Rebecca’s 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Literature

The following post is my first ever guest post. (Hurray!) It was written by my dear friend, Rebecca. Rebecca graduated from the prestigious University of Pittsburgh in 2011 with a degree in English literature and history. She is currently that degree to use as a staff worker for University Christian Outreach, an incredible organization devoted to Christian outreach in an ecumenical environment on university campuses around the world.
She loves Jane Eyre in the way that I love Pride and Prejudice, and she loves coffee in, well, the same way that I love it. And if she was a vegetable, she would be an asparagus.
Rebecca blogs at The Ties That Bind. She cannot knit, but we still love her.
10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned From Literature
 
1. “Prejudices, it is well known, are more difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones” (Bronte, Jane Eyre 391). 
 
Jane Eyre is my favorite novel, and this quote is one of my favorites from it. I feel passionately that education in the solution to a plethora of social ills. I really admire Jane’s wisdom and her unwavering morals even when life throws a wrench into her well laid plans.
 
2. “Yo papa and yo mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves” (Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God 192). 
 
Two things that all literature must do: reveal something about the character of God, and teach the reader something about theyselves. 
 
3. “The mother women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle… They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Chopin, The Awakening 11). 
 
As I skimmed my battered copy of The Awakening for a quote to use for this post, I stumbled across the handwriting of my 16 year old self next to this quote with the question, “Is it possible for a women to stay at home and care for her children and still be happy?!” I wonder what my 16 year old self would do, if she knew her 23 year old future self  has no idea. 
 
4. “It’s as if every body’s made this tacit agreement to live in a state of total self-deception. The hell with reality! Let’s have a whole bunch of cute little winding roads and cute little houses painted white and pink and baby blue; let’s all be good consumers and have a lot of Togetherness and bring our children up in a bath of sentimentality- Daddy’s a great man because he makes a living, Mummy’s a great woman because she’s stuck by Daddy all these years- and if old reality ever does pop out and say Boo, we’ll all get busy and pretend it never happened” (Yates,Revolutionary Road, 68-69).
 
I love Yates’ daring criticism of the American Dream, specifically the suburbs. I say daring because Revolutionary Road was published in 1961, on the eve of America’s counter-culture movement. What do you do when you realize  that everything you’ve worked your adult life towards is causing you to rot from the inside out? Do you have an affair with a pretty secretary from your office, and accept a promotion from a job you hate to provide for your family, like Frank Wheeler did? Or do you perform an at-home abortion so your family can start over in France, like April Wheeler did? I love that you finish  this novel just as confused as the characters over what’s the “right” solution to a life of quiet desperation. 
 
5.“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 
-Jack Kerouac On the Road
 
I am reading this book right now, and am head over heals in love with it. Mostly because I will never drive from New York to San Francisco and back five times doing 110 in a borrowed Cadillac. Nor will I take a lover in every town I spend the night. Nor will I write poetry while high on heroin. But it sure is fun to read about Dean and Sal as they unapologetically flout every social convention I can think of. 
 
6. “Life is going to give you just what you put in it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait.” 
-Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 
 
Maya Angelou is one of my heroes in life. I love that her advice doesn’t sound like an Oprah “live your best life” bumper sticker. Happiness comes to those who do, those who live passionetly, those who pray, and those who wait. 
 
7. “Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (“Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” 
-Antoine de Saint Exupery The Little Prince
 
I read this book for the first time in middle school. I was struck by it’s simple wisdom. I read it again en francaise in high school (the only book I managed to do so with). I was again struck by it’s simple wisdom. I love The Little Prince’s secret. That lessons of the heart transcend age, language, and cultural barriers.  
 
8.“I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.” 
-Daphne du Maurier Rebecca
 
I’ve wanted to be older since I was a little kid. There’s something about wearing pearls at 36 that tells the world that you’ve got your act together. I appreciate thatRebecca convinced me to not be in such a hurry to grow up. Adulthood is about more than just wearing the pearls, it’s about what you had to do to get them. 
 
9. “The Heart is a lonely hunter with only one desire! To find some lasting comfort in the arms of anothers fire…driven by a desperate hunger to the arms of a neon light, the heart is a lonely hunter when there’s no sign of love in sight!”
-Carson McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
 
This quote is the best explanation I can think of for why people do stupid things in the name of love. Most literature exists to explain why people do stupid things in the name of love. 
 
10. “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book” 
-Malcolm X The Autobiography of Malcolm X
 
I read Malcolm X’s autobiography this past summer. Did you know that Malcolm X learned how to read and write in prison? I’d always assumed that he was educated at an Ivy League university because of his powerful oratorical skills. If one book can turn a street hustler into the spokesperson for the Black Power movement, think of what one book can do for you. 
 
Go forth with a skip in your step and your noose in a book. 

The Ten Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Literature

This is the first post of my “The Ten Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Literature” series. It was originally supposed to be a collaboration with a friend, but things didn’t quite work out. Perhaps that post will still happen further down the line, but I’ll keep you posted on that.

