Into the window seat

1947 illustration to Jane Eyre 
by Bernice Oehler

In Chapter One of Jane Eyre, we find the ten-year old Jane curled up in the window seat between its window-facing and room-facing curtains. She is lost in a book, specifically in the book’s pictures. Despite the limitations placed on her by the dank weather and bleak prospects that lie on either side beyond the curtains, she is transported by the book. Throughout the novel, Jane is shown to be an artist in her own right with a visionary style. Her occupation of the window seat shows us that, however adverse her situation, Jane is capable of finding consolation, strength and liberation. Art, reading and her ability to tell her own story play a crucial role in this.

Woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg for a 1943 edition of Jane Eyre

This blog will be a place where I’ll reflect on what I take with me to my (sadly purely virtual) window seat. Jane Eyre – one of my favourite books of all time, and one I hugely enjoyed returning to last year for the new Collins Classroom Classics edition for which I wrote an introduction and glossary – is for me an ideal book with which to launch a new blog. When I was working on the glossary last summer, it seemed sometimes that everything I did and everything I saw linked back to Jane Eyre in some way, so immersed was I in the book’s details. A particularly memorable example of this was learning quite how enormous Newfoundland dogs are (and how much food they get through).

1911 illustration of Jane, Rochester
and Pilot by M.V. Wheelhouse

I love the idea of the window seat as a metaphor for reading itself.  From Lucy Mangan’s young self in Bookworm to the narrator of Nick Hornby’s How To Be Good (to name but two popular contemporary examples), and in so many inspiring accounts of discovering libraries for the first time, there are many descriptions of the life-improving power of reading throughout literature – and many powerful accounts of the lengths people have gone for the right to read, to learn, to sit amongst books and choose freely which book to take down next and open. These are stories both ordinary and extraordinary.

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