Wednesday, February 22, 2012

from Charlotte Bronte's letter to Elizabeth Gaskell, as quoted by Annie Thackeray Ritchie. I don't know the date, but I'm sure it would be easy to locate if I were upstairs next to my copy of Gaskell's life of Bronte or in the mood to Google.

Do you, who have so many friends, so large a circle of acquaintance, find it easy when you sit down to write to isolate yourself from all those ties and their sweet associations, so as to be your own woman, uninfluenced or swayed by the consciousness of how your work may affect other minds, what blame or what sympathy it may call forth; does no luminous cloud ever come between you and the severe truth in your own secret or clear-seeing soul?

I've been home for only a handful of hours, and already my living room is stacked with teenage-boy detritus because James and his friend Sam have decided to paint James's room. (Sam: Someday, James, I'm going to renovate an old house and you and I are going to bang down walls with sledgehammers while listening to Weezer. Won't that be fun?) In other words, like Elizabeth Gaskell (I suspect), I recognize that isolating myself "from all [these] ties and their sweet associations" is entirely impossible and anyhow beside the point in my writing . . . though not beside the point of Charlotte's, of course. Yet at the same time I realize that my manner of writing feels, to me, like the only possible way to do it, and no doubt that's how Charlotte's felt to her. So I wonder how Elizabeth felt when she received this letter: puzzled, half-comprehending, entirely sympathetic, self-excoriating? Or did she automatically coil her own thoughts around her own private manner of writing, like a caterpillar wraps itself around a tiny space of air?

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