I don't know how we agreed upon Jane Eyre, but agree we did, instantaneously. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we'd heard that people could be divided into two types: those who love Jane Eyre and those who love Wuthering Heights. I immediately declared myself on the side of the former, though I really didn't know what I was talking about. I hadn't read either book in years, but I'd been haunted by the opening chapters of Jane Eyre ever since I was teenager.
To the point: because of his eye surgery, Mark isn't allowed to read for the next week. (Those of you who are on Facebook know that he is cheating a bit, but we won't discuss that here.) What better time then to read a book aloud? When offering to read Jane Eyre aloud, I'd somehow forgotten it was 500+ pages, but we won't discuss that here. Today will be Day Three of reading. I believe we are up upon Chapter 6--page 64. The method: Two installments per day, a chapter at a time, the best way to take it all in.
I am learning a lot about what it takes to read a lengthy work aloud. When reading a poem aloud, or one of my own pieces aloud, I'm better able to think into the word, the syllable in front of me. I'm not holding back the fear (slight as it is) that I'm not going to have the stamina to get to the end. It is interesting to think of a block of pages as a block of time, real time, clock time. Reading a long book aloud to someone is not quite the same as reading a long book to oneself. I can't jump up and get a glass of water mid-paragraph. I can't get up to pee, or leap up to check my email just for the sake of checking my email. Oh, I suppose I could, but it would ruin things. It occurs to me that everything about the way we live now (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, texting) wants to undo that kind of extended verbal immersion.
But what a wonder Jane Eyre is. Not just the book, but Jane Eyre herself. Wounded and very strong, suffering and defiant. Funny, I hadn't remembered how funny the book was, in a dark way. I was reading the passage below the other night, and I had stop for a minute, the way one has to pause, hang back when one is reading an emotional text in front of a group. There's nothing sentimental about this passage, even vaguely so. And I'm not even sure I was on the verge of welling up because I was identifying with the narrator's recognition that the Beloved Book had emptied out on her. If anything, I was awakened by writing itself, by clarity: another human voice making use of my tongue, my teeth, my breathing.
From Jane Eyre
Bessie had been down into the kitchen, and she brought up with her a tart on a certain brightly-painted china plate, whose bird of paradise, nestling in a wreath of convolvuli and rose-buds, had been wont to stir in me a most enthusiastic sense of admiration; and which plate I had often petitioned to be allowed to take in my hand in order to examine it more closely, but had always hitherto been deemed unworthy of such a privilege. This precious vessel was now placed on my knee, and I was cordially invited to eat the circlet of delicate pastry upon it. Vain favor; coming, like most other favors, long deferred and often wished for, too late! I could not eat the tart; and the plumage of the bird, the tints of the flowers, seemed strangely faded. I put both plate and tart away. Bessie asked if I would have a book: the word book acted as a transient stimulus, and I begged her to fetch Gulliver's Travels from the library. This book I had again and again perused with delight; I considered it a narrative of facts, and discovered in it a vein of interest deeper than what I found in fairy tales; for as to the elves, having sought them in vain among foxglove leaves and bells, under mushrooms and beneath the ground-ivy mantling old wall-nooks, I had at length made up my mind to the sad truth that they were all gone out of England to some savage country, where the woods were wilder and thicker, and the population more scant: whereas Lilliput and Brobdignag being, in my creed, solid parts of the earth's surface, I doubted not that I might one day, by taking a long voyage, see with my own eyes the little fields, houses, and trees, the diminutive people, the tiny cows, sheep, and birds, of the one realm; and the corn-fields forest-high, the mighty mastiffs, the monster cats, the tower-like men and women, of the other. Yet, when this cherished volume was now placed in my hand--when I turned over its leaves, and sought in its marvellous pictures the charm I had, till now, never failed to find--all was eerie and dreary; the giants were gaunt goblins, the pigmies malevolent and fearful imps, Gulliver a most desolate wanderer in most dread and dangerous regions. I closed the book, which I dared no longer peruse, and put it on the table, beside the untasted tart.