Lessons from the Classics: Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre

These past three months I experienced a dry spell so devoid of creativity I almost removed that characteristic from my list of personal traits. Plots eluded me.  My valiant heroes, once dashing and colorful, became boring and gray.  Even worse, I could not even describe a setting decently.  I reviewed my work and found my stage set with jaded, unimaginative cliches:  Billowing white clouds; verdant green carpet (describing a meadow); brilliant sky of azure blue.  <Yawn>.  Why, I wondered, with scenes so vividly burned into my mind, could I not find the words to transform this dull page into cinematic brilliance?  Increasingly frustrated, I finally pushed my writing aside and pulled a beloved but long unread classic off the bookshelf.  As I began to read I realized anew why successful writers must also be passionate readers.

The book I read was Jane Eyre.  Charlotte Bronte presented this story so powerfully and articulately that I saw, smelled, heard, and touched what Jane did.  With her, I “trod a soft turf, mossy fine and emerald green, minutely enamelled with a tiny white flower, and spangled with a star-like yellow blossom.”  Together we walked to the “first stragglers of the battalion of rocks, guarding a sort of pass, beyond which the beck rushed down a waterfall; and where, still a little farther, the mountain shook off turf and flower, had only heath for raiment and crag for gem–where it exaggerated the wild to the savage, and exchanged the fresh for the frowning–where it guarded the forlorn hope of solitude and a last refuge for silence.”  In another place, Miss Bronte described the night sky: “A blue sea absolved from taint of cloud; the moon ascending it in solemn march; her orb seeming to look up as she left the hill-tops, from behind which she had come. . .and for those trembling stars that followed her course. . .”  Powerful, picturesque, and poetic language, without a trace of blandness.  (And assigning human characteristics to inanimate objects, something forgotten for a time, is back in my repertoire.)

Bronte’s character portrayals are equally well-defined; for example, Mr. Rochester:  “Broad and jetty eyebrows, square forehead made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair; decisive nose, more remarkable for character than for beauty; full nostrils, denoting choler; grim mouth, chin, and jaw; broad-chested and thin-flanked, though neither tall nor graceful.”  She masterfully describes Jane’s character, thoughts, and emotions as the heroine deals with rejection and hostility from her aunt and cousins; her awakening love for Mr. Rochester and then the devastation of learning of his lunatic wife; and, finally, her return and marriage to Mr. Rochester.

Reading this book proved as good an education as any writing class, for it reminded me of the  elements essential to excellent writing and reawakened my inspiration.  Granted, our speech differs from that of nineteenth-century England, but the brilliant imagery and deep reflections of Bronte’s style enriches both the story and its readers–and this literary masterpiece has put me back on the road to completing my own novel!

Thank you, Miss Bronte.  And thank you, Jane.

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