Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome once again Pages and Patterns guest blogger, Fran Ciotoli, who reflects on the pages on her shelves and patterns in her life. As always, readers are invited to share your reactions in a comment.
“Any time with Jamie Fraser is time well spent.”
Until a few months ago I was unacquainted with James Fraser of Diana Gabaldon’s immensely popular Outlander series, but I was intrigued in part by the recommendation of a colleague I greatly respect. It didn’t take long for me to crush on the main character—Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scot—and it was really no surprise, given the many notches in my literary bedpost.
My first real literary love was a writer himself, the darkly handsome and rakish Lord Byron. I distinctly remember sitting in eleventh-grade English class as our teacher recited, “She walks in beauty like the night.” At the poem’s end, fifteen Catholic girls and one nun sighed in unison. I was obsessed with “My Dark Lord” until the following week, when we read “To the Moon,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. From that poem forward, I was totally Team Shelley.
Later that year, my wonderful English teacher and closet Romantic, Sister Marion, led the class through Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. I discovered in these novels two very different heroes: Rochester and Darcy. I became involved in a love triangle that continues to this day. Rochester’s raw, explosive temper complemented Darcy’s haughty and controlled cynicism and both spoke to passion in their own ways. With these men, I could be crushed in a consuming embrace and courted with the finest wit.
I had a new English teacher my senior year, a rogue ex-nun with an Irish brogue who was five feet of feisty. This was AP English—for serious readers and writers. And I wasn’t disappointed. In this class I learned to love the mind of a man. Our first novel was The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. While I will never forget the image forged in Rand’s first two sentences—“Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked on the edge of a cliff”—it was Roark’s creative genius that fascinated. Similarly, Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, read later that year, taught me to value a man who embraces and lives by a core set of beliefs. It is embedded in everything he says and does. Whether proclaiming loudly like Roark or quietly like Atticus, the result is the same—I love such characters for their clear-minded intelligence and devotion to their values and ideals.
As a woman in her late thirties, I am no longer in the first blush of love. I have lived with these men for many years and our relationships have changed through multiple readings and manifold life experiences that affect interpretation. They are not clandestine affairs, but openly part of the woman I am. My husband knows all about these men, and is not threatened in the least. Nor should he be; in him I find many of the best characteristics of my literary loves.
However, I have only recently begun to discuss these relationships with other women. And I find that many of the women I respect and admire also have multiple literary lovers. Take my colleague Claire—one of the strongest, most intelligent, beautiful women I have ever met and a professional at the highest level in her field—who can really dish the dirt about time-traveling with Jamie Fraser. The majority of these women are happily married to smart and attractive men who can and will change diapers and make dinner, and who appreciate the women in their lives.
I say it isn’t about our real-life men at all, but about ourselves and finding who we are in who we love.
Reading is a journey within and beyond me that sustains and enriches me. And it’s something I do alone—which is hard to come by for most women. I return to Byron, Darcy, and now Jamie Fraser, because in the wise words of my friend Claire, any time spent by myself is time well spent.