Thorny text

Though fans of the famed Currer Bell
Were abashed to be told, “He’s a gel,”
They got in such pickles
When she wed Arthur Nicholls:
“Bell, Nicholls, or Brontë? Pray tell!”

There are some books I read straight through, almost without taking breath. They mightn’t necessarily be light fodder but the forward impetus or sheer fluidity of the telling discourages me from anything but an immediate and fleeting reflection.

Then there are others which I cannot help but linger over, when I find myself figuratively reaching for the pause button. This is when I slip the bookmark into the pages, search for a pen, and begin annotating in an exercise book. A choice phrase copied, a tentative genealogy, a reminder of an incident in another piece of fiction, a recurrent theme, an inconsistency — all go into a notebook, one of a dozen or so now dating back fifty years, all now grist for a review, an online commentary, maybe a reassessment.

And so to Jane Eyre.

Illustration of bridge by Charlotte Brontë

I can’t guarantee I’ll have very much new to say on Charlotte Brontë’s first published novel — one on which much ink has already been spilt — but with the help of my notes I hope to draw out some idiosyncratic threads that I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere in my limited research.

So, what may you have to look forward to, you who are already admirers of the book, or perhaps a meh-sayer, maybe even like me a relative stranger to the times of Miss Jane Eyre? For though I’ve seen the 2006 TV adaptation with the now ubiquitous Ruth Wilson (His Dark Materials) and Toby Stephens (Summer of Rockets), and more recently the Gothick noir Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles movie (1943), neither are substitutes for actually reading the book: how could they, for in my paperback edition the original three-volume issue adds up to 500 pages, not including introduction and notes. An impossible task to condense the novel without shedding, or even shredding, the close-argued text with his long dialogues, detailed descriptions, and thorny philosophical arguments.

As ever, I shall begin with posting a review; this will be followed by a series of posts, rather as I did recently for Charlotte’s Shirley, treating themes I find interesting and responding to any comments you’d care to make.

As for now, I’d be curious whether you follow a similar modus operandi. Do you takes copious notes too? I know many of you keep, as it were, a Commonplace Book — literary scrapbooks, one might term them — in which to record quotes which you may post from time to time. Some may even write fan fiction, prequels, sequels or, now, ‘equels’, to prolong the existences of fictional characters into a literary afterlife.

Or are you one of those who have no need of note-taking as you retain it all in your head, or, unlike me, keep your reviews short and to the point? Do let me know!

Also, have you seen any of the Jane Eyre screen adaptations? Or read Jean Rhys’ atmospheric prequel Wide Sargasso Sea? Pray tell!

22 thoughts on “Thorny text

    1. Yes, I know that those Post-it type notes are many readers’ go-to standbys (apologies for all those hyphenated terms!) — I knew a deputy headteacher whose diary and even desk surface was covered in yellow notes which were immediately despatched to the bin once they’d served their purpose! Bit of a metaphor, really, all those parents’ phonecalls, pupil misdemeanours and assembly reminders binned as soon as dealt with…

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I love your exercise book strategy and would like to make it my own (maybe one day), I too love Jane Eyre the book and most film versions but my favourite is I think the most recent with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That recent version isn’t one I’ve seen yet, Jane, but maybe soon!

      Unlike in Jaws you’re not necessarily gonna need a bigger book, but in the exercise book I’ve pictured here I see I have notes on a range of titles, from Persuasion and Agnes Grey to Frankenstein and The Tombs of Atuan, from The Epic of Gilgamesh and Chekhov short stories and The Turn of the Screw to a Michael Moorcock fantasy and the last novel of Vita Sackville-West. I seem to have mostly reserved this thick jotter for classics!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. For me, old habits die hard, from school, uni, and now going to creative writing classes! I’d recommend exercise books, easier than large bulky A4 files, especially if you feel the need to jot down the odd note when reading in bed…

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    1. I haven’t tried sticky tabs, Annabel, but I’m a bit retentive about notes, or so it appears! Also, I’m not sure how I’d manage extended family trees and similar on Post-its, clearly indicating a penchant (or maybe obsession) for inhabiting worlds of the imagination!

      As for writing in a book, I do most of my reading in bed, which is where I tend to scribble my crabbed notes. I’m quite a visual person and generally have a mental vision where on a double-page spread I’ve jotted down a particular point.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. piotrek

    Great! To have such notebooks, and be able to review one’s evolution as a reader, I envy you, but I’ve always been too lazy. I just collect quotes, like Ola, almost exclusively electronically these days, I’m afraid. I hope the blog will preserve some of my musings on the books I’ve read, that’s one of the motivations behind it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting how impermanent culture has become—certainly all our photos since about 2013 are now stored digitally (at least, that’s roughly when we stopped sticking photos in albums). And yet though virtually all my musings, whether blog posts, texts, emails or whatever, exist digitally in some cloud or on hard drives, I can’t do without printed books and my notebooks to refer back to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. piotrek

        For me, paper books are the last bastion of the pre-digital culture, and I’ll defend this bastion fiercely 🙂 but I gave up on notes and photos it’s just easier…

        Liked by 1 person

          1. piotrek

            Yes, our civilization will be a difficult one, for future archeologists to explore…so much of what defines us is immaterial…

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  3. I don’t make notes on all books – just on the ones which have more complex themes and ideas which interest me. Recently I re-read “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card. It had some superb ideas and perspectives in it. When this happens I find, first, that I need to stop reading and really think about what I’ve read. Then often I will underline a section which encapsulates the essence of the idea or perspective which interests me and slip a piece of scrap paper in to mark that page. Here’s what “Speaker for the Dead” looked like when I’d finished: https://jofoxadventuresinart.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/polish_20191123_122429601.jpg After reading a bit more and ruminating on it for a while I finally write my thoughts and notes down in my journal.

    The journal idea came from a counselling course I did to facilitate working with children who have SEN. It’s not a diary, but a Learning Journal where you record anything you’ve learned from life. I began it for my coursework in 1993 and never stopped!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your learning journal sounds wonderful, Jo. I’m curious if it would work for me, as I notoriously don’t seem to learn from my mistakes and other lessons in life! My other half keeps a diary which she assiduously writes up every morning, a record she can refer back to for anniversaries or the odd life crisis, but I could never be as dedicated as all that.

      Fascinating to see your Orson Scott Card file — not card file, though! — because although I’m not one for marking books I appreciated that you must’ve used pencil and ruler; if I ever did it it would be free hand and a mess!

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      1. What I like most about the Learning Journal is that I only use it when I want to. Sometimes I go a couple of months without writing in it and sometimes I write two or three times in one day. The notes, to though, are always there if I want to look back on something.

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