Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Affinity for Literature

An Affinity for Literature

"Literature – the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life."
                                                                                                           Charlotte Mason

  A “library discard” is on my nightstand. When I first visited the local library with my young children in the 1980s it was at the end of an era. We fingered through cards in the oak file drawers. Our books received a date-due card that was ink stamped and slipped neatly into the envelope where the title card was removed. Such was the handling of my well-worn copy of Jane Eyre printed in that not-too-long-ago-era.

    As night falls earlier in November the whole of my reading takes place in the dark. A little pool of light illuminates the page in a dark room that seems to match the pathos and eeriness of the early chapters of the story - especially when November rain splashes at on the windowpane. I am savoring Charlotte Brontë’s writing, pausing to reread paragraphs that require closer attention and invite deeper thought. Jane Eyre is said to be one of the most highly cherished treasures in English fiction. I can understand why.

    My daughter Sophia has always been a keen reader. (I supplied my children with books as I supplied them bread and butter.)  But recently Sophia admits in hindsight that her impressions of Jane Eyre were blurred because she thinks she was too young when she read it at age fourteen. In raising girls (who did not grow up too fast) I found that even a little more maturity would create - between the reader and the book - an affinity. This was the case with twelve-year-old Yolanda and Little Women. It was one of the few instances that once started she put the book aside. Sometimes it is better to wait. A few years later, at age fourteen, it came: an affinity for the story. An affinity is what enables us to form a close relationship with the writing. Little Women was a friend to Yolanda’s girlhood awakenings and graciously contributed to her blossoming into womanhood. This affinity is what turns a good book into something special.

“We wish for children to grow up to find joy and refreshment in the taste, the flavour of a book . . . a work possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader which belongs to a literary word fitly spoken. It is sad that we are loosing our joy in literary form. We are in such a haste . . . that we have no leisure to linger over the mere putting of a thought. But this is our error, for words are mighty both to delight and inspire.”    
Charlotte Mason, Parents & Children pages 262-263

    When Yolanda picked up Jane Eyre it was at a later age than that of her sister. At seventeen she lingered over it, in the manner she always did when reading books she liked. After she married Daniel, Jane Eyre became one of the books she chose to share with him. He enjoyed her reading aloud from it.

    Absorbed in Jane Eyre I was excited to pick up my needle to stitch a reproduction of a small sampler worked by Charlotte Brontë when she was six-year-old. Originally stitched in red it has suffered light damage. It has faded to pink and can be seen at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth.

    I am quite fond of my calico needle case. It is a gift from a good friend who has historical leanings and who has exquisite skill in sewing. She followed an early American pattern to make it. Such a needle case is referred to as a huswife. It rolls up to a dainty size, doesn’t it? 

     May I share a quote with you from my reading? To answer Miss Eyre’s inquiry as to the character of Mr. Rochester, the housekeeper forewarns her that he is peculiar. In chapter fourteen when the young governess is called into the drawing room to sit before Mr. Rochester’s discerning glare she listens to his judgments and takes courage to respond honestly to his blunt questions. (This scene is attributed to the 1944 film directed by Robert Stevenson.)

    Mr. Rochester admits he has faults (this harmless word begins his speech) but as he goes on to compare his youth to hers he becomes more incriminating. His mode of life has been one that “invites sneers and deserves them.” He tells Miss Eyre, “Like other defaulters I like to lay half the blame on ill fortune and adverse circumstances.” He adds that he has been “thrust on to a wrong tack at the age of one and twenty, and have never recovered the right course since.”  

    The next words of Mr. R. are really what give impetus to this post:  “but I might have been very different; I might have been as good as you – wiser – almost as stainless. I envy you your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure – an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment: is it not?” 

    Do we not home educate to enable our girls (and boys) to possess exactly what Mr. Rochester describes?

    Persevere in your teaching my friend. You have lofty aims therefore the climb on some days may seem steep or wearisome. In due time you will reap blessings. 

    Meanwhile to replenish your soul you might open a page to a little pool of light before you sleep. 

Discussion is invited.


