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Here's this week's question:
Talk about the book that most changed
or influenced your life
(was it a book that turned you from
an average to avid reader,
did it help you deal with a particularly difficult situation,
does it bring you comfort every time you read it?)
Several books have popped into my mind all at once, and I am reluctant to choose...However, there are two books in particular that stand out above all others. The first book is Jane Eyre. Its author, Charlotte Bronte, is one of my favorite authors of all time!
I first read the novel when I was the protagonist's age -- eighteen. The book utterly absorbed me after a few pages. I related to Jane immediately, although her life situation and mine were not, thankfully, the same. Both of my parents were alive, and I was not sent away to a boarding school in which hypocritically rigid rules were enforced on the students. However, I had been bullied when I was younger, and had been unfairly treated by a couple of teachers along the way. Furthermore, at the time I started reading the book, I was in my senior year of high school, and was definitely not a member of any of the popular cliques.
This novel didn't change my life so much as give voice to feelings and passions I carried within myself, and had no way of expressing at the time (I would start writing poetry later, in college). My interior world had much in common with Jane's. Bronte's novel resonated with me at a very profound level. Jane and I were both introverts, both preoccupied with mystical yearnings. We were both idealists. Many times, we were willing to argue passionately in favor of an issue we were firmly committed to.
Needless to say, I wanted to become Jane Eyre. I admired her spirit, her fierce determination to hold on to her ideals, even in the face of the turbulent passions Rochester aroused in her. When, regrettably, she discovered the terrible secret of Thornfield Hall, she had to make a wrenching decision, one that would nearly destroy her, but allow her to remain true to those ideals.
This novel was much criticized as "anti-Christian" when it was first published, in spite of the fact that Jane's actions show her to be a faithful adherent to Christian morality. Contemporary critics obviously misunderstood Bronte's intention; the author was criticizing Christian hypocrisy, not Christianity itself.
Jane Eyre remains her own woman throughout the novel. She does what she has to do in order to follow the dictates of her conscience, as well as the guidance of reason. She is not only passionate, but a highly intelligent woman who refuses to stoop to manipulation and artifice in order to get what she wants. She will not even allow love to sway her from her own, chosen course.
And what of Rochester? He is my ideal man, in some ways, although he is a flawed character. His cynical views of women are perhaps understandable to a certain extent, given the ones he has encountered. He is at first perplexed by Jane, hardly believing that she is different. Being a very passionate man, however, he is soon taken with her, as he begins to plumb the depths of her shy personality. Once she has captivated him completely, he is the most ardent of suitors. As I read, I would skip pages just so that i could get to the scenes in which he and Jane engaged in spirited, brilliant dialogue, or declared their love for each other in the tenderest of ways... and all of this in that beautifully lyrical prose style that Charlotte and her sister, Emily, are known for!
This novel was my coming-of-age book, and is thus very, very special to me. I've read it twice, and it's due for another re-read pretty soon!
Here's one of my several editions
of this immortal novel!
Hardcover, 596 pages
Published by Everyman's Library
October 15, 1991
(first published in England in 1847)
(April 21, 1816 - March 31, 1855)
The other book that has had a great impact on my life is Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, another of my all-time favorite authors!
What a coincidence that Bella Swan, the novel's first-person narrator -- a fact that this novel has in common with Jane Eyre -- falls in love with a young man whose first name is also Edward! I wonder if Meyer did this on purpose. If she did, she's definitely making a statement here: her male protagonist, like Bronte's, is mysterious, tortured, and immensely attractive!!
I read this novel when I was much older. It pulled me irresistibly into its spellbinding story as soon as I had read a couple of pages, on the Amazon excerpt reader. I couldn't order it fast enough! I started devouring it as soon as it arrived, too!
Everything about this story is so perfect! I can't understand why there are so many people who actually dislike this book, as well as the rest in The Twilight Saga. This, by the way, is my very favorite of the four books, perhaps because the beginning of a romance is so full of wonder, mystery, and anxiety. Does he feel the same pull toward her that she feels toward him? Is she as wildly attracted to him as he is to her?
This novel is just so, so romantic, poignant, and mystically beautiful!! The setting is just right for the plot -- the green, moist woods, where impossible legends live, the small town...and the ever-present rain that punctuates what turns out to be a very exciting, passionately lyrical romance between two very different people....
I also related to Bella, even though we aren't entirely the same. However, I do share her clumsiness to some extent. She's also a very sensitive girl, and a true romantic at heart, as I am. There are two things I don't share with her, though -- her love of hot weather, and her obsession with Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights! (I detest both.)
I could also relate to Bella's reaction to Edward, as it was exactly the same as my own reaction to my first husband (as well as the second one, to whom I'm happily married). Bella is more susceptible to Edward's potent sensuality than Jane Eyre; she's willing to even surrender her soul for Edward's love. Meyer has been criticized by some feminists who see Bella as too compliant, but I totally disagree. Bella is simply carried away by her love for a vampire who is noble at heart, in spite of his predatory nature.
The great appeal of this novel for me is Edward's constant struggle to avoid hurting Bella. He knows that one false move on his part could be deadly for her, so he is extra careful with her, and ruthlessly demanding on himself. He feels tortured because he is unable to stay away from her. In fact, when he attempts to leave her, in New Moon, the second book in the series, he very nearly destroys himself. It is just so sweet, so poignant, to witness his struggle, his deep love for Bella... Where certain readers have also criticized Meyer for Edward's so-called 'stalker behavior' -- especially because he spends nights in Bella's bedroom, watching her sleep, since he himself is unable to do so -- I simply see it as the behavior of a man who is so much in love with his woman that he will do anything to protect her, even from himself.
Thus, this novel was a cathartic experience for me, as my first marriage was not a happy one. So, Edward Cullen was like a balm to my spirit... I fell completely in love with him as I read of his care for Bella.
Another aspect of the novel that appealed to me was the whole high school scene. Through Bella, I saw myself as fitting in, having friends, and even going to the prom, which I never did, in real life.
I have read this novel three times already, and, as with Jane Eyre, will re-read it many more times! In fact, I'm even planning to read the Spanish translation!
Hardcover, 498 pages
Published by Little, Brown & Company
October 5, 2005
(Born December 24, 1973)