Back in January, I wrote about my pilgrimage to The Morgan Library in Manhattan to see Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The book I’ve reread more than any other. The book I’ll be rereading again in approximately two weeks. The book that’s my favorite holiday reading tradition because it moves and inspires me each time as if I were reading it for the first time.
Meantime, I’m rereading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for the first time since graduate school. Translation: I’m reading it for myself, for my own benefit and enjoyment. No essays, tests, or anxiety required.
You know what isn’t surprising at all? It’s rather more fun this way. More relaxing. I can let myself be carried about by the soothing rhythms of her language. I can delight in the portraits and set pieces. I can marvel at and be inspired by the novel’s fierce, intelligent heroine. And that’s just my experience of the first 200 pages.
Between you and me, I don’t remember loving Charlotte Bronte’s writing as I do at this moment. This is a topic I plan to revisit. For now, I want to tell you: I wouldn’t have thought to reread Jane Eyre were it not for the Charlotte Bronte exhibit currently on display at The Morgan Library. My parents, who live in Manhattan, invited my sister and me to view it with them back in September. I love exhibits of this kind as I love experiencing the homes and towns of authors and literary characters who have moved me. Artifacts can connect us across time. Besides the thrill of imagining an author writing that letter or sitting at that desk, artifacts tap into our common needs and discrete ways of solving them. They reveal how we negotiate challenges and restrictions with our human spirit and imagination.
The thoughtful curating of books, letters, paintings, and personal possessions made for an enchanting and poignant experience. If you’re accessible to New York City, I highly recommend this exhibit, which runs through January 2. For those who aren’t close enough to view it in person, here are a few highlights:
The first thing I saw walking into the exhibit is Charlotte Bronte’s dress and shoes. She appears to have been as petite physically as she was fierce emotionally and intellectually.
Several of the teeny books she wrote with her siblings are displayed. She must have been incredibly near-sighted to write and illustrate these books. Being incredibly near-sighted myself, I wished I could hold them up close to my eyes (without my corrective lenses, obviously).
To fully appreciate the craftsmanship of these books, the exhibition curator included magnifying glasses through which to view details.
Here is another shot I took through the magnifying glass. Again, the level of detail is exquisite.
Among the items on display is Bronte’s portable writing desk. It’s the 19th century version of a laptop: compact enough for traveling and setting up wherever one found a flat surface.
Reality, meet fiction: This is a copy of History of British Birds by Thomas Bewick. The volume appears in the pages of Jane Eyre. It provides comfort to the young orphan growing up in her abusive aunt’s home.
A portrait of the three sisters: That’s Charlotte on the right.
Here is an engaging video with curator Christine Nelson discussing the exhibit:
No visit to The Morgan is complete without a stop into Pierpont Morgan’s awe-inspiring 1906 library.
Also essential during every visit: standing in front of the vault, where the priceless books are housed, and inhaling that old book smell.
A Shakespeare first folio that belonged to Morgan was also on display.
The Morgan has several other exhibits running, including A Christmas Carol (through January 8). Click here to see the full list of current exhibits.