  1. Oh, I agree Karen!

    I am love to read, am avid, but I never read many of the classic when I was young. I attribute this to being feed lots of twaddle, and I had a taste for it. But as I grew older I began to taste of Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters...I do think that maturity can bring an affinity with a book, it's characters, it's lessons. There are books I cherish now because of how I grew to love them!

  2. Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorites. I re-read it this past summer. Currently my daughter is reading Pride and Prejudice (she will be 16 next month), she is loving it. Since my husband is gone (deployed) she sleeps in my room. Crazy I know, she has always done that. But it is such fun to sit and read at night before bed, then discuss what is going on in each others books. We laugh and ponder life- theirs and ours. I so cherish the memories being made. Someday she may out grow the want to stay near to her mom, but until then I welcome every moment.

  3. I really love the needle case - and I think it is the perfect gift to make for others!

    I can clearly remember my mother lending me her leather-bound "Little Women" and "Jane Eyre" books when I was 13 years old. These were my first 'adult' fiction books. Both these books captivated my imagination and gave birth to the love of history and great literature.

    And yes, I trust that home education and a simple life in faith will preserve my daughters' innocence and pure hearts.

    Thank you for sharing and touching my heart.

  4. Thank you for reminding us about these things, Karen. After two boys, I now have a girl entering her teens and am enjoying watching these affinities develop. Oh, and I love the dj on your Jane Eyre. (!)

  5. Deanna,
    I grew to love books during our home education experience, too. "Developing a taste" makes reading that much more delicious and rewarding.

    No, it is not crazy to have your daughter in your room with you while your husband is away. I know of another mother who does the exact same thing - one who will probably be reading your comment and will smile with understanding. It is a wonderful thing to have a relationship with one's child, to ponder life together - true and warm teaching.

    It is so calming to hear how you put it: A simple life of faith together with home learning to preserve a child's heart. Curriculum choices are less essential.

    I thought someone might find the dust jacket amusing. I like it too. It speaks "fiction" to me more than the modern serious cover designs do.

    Thank you ladies for your discussion. It is a treat I've allowed myself, this Saturday morning, to chat before chores - usually it is the reverse order. Karen

  6. I was so excited when I recently found your blog! I really enjoyed reading A Charlotte Mason Companion. I was very encouraged and inspired by the book. I enjoyed all the stories and struggles you shared. It just made you real and relatable. I hope to buy some of your other books soon.

    As for your post, I don't know what I was reading in public school, but it wasn't the classics. Now as an adult I am trying to read through all these books I missed out on and decide if/when I would want my kids to read them.

    Can you belive that I never read the Little House series as a child? I'm going through it now as an adult and enjoying it : )

  7. "I envy you your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure – an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment: is it not?”

    Just coming home from my grandmother's memorial service, I ponder these words and think of the people there representing many walks of life. I especially think of an uncle whose mind and heart are scarred with guilt and regret, yet he can spot the "peace of mind" that my cousin and I know in the grace of our Lord Jesus. This uncle can see these qualities in our children, and though we are often gently defending our ways of raising our children, this "unpolluted memory" and "clean conscience" is precisely the goal of our mother hearts nurturing our children in the fear of the Lord.
    Certainly the rich literature such as these classics help to affirm and develop godly character traits modeled by our Lord. Personally, Marmee from "Little Women" is one of my favorite literary mothers and I have learned that godly nurturing shines brightly for sharing the gospel in action.

  8. Karen,

    I find it amusing that several times your posts have related almost exactly to my ponderings of the week (I remember the post about the pokeberries and now about Jane Eyre.)

    I was not raised on the classics but was a bookworm nonetheless. Now I know what I've been missing. Home educating Charlotte Mason style seems to have given me a much more discriminating taste for literature! Believe it or not, I recently finished reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time in my whole life. My reaction was, "Why on EARTH did it take me so long to read this book? And what ELSE have I been missing out on?" Jane Eyre happened to be next on my list, and my thoughts this week have been on how to procure a copy as soon as possible (20 miles to a bookstore and I think I'd rather own than borrow this one.) Your post makes me want to make the drive right now! There is so much wonderful literature I have yet to partake of; I almost feel like a kind of newlywed, anticipating all the new "literary" joys that await me!

