Thursday, September 29, 2011
The Truth of Fiction
Occasionally I will pick up a book and feel transported, this was the second book I have read this year that I have had this experience. The first was Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. This latest book was Jane Eyre. How have I gone 34 years before reading this beautiful book?
There was so much that moved me in the book . . . the enduring, unlikely and tragically romantic love story, of course . . . and then the way that faith and morality, sacrifice, was so much a part of the story, but in a way that only gave the story it's foundation, and not in a cheesy kind of way. I loved the long, descriptive sentences of the subtlest expressions or emotions. I loved to read about the way that the arts and learning were so much a part of their lives, so that their free time in the evenings was spent in rich artistic pursuits, like learning new languages, reading or sketching by the fire. I enjoyed her reflections on nature and the senses, the way that it gave a sense of the supernatural, and the slightly mystical tone of the story . . .
And I close the book and find myself in a world of OMG and LOL; mind-numbing television, cheap sex, coarse humor, endless, meaningless distractions. I know the 19th century was far from perfect, but after reading Jane Eyre this world we live in feels base and shameless. We feed our cravings and urges, feel entitled to everything, know little of what it means to sacrifice or to deeply love another. Our technology can fix our bodies and take us anywhere, but we have forgotten how to nurture our soul.
Last week Jim and I got a date night to hear Elizabeth Strout at the Cleveland Playhouse. She spoke about the truth of fiction, of how we read to identify our human experience, to know we are not alone. She referred to people who think of fiction as a lie (how often we hear or sense this in the church! If Jesus taught in stories, why are there so few storytellers?). It was a wonderful talk on the power of fiction, and I thought about it often as I read Jane Eyre; how powerful this book was for me because of the truth I find there, the truth that only the heart can tell. This is the grace and comfort, the nourishment and necessity of fiction. This is why I read.