:

Now, how great is that?

The lesson I’m choosing to extract from this is that like-minded people are everywhere, and we are never as alone in our passions as we might think we are.

All you have to do is put it out on the table for others to see.

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?

Jane Eyre Looks Good in Red

So in the 2006 version of Jane Eyre, there is a whole lot of use of the color red.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell out what the significance of the “red” trope is, considering that we see it in a number of telling places, including (but not limited to) (1) around Jane’s neck after she falls in love with Rochester, (2) streaming out the window of the third floor of the north tower, and (3) swaddling the young Jane Eyre as she enjoys her imaginative travels through her “escape book.”

Unbridled passion; primal animal instinct; the true self unbound by conventions of society — we could argue about what it all means. And believe me, I would relish a good, meaty conversation about the symbolism of the color red in Jane Eyre. I actually love That Sort Of Thing.

But tonight I am hungry, and need to take a shower before I go out for dinner with Melissa, and then repair to her abode for another viewing of that delightful film that so obsesses us.

So instead I will just show you some pictures of the red neck tie — based on the one Ruth Wilson wears in the movie — that I knitted up last weekend while watching. It’s a little rough, but it was just for fun, and let’s be honest, I was more than a little distracted at times.

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If you’re interested in getting the pattern from me, let me know in the comments! It is a little bit of a tricksy construction, with a fair bit of hocus pocus going on where the two ends meet in front, and I’d be happy to share if there’s any interest.

Right now, though, my unbridled passion (THE BEAST WITHIN) is focused solely on the dinner that awaits me.

And, of course, the dark, intoxicating hours beyond.

BronteAlong Begins

BronteAlongWell now we’ve done it.

Melissa and I have started BronteAlong, a protracted online celebration of three major works of the Bronte sisters, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and the Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Won’t you join us? Read all about it and sign up to participate in BronteAlong now!

One of my favorite things about BronteAlong is that you can participate in any number of creative ways — you don’t have to write the most trenchant analysis of the book, or the movie, or whatever, if you are not so inclined.  If you’re like me, then movies and books like Jane Eyre inspire in you a need to create something lovely. To you I say: BY ALL MEANS SHARE.

For instance, here’s a sneak preview of a delightful circular shawl that I made this winter, and only finished and blocked this last week, inspired by the costumes in Cranford:

Cranford Shawl 1

But more about that later, my fiends. What are you waiting for — check out BronteAlong and start making plans!