    Thanks also for the quote from Jane Eyre. What beautiful inspiration to continue on this journey that sometimes seems almost surreal in the midst of the multitudes who follow the well-worn path of institutionalized schooling. It was a beautiful quote that hit just the right chord with me this week, as I've been questioning the NEED for home educating my four children after just hearing that a long-time local homeschooling family has opted to send their children to the private religious school. I love homeschooling and consider myself steadfast in the decision to continue, so I am a bit surprised at how easily hearing about another family's choice seems to rattle my confidence. Thank you for your timely help in restoring it. Your post was very special to me today.


  9. Lovely quote! Thank you for sharing it. I remember someone in my youth saying something horribly in contrast with this idea. I hope my girls will have such an unpolluted memory.

    Did you know that there's going to be a new Jane Erye Movie??

    Really enjoyed the huswife. . . looks like a sweet christmas present idea. :o)

  10. I remember little of my public high school reading of Jane Eyre. I think the pace of reading in some classes makes it difficult to develop a relationship with an author, too. I'm going to try to reread it at a a few chapters a week, the same way I read with my children now.

    I really appreciate the Jane Eyre quote -- isn't that what we'd all like our children to have?

    The needle case is so much more attractive than what I've found in many shops.

  11. Dear Karen - I love your entry about Jane Eyre - during my childhood I often "escaped" to the attic of our home where I quietly read and lingered over Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. I wasn't homeschooled but the peace I enjoyed while reading in a stiller world, not bombarded with technology, was something I wished to recreate for my daughter, whom I homeschooled.
    My daughter, who is good friends with your nephew in college, has visited your home with him - she told me how your home echoes the quiet, homeschool environment - where learning is as natural, as unforced, as breathing.
    I love your blog - it's a peaceful space in which tea can be savoured.

  12. Thank you for your discussion. It brought a tear to my eye this time.

    "We are often gently defending our ways of raising our children." This sentence of yours Is something we have had to do, too. I'm guessing those who are reading this have had to do the same. Nurturing children in the Lord seems to be an unnecessary degree of parenting to some on-lookers. They do not see our invisible lofty aims nor understand how we desire our children to have the peace of mind that purity brings the growing person. Everything good comes from the Lord and we pray that others will see goodness in our children because we claim to be His.

    I enjoyed reading to my children in our homeschool what I missed reading in my young years. English class high school assignments were stories that had me scratching my head. They were sad, dark, hopeless stories. Last year I was told that "Angela's Ashes" was on the summer reading list for high school by a relative of mine. Dean read this award winning story several years ago but stopped halfway through. "It's too sad," he told me. It is very well written but disturbing - especially before turning off the light at night. Would a student of fourteen have the emotional fortitude to read this?

    Yes to read a good book at a pace that allows one to stroll along is a lovely freedom, Leigh. Fred Roger's song "I like to take my time," come to mind.

    My fellow home teachers have admitted to me that when they escaped the bounds of institutional school (graduated) a whole new world of reading was open to them. By educating their children the unexpected happened - they experienced a vivacity for learning. Education became a wonderful thing. Living books made a difference and so too did the enlightenment that comes from the Holy Spirit.

    I applaud your desire to be steadfast, Kelly.

    It was a pleasure to have your daughter for a weekend last spring. She is a lovely young lady. You must have indeed recreated what was in your heart to recreate for her - a quiet, peaceful, focused learning experience. I am aware of the bombardment that you mention.
    By the way, my office/sewing room, where I am writing this, is in the attic.

    So good to hear from you all,
    Karen A.

  13. I read Jane Eyre way back in 2001 or 2002. It was part of my Mother Culture when I had little ones. I liked and disliked the story at the same time. However, the language of the story drew me onward through it.

    I do like that little huswife. I looked for a pattern, but found couldn't find one just like it. I did find some similar things.

    I think that this is a very thought provoking post. I think Mr. Rochester's thoughts and your response bear repeating.

    Be blessed,

    1. I know. Mr. Rochester is "mixed bag" of weaknesses and strengths. He did, however, prove himself a hero with his sacrificial rescuing.