Regardless, this is my list of the ten most important things I’ve learned from literature (novels, plays, and poetry). I have a couple of other people lined up to write posts for this, and I’m always willing to take more people’s opinions on this subject.

I’m also planning on wrapping this series up with a post on the ten most important but also humorous things I’ve learned from life. After all, certain life lessons from certain fictional characters (Beatrice and Benedick, I’m looking at you.) are important, but at the same time, they ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

However, after far too much ado, here is my list…

The Ten Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Literature

10. You don’t need scores of suitors. You only need one, if he’s the right one. (Little Women)

I haven’t yet met my Mr. Knightley, but I believe that I will one day. I hope that I will not need a line of beaux on a string or scores of suitors to find the right man. I hope that like Meg, Jo, and Amy I will meet with the right man at the right time.

I believe that Amy March spoke her greatest wisdom when she said that you don’t need scores of suitors…or a line of beaux on a string, Ruby Gillis…all you need is the right man. It worked for her and for her sisters. And all Anne Shirley ever really needed was the right man. She just had to come to that realization in her own time.

9.”Tomorrow is a clean slate, with no mistakes in it.” (Anne of Green Gables)

Some days are pretty disastrous. But at the end of the time, it is always comforting to go to bed knowing that I haven’t screwed tomorrow up…yet.

8. Be on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan. Live as a Narnian even if there isn’t any Narnia. (The Silver Chair)

In other words, I will believe in God no matter what. And Puddleglum supports me on that. To me, this quotation is pretty self-explanatory.

7. That which we are, we are. (“Ulysses” by Tennyson)

Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else. I’m not sure that was exactly Tennyson’s message, but that’s what I’ve always taken from that line.

6. Tread softly; you are most likely treading on someone’s dreams. (“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by Yeats)

You never know who you’re impacting. You never know whose dreams you’re walking on or whose life you’re impacting. This poem is probably my favorite thing about the movie, Equilibrium.

5. I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses. All of us. Didn’t your father ever tell you that? Didn’t he? (The Little Princess)

All girls are princesses. All girls-no matter who they are or what they look like; all girls are princesses, and they deserve to be treated as such.

4. Watch what you say; you never know who just heard you call her tolerable. (Pride and Prejudice)

You never know who is listening. As a teacher, I am frequently reminded of this. You never know who just overheard what you said or how that impacted them.

3. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. (The Lord of the Rings)

We don’t have to make the truly BIG decisions in life. We don’t have to decide the fate of the universe. All we mere mortals must do is decide what we’re going to do with our lives and how we’re going to live them.

2. When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt. (The Velveteen Rabbit)

Being Real means being loved. Being loved inevitably involves being hurt. But when you are really and truly REAL, you don’t mind it because you understand it more.

1. “If I have taught you to carry the cross and die on it, then I have taught you everything. Have I taught you this?” (Father Elijah)

October!

We have now successfully made it to the eighth, oops, tenth month of the year. That name is so darn misleading. Octopi do not have ten legs. Octagons do not have ten sides. So why is October the tenth month of the year? I’m going to take the easy way out and blame Julius Caesar.

October means some big things are stirring behind the scenes of the blog. I have two posts sitting my draft folder that will be posted during October. Both are on the topic of the lessons we can learn from literature. I’m very excited about both posts. However, this working with drafts and spending weeks stewing over a post is different from my normal posting style.

Typically, my posts are what I, as an English teacher, like to call “quick writes.” I pick a topic, I write about it for less than an hour, I edit the post, and I post it. It works for writing reflections on my life or blogging about my knitting and sewing.

However, these two pieces require thought and reflection. They’re more like essays. The first is a piece that I expect to have posted by the end of the weekend-provided that my workload doesn’t suddenly increase dramatically and thwart me at the pass. The other piece is a collaboration with a good friend of mine that will kick-off a series of guest posts on the topic “The Ten Most Important Things I’ve Learned from Literature.” I’m hoping to be posting this series every Thursday or Friday this month, but I’m not entirely sure about that.

Beyond these two (potentially) awesome posts, there are also some other big things coming your way. For one, my Kerrera *should* be finished by the end of October. I’m not promising anything here, but I’d like it to get off my needles and into my wardrobe ASAP. And I’d also really like to get a lovely fall photoshoot with it while that’s still an option.

I’m also going to have some fun little girl knits popping up here over the next month or so. One is about 50% done and the other two are sitting in skeins of yarn that need to be wound into balls. I’m thinking those should be fun, quick, and cute. Unfortunately, none of them will be modeled until Christmastime, but c’est la vie.

There may be a sock or two popping up to help celebrate Socktober…but again, no promises; I do know that my life is busy.

And there will be some projects that will only be in sneak-peak mode because, well, Christmas is less than three months away and in knitter-speak that means “start knitting. Yesterday.” (FYI: I didn’t.)

And this month, I may finally get around to writing the “100 things you never really needed to know about me” post that I occasionally think that I should write for kicks and giggles.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what else will be happening around here in October. But keep your eyes peeled for “The Ten Most Important Things I Learned from Literature.” I’m hoping to have the first post up before the weekend.