One of the greatest things about being writer in residence at a university is the access it affords to that wonderful thing that universities supposedly stand for - knowledge.
This means I have free rein (reign?) of the libraries, which has proved very useful for research for the latest novel. I even think that being here has changed my novel significantly: as I make use of the resources, the characters, story and structure of the novel are all making use of them too. I think it is very interesting how outside factors, such as where you are when you write a novel, can have such a powerful influence, but that's another post topic altogether.
The point of this post is that this week I attended a lecture: my first English lit lecture in about 13 years. It was a stage 3 course on the Nineteenth Century Novel, a subject that was very close to my heart when I did my BA in English many moons ago. This particular lecture was on Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. Due to all the reading I've got on my plate for the festival, I didn't get a chance to re-read the novel before the lectures began, but I was pleased to find that I still scored 8 out of 10 on the quiz the lecturer gave to see who had actually finished the book, so it has stayed with me for many years.
I loved the lecture. It made me, once again, wish that I could do my BA all over again, or at least transport myself back in time and make the younger, distracted me pay a bit more attention and get a bit more out of it. I loved the books then; I didn't love the lectures or the coursework or the exams. Older me would relish the lectures and the essays, if not the exams.
I loved hearing about the context in which the book was written, the life of the Brontë family - all which I knew about but enjoyed hearing in such an intense, distilled environment as a lecture on the novel.
At the beginning, after the quiz, the lecturer asked the class what they thought of the book. One young woman said that she was a huge Jane Austen fan, and that when she started Jane Eyre she was disappointed that it was so different in style, that she couldn't get into it, but that by the end she was won over. It reminded me that when I studied stage 1 nineteenth century lit, I had the exact opposite reaction when I started Pride and Prejudice. I was a big fan of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I wrote in my journal at the time that I thought P&P was boring, that it was so mannered and dispassionate. I don't even think I got past the first chapter. Now I love Jane Austen, but it was interesting to realise so many years on why I had that first reaction to her. Charlotte Brontë herself said of Austen that she was "only shrewd and observant" and not passionate, that her work was "a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck".
I'm looking forward to diving back into Jane Eyre when I get the chance, and upcoming lectures include Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White, both of which I plan to read (re-read in the case of WH) to get the most out of the lectures. And yes, they do all have something to do with the novel I'm working on; I'm just not sure exactly what just yet, but I'm sure that all will become clear.