On the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth
by Julie Myerson
Saturday 16 April 2016 08.00 BST
I first read Jane Eyre propped up in my little single bed with a shawl around my shoulders in a cold and creaking attic room at the top of a house in the middle of the starless Nottinghamshire countryside. The room, my old and once beloved bedroom, was badly lit, unheated, dusty and forlorn. It hadn’t always been so. But that summer our mother had left our father in a most spectacular fashion – at dead of night, taking half the furniture, all our pets and all three of us children with her. And my father vented his rage in the only way he knew how: by replacing nothing, leaving the house – and especially our bedrooms – to grow sad and dusty and unloved, a reminder each time we visited (fortnightly as the court decreed) of how our terrible mother had ruined our once “happy” family life.
I could not have wished for a better setting in which to get to know the Brontës. Charlotte, Emily, Anne – all of them kept me company in that cold and sad little room. I was 13 and I knew very little about anything, but suddenly here it all was: injustice and illness, death, shame, fear and secrecy – not to mention the possibility of love in unexpected or even inconvenient places.
I have read the novel since and always found something new to love. But my abiding sense of it then, as well as now, is of Jane herself – her sheer, steady-hearted goodness. Throughout the novel, from start to finish, she unwaveringly tells the truth. Such clarity and, in an odd way, such calm. It felt like something worth aspiring to. It still does.