By now, most devotees of Tolkien are aware of how much he wanted Middle-Earth to be a full-color, illustrated world as well as a verbal one, a desire that was mostly denied him by his publishers because of the expense involved in reproducing those illustrations. The latest bit of evidence of Tolkien’s desire is the recent discovery of a map of Middle-Earth that he annotated. The map, whose details are quite clear in the article’s photograph, shows Hobbiton on the same latitude as Oxford–a fact which has also been known for some time–but it appears that that fact also suggests that the city of Minas Tirith is on the same latitude as Ravenna, Italy, a speculation I, for one, hadn’t heard before. Back to the novel, I think, to see if there are Italianate details in Minas Tirith that I’ve missed all these years. . . .
One would have to have a heart of stone not to have felt the extraordinary passions beneath the surface of the relationship between Jane Eyre and her employer, Mr. Rochester, in Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel. But where in the world did those passions come from? They had to come from somewhere, some real source. The human imagination is a vivid thing, but it doesn’t always give us access to love in all its forms unless we’ve had concrete experiences of it first.
Now, Claire Harman’s new biography of Bronte argues that the author did have a real source for her love, in an unrequited relationship with her former teacher, Constantin Heger in 1844-45. The article does not make clear–and I wonder whether the biography does–whether Bronte’s infatuation with Heger truly was an obsession or not, but the Bronte sisters’ relative isolation on the Yorkshire moors has been established beyond doubt. That isolation and consequent lack of exposure to people and events may be a key in understanding Bronte’s reactions. The more isolated one is, the more likely one is to find unfamiliar people and places new and exciting. I’ve often imagined just how fresh, exciting, and even mysterious a Shakespeare play must have seemed to its audience when the company in question toured the countryside. Life in bustling, tumultuous London was one thing; but new experiences for people out in farm country or on the moors must have engendered all sorts of intense and well-nigh permanent reactions because of their freshness, whether that freshness was a play, or some new person we’d only just met.