Monday, 2 July 2012


Charlotte Brontë
by George Richmond
chalk, 1850
National Portrait Gallery, London
Brontë's publisher, George Smith, commissioned this portrait of the novelist from George Richmond as a gift for her father. 

What am I reading?  For this edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event hosted by Simona from Briciole, I am rereading "Jane Eyre."  Then, I am cooking porridge, a nice version of porridge, and nothing resembling the stuff poor Jane had to eat during the Brocklehurst regime at Lowood.  Consider this porridge as my present to little Jane, who suffered much but never gave up her quest to find independence and love. 

Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre" is just about my favorite novel.  I read it for the first time when I was still a child, living in Greece.  It was the Greek translation I read back then.  Reading the beautiful Brontë Victorian English came later, about a year after we had moved to the US, after I had become fluent in English. I've picked up and read the novel many times since, most recently just a few weeks ago when a friend mentioned to me that she was also reading it.  

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question. I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed."

This is the opening paragraph of the novel, which right away describes the melancholy mood of Jane Eyre, the main character.  We understand the loneliness and unhappiness she feels living with the Reed family.  They neglect her and torment her.  Eventually her aunt Reed ships Jane off to Lowood, a school run by the cruel Mr. Brocklehurst.  He is so stingy that he nearly starves his students.  During Jane's first day at the school breakfast is a ration of badly cooked porridge.  It is burned and inedible.  Brocklehurst is eventually removed from his position, and Jane grows up to become a teacher at the school.  She then finds employment as a governess at Thornfield, where she falls in love with the master, Mr. Rochester.  He loves Jane as well, and proposes marriage to her.  The problem is that Mr. Rochester already has a wife, albeit one who is quite insane and violent.  Unbeknownst to nearly everyone, the nutty wife is locked up in the attic at Thornfield.  Jane discovers this while she is standing at the altar, next to Edward Rochester, ready to marry him. He suggests that they run away together, but Jane is able to reign in her passion and resist the temptation of becoming his mistress.  She leaves Thornfield in secret and begins a long voyage that eventually leads her to happiness.  Bertha, the nutty wife, sets fire to Thornfield.  Mr Rochester is injured in the fire and becomes blind (temporarily).  He also becomes a bachelor, free to marry.  Jane still loves him desperately, and her passion is rewarded because destiny brings them back together.  Jane and Edward marry.  At the end of the novel we find her enjoying the love that he is offering her.  She has children, and she is enveloped in the warm family atmosphere that she sought since childhood. 

I'm sure that Jane and family had porridge for breakfast often, just as I am sure that it was a well cooked offering, and nothing like what Jane had to eat when she was a child.  You can find my recipe for porridge here.