Villette. Brontë’s last published novel demands a second read, and it’s on my list for a fresh look this summer. Unlike Jane Eyre, narrator Lucy Snowe makes us work to decipher her passions and motivations, and we can’t always tell what she’s withholding. This is the beautiful 1905 edition illustrated by Edmund Dulac, which I “borrowed” from the Morgan’s rare book collection.
Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre. For this new collection, novelist Tracy Chevalier (creative partner in the Brontë Parsonage Museum’s bicentenary celebrations) invited contemporary writers to riff on a simple but loaded line from Brontë’s Jane Eyre. There are mirrors, moorlands, and, of course, marriages, as imagined by Emma Donoghue, Esther Freud, Nadifa Mohamed, Namwali Serpell, Lionel Shriver, and more.
The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects. Deborah Lutz and I are both interested in what the material traces of a writer’s life can (and cannot) tell us. She sent me this advance copy of her compelling book last year and I’m looking forward to revisiting it before September 30, when she comes to speak at the Morgan, where she’ll find herself in company with some of the surviving Brontë artifacts she treats in the book.
Jane Eyre. Brontë’s earliest readers would have encountered her first published novel in this three-volume format, popular in the mid-19th century. This was the first “adult” novel I read, back in sixth grade. I’ve re-read it at different stages in life and the narrator’s voice never ceases to catch me off guard. It’s time for one more sitting with Jane Eyre, that wonderfully “heterogeneous thing.”
Re-Jane. I can’t wait to read Patricia Park’s New York remix of Jane Eyre, whose narrator answers an ad for an au pair “who will foster a nurturing, intellectually stimulating, culturally sensitive, and ultimately ‘loving’ (we will indulge the most essentialist, platonic construct of the term) environment for our bright (one might even say precocious) nine-year-old daughter. . . .” I couldn’t help thinking of an ad Charlotte Brontë once answered for a church-going young lady of “amiable disposition, and some experience, willing to make herself generally useful, and competent to teach Music, French and Drawing.”
Christine Nelson is the Drue Heinz Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Christine explained her summer reading choices: "My all-Brontë list includes something old, something new, something borrowed, and—behind each book—something blue: a glimpse of Charlotte Brontë’s dress, which will be making the long journey this fall from the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York for an exhibition I’m curating in honor of Brontë’s 200th birthday. (See my friend Eleanor Houghton’s fascinating article about the blue dress here, and to see it in person visit Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will at the Morgan from September 9 to January 2!) Thanks, Christine!