The weirdest things have been happening over the last few days. And they all revolve around Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre.
Several days ago I was reading Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. I’d reserved a copy after I saw it on several “Best graphic novels of the year” lists, and I wanted to see if it was a book that I could use with my teens. Well, after just a few pages I realized that it wasn’t a book that I could present to teens because of a) the frequent use of adult language and b) the frequent use of adult references. But I kept reading the book because I was enjoying it. I appreciated Beaton’s use of literary and historical references, even though I didn’t understand all of them.
Okay, on the historical side I understood most of the American history humor but was pretty much baffled by the Canadian history humor. And my understanding of the literary references depended on whether or not I ever read the books that she was referencing and whether or not I actually UNDERSTOOD them. Sherlock Holmes stories? Reread many times over the years and loved to pieces. Dracula? Read and enjoyed the annotated version quite recently. The Great Gatsby? I’m a fan of that story and I’m fascinated by that green light, but I know that I need to read it again. Where The Wild Things Are? One of the very best picture books ever written. The Yellow Wallpaper? A superb and deeply chilling story. Crime and Punishment? Yes, I read it as a summer reading assignment in high school. But if you asked me what I actually remember about the reading experience, all I can say is that I was generally confused about all of the Russian names that sounded like each other, and I was generally bewildered by the plot. Jane Eyre? I’d never read the book and never seen any of the film versions, but I had a general understanding of the “woman loves a mysterious man who locked up his mad wife” concept.
So as I’m reading this book of cartoons, the thought enters my head that maybe I should get around to reading Jane Eyre. I was sitting at my desk at work when I had this thought, and a moment later I glanced at the teetering pile of books that is in danger of falling on my keyboard. And just as quickly as the thought entered my head, I dismissed it.
Because I simply don’t have TIME to read Jane Eyre.
After a long day of answering questions of all shapes and sizes, I came home and started to relax. At some point during my decompression, I was flipping through the channel guide to see what was going to be on TV. I was planning to see the next episode of Alcatraz (Another evening of exciting supernatural adventures and the magnetic hotness of Sam Neil? FANTASTIC!) but then I suddenly noticed that Turner Classic Movies was going to be showing … Jane Eyre! Starring Orson Welles! WOO-HOO!!! So I set up my DVD recorder to record Alcatraz while I watched Jane Eyre. The best of both worlds!
Anyway, the story was great (if just a tad overdrawn and melodramatic), and Orson Welles is so compelling to my ears and my eyes that I felt myself falling under his hypnotic spell.
All right, maybe I wasn’t QUITE as hypnotized as that strangely fragile and yet strangely strong Jane Eyre as played by Joan Fontaine …
But anyway, the movie was over and it was time to go to sleep and gather my strength for another long day of answering questions of all shapes and sizes. Little did I know that Jane Eyre and I were going to cross paths again.
So this afternoon I was working at the public service desk. I’d like to say that I was working at the information desk, but the recent trend envisioned by our higher-ups to make us more “business-like” and “efficient” is to have a variety of staff members all working at the same desk with the understanding that each staff member is supposed to try to answer each patron’s questions to the best of their abilities. If you’d like a longer discussion of how I feel about the fact that I earned a master’s degree in library science and spent years training both to be a librarian and to be a young adult specialist but now I spend the majority of my time checking out materials and processing library card applications … well, to be honest I don’t have the time or the energy for a long discussion right now. I can briefly sum up the effects of this policy to say that when patrons ask staff members for help with something, the staff members might experience various levels of discomfort and bewilderment as they try to satisfy the patrons’ requests. And when a patron approaches a staff member sitting at the public service desk, they have no idea if the person behind the desk has a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, or one or more master’s degrees.
Okay. So much for my long discussion. But this policy is at least tangentially related to the next stage of my story.
So I’m at the public service desk, and I overhear a conversation between a patron and a member of our clerical staff near the other end of the desk (about ten feet away). Or more specifically, I overhear the end of the conversation, when the patron raises her voice to declare, “This is RIDICULOUS!” before storming out of the building. I had no idea what the conversation was about, but I assumed that it was one of the usual topics that inspire anger in our patrons: library fines, limits on how many DVDs people can check out, people trying to use each other’s library cards, etc. But, no, it was none of these things. I later learned that what had happened was that the patron had asked if we had a copy of (you guessed it) Jane Eyre. The clerk, who was not familiar with that title, didn’t know how to spell it. So she asked the patron if she could spell it for her. And the patron, rather than spelling the title, declared, “This is RIDICULOUS!” and stormed out of the building. This whole exchange brings up several discussion points:
- What used to happen was that if a patron asked a clerk to help find a book, the clerk would direct the patron to speak to a librarian, even though we worked on a different floor. Now they’re supposed to answer information questions themselves instead of directing the patrons to talk to us, EVEN THOUGH WE’RE SITTING AT THE SAME DESK JUST A FEW FEET AWAY.
- If you weren’t familiar with the title Jane Eyre, how would you possibly know how to spell it?
- What is with these patrons and their goddamned anger management issues? Why didn’t the woman just spell the title, already? I mean, I HAVE a master’s degree, and I constantly have patrons explaining things to me and spelling things out for me like I’m a ten-year-old child who’s a below-average student.
- Unless of course … Hang on … What if the PATRON didn’t know how to spell the title and she was embarassed?
Okay, so all of these Jane Eyre references were starting to get spooky. But they weren’t over yet. Later in the day I was covering the desk in the Children’s Room. I was busy for a while exercising different areas of my brain than usual (Picture books for kids who love Mo Willems but already read all the Mo Willems books we have on the shelf? Books and videos about potty training? Songs about Martin Luther King Jr.? Books about force and motion for third graders? Books for a teenager who’s learning how to read in English?) but eventually things settled down and we started getting ready to close. During the last few minutes of the day, I was perusing some library blogs to see if anything interesting had been posted recently. And what do I find? I discover THIS POST called “Bronte Mania” about some illustrated editions of Wuthering Heights and, yes, Jane Eyre!!!
Ah, but that was not the end of this strange Jane Eyre connection, I’m afraid. Because when I got home and my boyfriend and I were having dinner, I asked him if he wanted to watch the Alcatraz episode that I’d recorded. He said yes, I opened the DVD menu …
You already guessed it, didn’t you, Dear Readers?
That’s right, I’d accidentally recorded the wrong channel. Instead of an hour’s worth of Sam Neil and his steely (hot) intensity, I’d recorded an hour of Jane-frigging-Eyre instead.
I’m telling you, this is getting WEIRD.
So … I guess I have to read this book now? Because I’m feeling strangely … COMPELLED to read it …