My Jane Eyre Adventures

As of this writing (December 2016), I've had a couple of nice experiences as a Jane Eyre fan, and I have more planned for next year.

Since this year is the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth, various special events have been organized in her honor. I attended two of them on a lovely late-fall Saturday (in the company of my wife, not a Bronte fan but a remarkably good sport).

Jane Eyre out loud. Nestled in northeastern New Jersey, a short drive from New York City, is the town of Haworth. As you might guess, it is named for the Brontes' home village.

The "Friends of the Haworth Library" — supporters of the town's small, charming library — marked this connection by holding an out-loud, cover-to-cover reading of Jane Eyre on the first weekend in December. Readers took 15-minute shifts while reposing in comfy armchairs in a room adjacent to the book stacks.

Haworth Municipal Library

Having signed up for a time slot well in advance, I was fortunate enough to start Chapter XV, in which Rochester memorably tells Jane how he was duped by Celine Varens. "I had not, it seems, the originality to chalk out a new road to shame and destruction, but trode the old track with stupid exactness not to deviate an inch from the beaten centre." Great stuff! (Though I must admit to orally mangling all of the chapter's French words and a few choice English ones, such as "etiolated.")

My wife and I appear at the 2:00 mark in a video of photos from the event.

The event was very low-key, with a string of mostly middle- to older-aged people reading in a relaxed manner before a small audience, not trying to overdramatize the book's contents. I think Charlotte would have appreciated everyone's attention to, and obvious fondness for, her prose.

Awesome artifacts. Our next stop was Manhattan for a visit to the Morgan Library & Museum, which was staging an exhibition entitled "Charlotte Bronte: An Independent Will." The Morgan's own outstanding collection of Bronteana was augmented by items borrowed from the Bronte Parsonage Museum, the British Library, and London's National Portrait Gallery. The latter institution supplied both George Richmond's chalk drawing of Charlotte (which you may have seen on book covers) and Branwell Bronte's renowned oil painting of the three literary sisters.

Charlotte Bronte: An Independent Will

It was wonderful to examine both of those artworks up close. Many other relics also revived parts of  Charlotte's life: poems she'd written as a youth (sometimes in tiny print), letters she'd sent to friends, drawings she'd made, even a dress and a pair of shoes she'd worn, demonstrating her diminutive size.

Charlotte Bronte's dress and shoes

For me, though, the exhibition's clear highlight was one of the three handwritten volumes of the original Jane Eyre manuscript. There, in Charlotte's own distinctive hand, were words that have become loved around the world. Imagining her sitting at her writing desk, quill pen in hand, and creating the rich worlds of Gateshead and Lowood and Thornfield ... each pen stroke slicing deeply into the bonds that fettered women in her society ... all I can say is "goosebumps."

If you're reading these words before January 2, 2017, make an effort to see this fantastic collection!

Incidentally, the French publishing house Éditions des Saints Pères is selling the first-ever full reproduction of the handwritten Jane Eyre manuscript. This limited-edition three-volume set is not cheap (249 pounds), but if you can splurge on one Jane Eyre-related item, this might be it. (I've already ordered a copy for myself as my "big" gift for this holiday season.)