Last night I watched an Italian-directed movie version of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, with William Hurt as Mr. Rochester. Even as an undergraduate English major, I somehow managed never to read Jane Eyre. In fact, I never even took the core major courses on 19th century British literature – they were “strongly recommended” by my university, but not required. Unfortunately I was a particularly arrogant and intellectually rebellious college student, so I thumbed my nose at the recommendation and took contemporary literature instead – without any knowledge of the classics. (This nose-thumbing also ensured my rejection from the thesis program. Just as well, as I doubt I would have produced anything terribly helpful with that attitude.)
Here’s the point: This story, originally written over 150 years ago, absolutely transformed me. It gave me fresh and much-needed perspective in my 21st-century life, particularly in terms of enduring life’s difficulties and the beauty of imperfection. And this was the movie version. The story still lives – 150 years, one continent, and a technological revolution later.
I was sufficiently humbled. Who am I to think I can produce something of value to the literary marketplace if I’m not well acquainted with the stories that have lived for centuries? Just another reminder that as I work on my novel, I need to watch my content intake. Garbage in, garbage out. Transformative content in, transformative content out. These stories are out there. We just have to work a little harder to find them – and the hardest work, for me, is not finding good recommendations, but being humble enough to take them.