“I’m just going to write because I cannot help it.”
~ Charlotte Brontë
They say that once you get your first tattoo, you’ll get addicted and never be able to stop getting them. That’s probably true. I can see how decorating your skin with the ultimate accessory could become an addictive process.
I’ve never had that concern though, not even after I got my first tattoo this past summer. I’m a sentimental person, so I trusted myself enough to know that any tattoo I got after my first one would be just as significant, just as reverently embarked upon, as my original one. For that reason, when my new husband asked me to accompany him the day immediately after our wedding to get his second tattoo, I knew I was also going to get mine. The thought didn’t frighten me, though, because as I said, I knew in my heart exactly what I wanted to get, I had known for a long time, and I felt keenly that I would never regret having this particular marking on my skin.
The first time I read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is an experience I will never forget. I was in grade 12, it was the first semester of my final year of high school, and my Studies in Literature professor was urging me vehemently to pick up this Victorian classic. She told me it was her favourite novel when she was my age (not yet 18 years old), and she had a feeling that Victorian novels were right up my alley. I had never read one before…not even Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol which are often regarded as childhood classics. No, I was unaware of what beauty and influence was contained in the pages of the Victorian novel, and so I hesitatingly picked up a copy of Jane Eyre from my school’s library with no expectations whatsoever.
High school wasn’t hard for me, honestly. I was never bullied or ridiculed, I did well academically, my friends were good enough to support me in those teenage pursuits we all seem to experience. But, I was lonely despite how full my everyday life was. Something was missing, and I felt deep down in my not yet green heart that I was in need of a true companion, someone who would fully understand me, who would boost my confidence, challenge me, make me into the woman I was always meant to be but was somewhat too afraid to fully become. My best female friends weren’t quite doing that for me, my crush was an absolute lost cause…I felt different, like there was a little spark inside me that no one I yet knew could quite understand. I felt like I was drifting, with no one to root me to the ground.
I found the companion I sought in the pages of Jane Eyre. Well, lucky for me, I actually found three of them. The first was that narrator, Jane Eyre herself, who blew me away with her inner strength, her ability to face those who oppressed and belittled her with this remarkable poise and confidence while simultaneously acknowledging her faults and working to improve her internal self-esteem. Jane is a force of nature, a small woman who can stand up to even the scariest dragons (I’m looking at you Aunt Reed and Blanche Ingram!), and I knew instantly that she would serve as a model for me in my academic and professional interactions for the rest of my life. The second was her lover, Edward Fairfax Rochester, whose utter devotion to Jane was something I knew I needed to find in my own life. This image of Mr. Rochester as a force who both challenges and encourages Jane, who pushes her to step outside her comfort zone while also respecting exactly who she is, is one that I held within my heart until the day I met my now husband…and when, in the moment I met him, I recognized a bit of the Rochester-spirit in him, my heart became content in a way it never was before.
The third companion I found in the pages of Jane Eyre was probably the most significant, and that was Charlotte Brontë herself. Charlotte’s personal notions, morals and ideas are so evident in every page, in every single sentence of Jane Eyre, that it is impossible to come out of the reading experience without feeling like Charlotte herself has become a dear friend. I recognized in the author Charlotte Brontë a woman that I could’ve been kindred spirits with, a woman whose beliefs would have complimented and bettered my own. In her, I found the best friend my heart was yearning for, and it pained me profoundly to know that she was a woman I would never ever meet. I did whatever I could to get closer to her, to try to get at this incredible woman behind this powerful text, and so I picked up every other text she ever wrote (including her juvenilia), I got myself on a plane to Haworth and visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and I devoured every film adaptation of every text she ever wrote. And I vowed, silently, that one day I was going to get something to do with Charlotte Brontë tattooed on my skin.
I’m not one to get a quote tattooed on me, to be honest. How would I ever narrow down Charlotte’s work to one single line that touched me the most? It would have been impossible, and so much of how Charlotte’s works shaped me comes from the spirit, the overwhelming feeling and passion behind her texts, not the specific words themselves. I knew that slapping a quote from Jane Eyre on my arm wasn’t going to work, so I had to be a bit more creative than that…and when the idea dawned on me, I knew I had landed on something that would bring me no endless joy every time I looked at it.
It’s a sad fact of my life that I will never have the chance to get my multiple copies of Jane Eyre signed by Charlotte Brontë. Make me line up for a week, in the bitter cold of the Yorkshire moors…I’ll do it, for a chance to meet Charlotte Brontë and have her scrawl her name, peeking over her glasses, in my favourite copy of her beloved novel. But, you can’t meet an author who’s no longer alive… You can get an autograph from her though…my left arm is proof of that much. When the idea struck me to have Charlotte Brontë’s signature, from her original letters, tattooed on my arm, I knew I was going to do it, no question, at some point in my life. And that is the exact tattoo I got the day after my wedding, to commemorate not only how much of an influence Charlotte has had on my life, but also to emphasize the fact that my new identity of “wife” doesn’t erase or overcome my forever identity as Janille N G, the girl shaped and designed in large part by Charlotte Brontë. Of course, I wanted my tattoo to have an air of mystery about it too, so rather than choosing to have Charlotte Brontë’s name done, I went with Currer Bell. It always struck me as brilliant that Charlotte would choose to publish her first novel under a pseudonym, so that it would be judged on its merits rather than the sex of its author, and I felt that having Currer Bell’s name on my arm would remind me forever and always to be fierce and strong, regardless of the gentleness and humility traditionally associated with my sex. I, of course, added the tiny heart at the end of Currer’s signature as a nod toward this very blog which was, after all, originally inspired by my visceral response to and passionate love for Jane Eyre.
There are a lot of people out there who wouldn’t understand why I would get a tattoo like this. What if you end up finding a new favourite book? they might ask. Well, I don’t think that would ever be possible…and even so, there is no doubt in my mind that Charlotte Brontë will always be one of my dearest friends because she has had one of the greatest impacts on who I am. It was Charlotte who gave me the courage to dig deep and find out who the real Janille N G truly is, and for that reason, I felt it was appropriate that she have a chance to sign one of her living, breathing works.
What do you think of my new tattoo? Do you have any tattoos yourself and, if so, were they book-inspired?
Janille N G
Girl with a Green Heart