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Why We Still Read Jane Eyre
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Why do we read Jane Eyre?

Because we are still interested in the issues raised in her story:

Patriarchy, morality, anger, justice, religion. The need to be loved versus the need to do the right thing for oneself, whatever that right thing is seen to be. The need to create legislature that is inclusive ― and to repeal that which is not. The thin wavering line between who I am and who you are. The limits of our abilities to accept the limits of the society we need if we do not fit easily into it or if there is no place for us.

In addition to these issues, we read it for its impassioned, if at times graceless, prose, its wish for transcendence, its parallel to earlier moral works ― its incorporation of several literary traditions:

The Gothic in form

The Bildungsroman in intent ― or in consequence.

The Romantic in sentiment.

The Religious in import.

We read it for its life-affirming passionate intensity, for the way in which fiction addresses fact, for the imaginative wedding of the four traditions above. We read it for its well-formed plot ― for its engagement with its reader ― that factor I called ‘a terrific story.’  We read it for its influence on later literature and for its manifestation of the literature that came before it and, conversely, its reliance on a tradition of prose and poetry that we too examine from our difference stance ― our own little brief span on the planet. We read it for its profound characterization whether we think these characters are themselves profound or not ― and whether we like them or not. We read it for its connection to other writers....

...How do we approach this book ― what do we respectfully bring?

 We do not bring an untrained mind. We do not bring inexperience to bear on art. We bring our best perceptions cultivated by the widest knowledge we can glean about the writer’s world, her literary history, his personal history. But more importantly, we bring appreciative intelligence ― not the wish to destroy but the wish to evaluate meaning, find significance ― moral , political, aesthetic, feminist, historical, cultural. We bring an informed consciousness.

We inhabit the imaginative and literary world of the writer. Not just this specific writer, but the writerly mind ― the impetus, the act. We bring a knowledge of what the best minds have brought to bear on this work ― particularly the aesthetically gifted, the literarily endowed, the beautifully educated, the clerisy, you.

We read it from within.


~Harrison Solow,  from Felicity & Barbara Pym - http://felicityandbarbarapym.wordpress.com/about/  Taken from a lecture I gave to my undergraduate students at Trinity Saint David university in the UK and incorporated into my epistolary novel, this excerpt is edited - several passages between some paragraphs have been eliminated for this post.

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Capacious Worlds


If Wittgenstein was right (and I wouldn't be presumptuous or philosophical enough to challenge him), his classic observation "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" make both the world of Jane Eyre that you describe and your world of literary insight concerning her, capacious indeed.

Though never a particular fan of the subtleties and nuances of her lightly comedic social satire, if I even minimally understood it as an "outsider" male with quite different interests and frame of reference, your blog made me realize what a "world" I have been missing all these years.

Always intrigued and enriched by your insights,


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Brenden, thank you for your

Brenden, thank you for your comments. Overgenerous, as ever, but unfailingly appreciated. I would not characterise Charlotte Bronte's writing as "lightly comedic social satire" - though I perhaps understand your reason for viewing it as such. This is what I meant by "reading from within".  Seeing her world through her eyes (as much as one in this century is able), her view is pretty serious and fairly dark. But in places, comedic, or rather mordant, indeed. Thank you again for your close attention and always welcome viewpoint.

~ Harrison

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It's one that you keep!

Hi Dr. Harrison,

Your words take my breath away! I must have read this several times before and my senses were well pleased and 'renewed' reading it again.

Felicity & Barbara Pym is a must for every student, 'especially' for those interested in writing. It has opened a NEW door for me as no other!

I have a short story to tell: For years, I share all my inspirational books with a dear friend of mine after we chat about them. My friend asked; "Well, are you finished with Felicity & Barbara Pym now, and do you think I will enjoy the read ?" I answered, "Yes, you will find much more than the writerly mind of literature, but you're not going to get my copy, it's not the type of book you lend to someone, it's one that you keep! I'll get you one for Christmas."  

Thank you for the pleasurable read, once more.



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A joyful note

Catherine - I so much appreciate the joy you express in reading in general and reading Felicity & Barbara Pym in particular. I'm just delighted. Thank you. ~ Harrison

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I changed the title of this post from "Why Do We Still Read Jane Eyre?" To "Why We Still Read Jane Eyre" because when it is tweeted, people keep tweeting me answering what they think is a question that I am asking them. In fact it is the title of a section of my book, Felicity & Barbara Pym in which the question is addressed and many answers offered. ~ HS