The people we allow into our lives shape us. They become a part of our identity whether or not we realize it. I look back on the teenage me and am amazed at how little I knew of classic literature. Oh, sure, there were lessons in Shakespeare and a truly painful course on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, but apart from that my interests were average. I spent most of my time reading flimsy clean romances.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I opened my eyes to a much wider world of reading than my usual interests. The Lord of the Rings hit theaters in 2001 and my entire world changed. Not so much because of the film trilogy, although that played a significant part, but because an interest in British literature blossomed inside me. One moment it wasn’t there and the next it was. I gobbled down Tolkien’s series, but that wasn’t enough, and I found myself online in 2002, soaking up all the Middle Earth craziness shared with other Ringers (Lord of the Rings fans for the uninformed), which is where and how I met my best friend.
She, being much more learned than myself, pried my eyeballs and my mind open with a crowbar and let many literary delights flood through those gates—authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, and the world’s beloved authoress, Jane Austen. If it weren’t for my then, and now, best friend, I shudder to think where my interests might lie today. It’s just possible I would have never picked up Dickens’ Great Expectations or delved into Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
My education even followed the path of my growing love of British literature, and my favorite college courses remain Victorian Literature and a study on the British Romantics. All the others have faded into a numbing grayness, but not those two courses; they remain vibrant in my mind.
Was I always such a romantic? Who’s to say? What I can say is that of all the classic literature I have read so far, Jane Austen’s works continue to shape my life the most. I sit down in my backyard with the soundtrack of Sense and Sensibility playing gaily in the background and imagine myself in Bath with perfect clarity. Why perfect clarity? Because I have experienced Bath, England in photos and in film adaptations and now have only to close my eyes to bring Bath fully to life.
It’s ironic, really, that I would love Bath so much since Jane Austen was not at all keen on Bath. Having given it much thought in recent months, I’ve concluded that Jane Austen and I would not have been kindred spirits. She took a much harsher view of life and of people than I like to indulge in, permitting her wit to run wild in her novels. This is why readers continue to flock to Jane Austen today.
However, while it can be tempting to romanticize Jane’s heroines, I cannot do so. I hold no particular fondness for most of them, not even Elinor Dashwood who appeared gentile and affectionate on the outside, but on the inside brimmed far too much with seething resentment and frustration. For me, I read Jane Austen because the heroines remind me that nobody is perfect, and it is in those imperfections we discover what it means to be human. I reached the point where I thought none of Austen’s heroines would appeal to me, and that grieved me more than I can say. Then I read Northanger Abbey.
Only Catherine Morland provided me an intimate friend among Austen’s heroines. She and I have made similar mistakes in our lives, offering our confidences to the wrong people, allowing our imaginations to run wild, and above all, retaining a certain naiveté about life. While I have yet to find my Henry Tilney, if such a man exists, Catherine continues to inspire me. She is the one heroine I feel grows during their story, starting out as a silly little ninny and developing into a young lady of some common sense because she learned from her mistakes. Oh, to love life like Catherine, but still have both feet planted on the ground by the end of my story.
Were it not for the path my life has taken, the literary interests that have developed over time, Catherine Morland and I would have never become acquainted. I would have never known her name or discovered our similarities. I will always be grateful to Jane Austen for creating Northanger Abbey. Every literary journey begins somewhere, and for me, I will always be thankful to Tolkien, Peter Jackson, and to my dearest friend who set me on a path of a lifelong appreciation for fine literature.
My takeaway lesson is this: make sure that the people you allow into your life are developing and encouraging you in the right direction. Make sure they build you up instead of tear you down. Because of this single friendship in my life, I’ve determined to spend the rest of the time God gives me in continuing to develop my love of literature. And for that, I am now and always grateful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carissa Horton works at Compassion International whose tagline reads “Releasing Children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” She is an avid crafter, a prolific blogger on Musings of an Introvert about all things literary and film-based, and dreams of getting her stories published.