Had I known I would one day become a writer, I would have done far more reading in my early years. Reading good literature is probably the most important preparation there is for becoming a writer. I wish I had devoured all the classics as I was growing up: Dickens, Brontë, Austen, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and others. Of course, many of these authors’ works were covered on my required reading for school, but I should have consumed so many more…when I had the time…instead of playing catch-up in my sixties and seventies.
Classic literature, like classic music, has stood the test of time for a reason. By definition, it is recognized to be of the highest rank of excellence. The classics are works of enduring significance that I could have studied all these years, learning at the knees of the great masters.
The ability to express one’s thoughts on paper with accuracy and elegance is a craft which, like any craft, requires study, practice, critique, rewrites, and more practice. In many cases, talent plays a miniscule role in producing a good essay, poem or novel.
Perhaps the Brontës were inherently gifted as writers, but according to Juliet Barker, author of the biography, The Brontës, their literary upbringing served their talent well. They were voracious readers. On page 169, Barker writes:
“From the books that we know the Brontës possessed, it is possible to deduce something of the education Patrick [Brontë] offered his children.”
Barker goes on to list history, geography and grammar texts. “Each,” she says, “was heavily annotated” by the children and undoubtedly provided inspiration for the people and places they would invent. But, according to Barker’s research, the Brontë household’s collection of books also included second-hand volumes of classic literature by Homer, Horace and Virgil, to name a few–second-hand because books were expensive in the nineteenth century and were considered an extravagance–and other literary treasures:
“…a 1743 edition of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a 1791 edition of the hymn writer, Isaac Watts’ Doctrine of the Passions and a 1797 edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.”
Also displayed prominently in the Brontë home library were numerous volumes of the Bible, plus poetry books, texts from their father’s Cambridge education, and a copy of The Union Dictionary. What I find incredible is that they mastered the art of writing without the benefit of internet research or a readily available Thesaurus. Theirs was a thorough, well-rounded education whose teachers were books.
As a late-blooming author, I am envious of the Brontë sisters who were encouraged to start early and fill their days reading. At my age, I’ve had to adopt the mantra, “So many books; so little time.”
Now, please excuse me while I curl up in my favorite chair and whittle away at my reading list.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available at amazon.com or hightidepublications.com Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.
 Juliet Barker, The Brontës, Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family, Pegasus Books 2010