A Steely, Grim Confidence
Oh, thy bright eyes must answer now
When Reason with a scornful brow
Is mocking at my overthrow!
Oh, thy sweet tongue must plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!
Okay, so there are these three women, right? All writers. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity around them, they decide to make their own damn opportunities. They devise a plan to get published. They’re going to start with a collection of poems first, to build a platform, and then they’ll do novels—deliberately plotting novels different than anything they’ve written before.
It could be happening now, except it’s totally the Brontë sisters, and yes, I was watching the film To Walk Invisible this past week.
Why I have persevered to shun
The common paths that others run
And on a strange road journeyed on,
Heedless, alike of wealth and power—
Of glory’s wreath and pleasure’s flower.
Admittedly, I’m not done yet. But I’ve always been a Brontë fan. I love their poetry, and I like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (I could never get into Agnes Grey, though—sorry, Anne!). And of course, they introduced Jane Eyre in high school, and of course, the Brontës’ personal narrative resonated with my teenaged writer-self.
They made up their own fantastic world and wrote reams of stories set in it! They were governesses in various terrible places! They had enough of that and pursued writing with remarkable tenacity! Emily and Anne died young and it was super sad!
These once indeed, seemed Beings Divine;
And they, perchance, heard vows of mine,
And saw my offerings on their shrine.
But careless gifts are seldom prized
And mine were worthily despised.
It was interesting to contrast To Walk Invisible with another work that made my teenaged writer-self ache: Ernest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast.
Since I last read it a decade ago, I mostly remembered it as, “Ernest Hemingway writes in cool Parisian cafés with famous writers.” This reread, it struck me as more, “Ernest Hemingway drinks a lot and references making love pretty creepily.” Then I did a cursory search for more context and ran up against the usual issues with memoirs (and Hemingway, quite frankly). He’s certainly not objective and the manuscript was edited with various motives after his death.
Not quite what I remembered.
For all that, something still tugs at me. There is a sense of community—running into friends in cafés and bookshops and being interested in each other’s work. But I couldn’t help thinking…
A Movable Feast never mentions doubt. There’s a lot of drinking and gallivanting, but Hemingway never seems to question the likelihood of his own success.
The Brontës draw up a freaking battle plan, because they know the odds are against them. And they’re going to Do The Things regardless.
My darling pain that wounds and sears
And wrings a blessing out from tears
By deadening me to earthly cares;
And yet, a king, though Prudence well
Have taught thy subject to rebel.
Two different forms of confidence, I suppose. I’m glad I reread A Movable Feast…but I’m even more grateful to return to the Brontës. They have a steely, grim confidence that’s missing from Hemingway’s cafés and bars. It’s the kind of self-assuredness that gives no quarter, but also takes nothing for granted.
And am I wrong to worship, where
Faith cannot doubt, nor hope despair,
Since my own soul can grant my prayer?
Speak, God of visions, plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!
Walking invisible, perhaps…but determined to share in the feast.
PS. The poem referenced throughout is “Plead For Me,” by Emily Brontë!
What I’m Listening to this Week
“O great mystery…”
I listened to Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” while watching the lunar eclipse last week. True, it’s a little schmaltzy, but it was perfect for the occasion. And yes, I hard-core love the intense crescendo around 4:10.