Next I read Wind in the Willows. I loved it, apart from the chapter Piper at the Gates at Dawn, which I didn’t really get. When I was 13, driven by my love of Jane Eyre, I read all the other Bronte books. I didn’t really like them. When I was 14, I read Emma by Jane Austen – or tried to. I didn’t understand it.
Turned out, all I needed was a little maturity. One hot summer day when I was 15, I reread Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and this time, I understood it. It was one of the most beautiful pieces I’d ever read.
I reread Emma, and this time, I cracked the difficult language. (The trick is – to read it out loud. If you’re on your own, get up and act it out. It makes all so much easier to understand.). I got the subtle, deliciously wicked humour of Jane Austen (and Charlotte Bronte too, for that matter.) Emma is now one of my favourite books.
And as I got older, I appreciated the depth of feeling in Anne Bronte’s books. With more life experience, I understood why Lucy Snowe chose Paul Emmanuel over John Bretton, and why Villette had to end the way it did.
Last year I reread Wuthering Heights and for the first time ever, actually felt for Heathcliff.
And now, after reading Winifred Gerin’s excellent biography of Charlotte Bronte, and what she said about Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar, of Shirley, being portraits of Anne and Emily, after they died, I am rereading Shirley – and I love it. I never did before. (Note to TV/Film Producers – why is it always Jane Eyre? What about Villette? What about Shirley? Fascinating complex characters, heartfelt love stories and truely exciting tales of the Luddite riots. This is good stuff!)
I have learnt over the years – it’s not enough to just read. I have to understand the language, have the experience, know the background. Then I appreciate the books properly.