There are so many books that could easily be the subject of this blog. I could write about the book which removed my rose coloured glasses, the book which is the current object of my fascination, or the book which has always made me feel uncomfortable. Instead I’m going to write about where it all began. The book that I have read more than any other and that I believe began the process of turning me into the feminist I am today.
I think I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for the first time when I was 12. I was at that age when I had read all the books in the children’s section of the local library and there really was no such thing as young adult’s literature back then. I’m sure it was around but not catalogued accordingly. The librarian suggested I read some “classics” which had been written for children centuries before. I read Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island and Kidnapped before stumbling upon Jane Eyre. I’m not sure why I liked it but I’m sure it had something to do with the gothic asylum plot that ran just under the surface. It was my first taste of a “thriller”, one of those stories that heightens your adrenaline, and a queering of the typical girl meets boy plot.
I read Jane Eyre many times during my teenage years and in my early twenties. When someone asked me about my favourite book, it was the first which came to mind. It still is. Jane forged her own path. She made decisions which suited her, not the men in her life: She rejected Rochester because he betrayed her; she rejected the prestige of becoming a missionary’s wife and chose a career as a school teacher; she became Rochester’s wife on her terms – the more powerful member of the couple (even if only through his blindness and crippling).
As I got older Charlotte Brontë and her sisters began to become a part of the experience. Their gothic recounts of the role of women, years before their time. I was brought up in a family where wives were literally ordered as well as biblically indoctrinated to obey their husbands; that women were subordinate to all men in their lives. I remember my mother complaining that in order to have a relationship with God she first needed to go through Dad, then her bible study leader, then her minister. Feminism (let alone women’s rights) was a dirty, almost satanist word.
I never really got into Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë until a couple of years ago when I re-read it on the Yorkshire Moors. I was informed it was a romance, the most romantic of all stories. It always sat bady with me. I hated Heathcliff and it wasn’t until reading it as an adult I realised that feeling was well placed. Heathcliff is the original Edward from Twilight – the abusive symbol of love who women are encouraged to hold up as the ultimate romantic lead.
I think the Brontë sisters wrote warnings about the blind obedience women were supposed to show to men, no matter how gentle the man. As I read Jane Eyre over and over again I think this warning (unaware of what I was reading) is the reason I eventually found a way to reject the messages of my upbringing.
This is the third book in my blog series on the books which have made me who I am.