“The ‘relief of communication’ was in telling the truth…to readers, through her words.”
– Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman
I haven’t spoken about my love for Charlotte Brontë very much on the blog, have I?
Just kidding, of course – I know it’s the subject I go on and on about the most over here, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. It’s certainly going to be the main topic for the next little while, as I plow through the new biography of Miss Brontë’s life, Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman. I’m adoring this biography so far; it’s not the first one I’ve read about my dear literary friend and idol, but it is one of the most passionate and enjoyable. Naturally, I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s work The Life of Charlotte Brontë (because I also have a not-so-secret affection for Mrs. Gaskell, as I know you can tell from some of my recent posts), but Harman’s biography is a little different in that it’s more contemporary and objective, less critical of Charlotte’s family and more indicative of how Charlotte’s story is applicable to the modern reader.
And, is Charlotte’s life ever relevant to me, the twenty-something aspiring authoress who has loved her and her literary works since high school. I haven’t actually discussed just how important Charlotte’s existence has been in my life, but that’s my plan for today. I am one of her most devoted, dedicated readers, and I know I will remain a loyal devotee for my whole life.
Three years ago, I was lucky enough to visit England for the first time, with my grandfather, and we made a two day trip to Haworth, the village where Charlotte Brontë lived with her brother, two sisters and father. I saw the Brontë Parsonage where Reverend Patrick Brontë resided, I saw the church where he worked, I saw the moors that Charlotte and her siblings frequented. And, it was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. I will never forget what it felt like to walk in the steps of my greatest literary icon, who created so many characters that I have been irrevocably attached to for years.
When I visited the Parsonage, walked through the fields and streets of Charlotte’s real-life, I wasn’t in the absolute best frame of mind. I was utterly lost: I had just finished my undergraduate degree, and I knew I was starting my Master’s the following month, but I felt so lonely, tired and uncertain about where my life would lead. I lacked confidence in myself – I had a degree, and good friends, but I knew something in my life was missing. I was smart enough to identify that I was longing for my own Mr. Rochester, for a life companion, for someone to dry my tears when I stressfully wrote essays, for someone to give me some pleasure amidst my scholastic anxiety. But, because I didn’t have any idea who my Rochester could be or where he was, I had begun making decisions that I wasn’t exactly proud of; I was inexplicably hard on myself, and I over-analyzed every single interaction I had with men, trying to figure out where I was going wrong, why no one wanted to be my Byronic hero. I now know that I was looking in the wrong places, that I was searching for a Rochester in areas and situations he would never frequent – but at the time, I was devastated and terrified that I would end up alone. Charlotte Brontë had given me a model for the type of relationship I craved (see my recent blog post about this), but she hadn’t exactly given me a map to his location.
By the end of my 10 day trip to England, as I visited Haworth, I was entirely fed up, with myself and with the fact that my Rochester wasn’t in England anywhere, as I had hoped he would be. I had this romantically unrealistic idea that I would go on this trip and meet the man of my dreams (where exactly, I have no clue), and that hadn’t happened. The trip was coming to a close and I was more lonely and isolated than ever.
I remember vividly going for a walk alone, while my grandfather rested, carrying my travel journal and a heavy heart. I paced along cobblestone streets, I stumbled upon a road called Gentlemen Avenue (unfortunately, my Rochester wasn’t here either), and I decided to take a rest on a secluded bench just behind Charlotte’s former home (now a very lovely and informative museum). As I sat on the bench, writing away and spilling my emotions onto the page, I looked up to see a large black dog in front of me. The dog was old and weathered; it had no leash on and there was not a human in sight; it seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. I looked at this dog and I instantly thought, Pilot. It looked exactly as I had always imagined Mr. Rochester’s dog looked, and I gazed around confusedly. It didn’t seem to have an owner…or if it did, it seemed to be an invisible, fictional one. I sat quietly with the dog, until it lopped away. I never saw its owner or encountered it again.
Do I think that Mr. Rochester’s canine companion leaped out of the pages of Jane Eyre to visit me that day? Not really. But, I was deeply moved by the experience and I will never forget it. To this day, I’m comforted by the thought that maybe, just maybe, my true friend Charlotte Brontë was watching over me that day. Maybe she recognized a similarly lonely spirit and felt compelled to send me a sign, a signal that it would be alright, that I would have my Jane Eyre-esque romance one day, that I would not live alone forever. I left the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth with a calmer and more reassured heart, and with a firm resolve to continue my Victorian belief and faith in True Love.
Five months later, I met my boyfriend, SS – my own Mr. Rochester. Part of me will always believe that Charlotte Brontë sent him.
Girl with a Green Heart