Friday, October 21, 2011


My family recently spent a lovely weekend along the Delaware shore.  It was a weekend of reconnection after an especially busy few weeks, full of reading and writing and thinking, and full of lots of really fantastic beer at our favorite brewpub.

For several years now, we've had the very unorthodox tradition of spending part of the Jewish high holidays at the beach.  Although our commemoration of the holidays is not religious, we are still moved by the personal reflection these holidays encourage. 

One of the central metaphors of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the idea of turning--the turning of one year into the next, the turning away from our pasts and into what we can make of our future, and the turning to our highest selves.  David and I chose to focus on this idea during one of our beach days, following the traditional religious practice of offering our apologies and our forgiveness to each other--for hurts we knew about as well as hurts of which we were unaware.  We exchanged vows to help each other become our highest selves, but also to be patient with each other as we stumble toward those goals.

titania at beach front
Photography by our son; Sweater knitted by me!

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When I think about how two people try to balance personal reflection, sometimes-conflicting moralities, and a deep commitment to each other, I can't help but think of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I read the novel for the first time when I was just about the age of our 12yo son. I was deeply moved by the shy and plain Jane who fought her passionate self in order to do what she felt was right, no matter what others thought of her. So much of my personality--a shy but bull-headed woman who is definitely overly moralistic, fiercely outspoken with the people she loves most, and usually non-confrontational and polite to strangers--is a mirror image of what I saw in Jane Eyre. I have no idea if I loved the novel because I saw in Jane much of what I saw in myself, or if I loved the book so much that I made myself in Jane's image.

My husband did me the very great honor of reading Jane Eyre this year (after resisting my almost constant badgering for almost twenty years). He loved it--and saw much in it that I had not seen in my many, many rereadings. I've loved getting to talk more about this book I have loved so deeply for so many years. I'm eager to read it again soon.

My son, meanwhile, is currently gobbling up The Eyre Affair and its sequels. I am thrilled to hear him laughing aloud at the literary jokes!

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In the evenings at the beach, the three of us watched my favorite film version of Jane Eyre: the BBC miniseries starring actress Ruth Wilson. (My husband knows Wilson from her current role on our beloved mystery series Luther. If you don't know the series and have Netflix streaming, go watch season one right now. Or check it out: you'll appreciate the captions.)

Although both my son and my partner enjoyed the miniseries, I think David was pretty disappointed with some of the changes it made from the book. I love Wilson as Jane Eyre. And I adore Toby Steven's Rochester--both unpleasant and completely loveable. (Personally, I don't see what Jane sees in Rochester in the Mia Wasikowska version--although I do like Judi Dench as Jane Fairfax.)

Somehow, I think all of our thoughts about turning should not really be leading us to think about the turning of books into movies...

*  *  *

In the next couple of posts, I'll talk a bit about the books we brought along and what I am making of my current reading.


  1. I absolutely LOVE your sweater! I cannot believe you knitted it. I am completely and overwhelmingly jealous.

  2. Christina: Thanks! Do you knit at all? It is not nearly as difficult a pattern as it looks. I'm thinking about making another one in black, with a few tweaks.

    Interestingly, the sweater pattern is Titania, named for the Queen of the Fairies in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. I blogged about it on my old blog when I originally decided to knit it. A few more knitting details are there:

  3. And here is the pattern for the Titania sweater:

  4. "A happy union is not one of perfect partners but the triumph of love over imperfections." Don't ask me where this comes from, but I copied it into my address book years ago. Your post today is very meaningful to me. My husband calls me his "greatest fan and severest critic," and I suppose I could say the same of him. If I weren't so lazy at the moment, I would hunt up EMMA and find the part where Mr. Knightly reprimands Emma, saying he will tell her truths while he can.

    Your sweater is beautiful. It looks like something out of a magazine!

  5. So much to love in this post! First, I join the chorus of awed praise over your beautiful sweater! Second, I love the theme of turning, repentance--the sacred chance to pivot and turn to loved ones and the world in the invaluable way you describe. Third, Jane Eyre! I like the way you recognize the interplay between being drawn to Jane Eyre as someone familiar to yourself and finding that you are in some sense shaped by the values and features you most admire in her. I have always wanted to believe that our relationship with characters is a two-way interaction. A character draws us in as congenial readers and also makes us into the person or reader who can most appreciate that character, a growing bond over time, if we are lucky.

    Ditto on Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, my personal favorites as well. And one coincidence: My daughter just took my copy of The Eyre Affair with her to pass the hours of a long plane ride. :)

    Thanks for the wonderful family portrait you paint.

  6. What a lovely ceremony! I think it is very cool that your family has developed this tradition of getting together for the High Holy Days and looking at one's self introspectively and in the context of the family dynamic. Sharing good books and some movies is just a superb added bonus. Well done, and have a wonderful weekend! Cheers! Chris


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