English poet Elizabeth Barret Browning once wrote I look everywhere for grandmothers and see none. A writer of the Victorian era, she spoke out against the lack of a female literary tradition that would give women of that era the courage and inspiration to be writers.
As a young woman living in the twenty-first century I am thankful that I have many ‘grandmothers of literature’ to look to for inspiration; but none have been more influential in my life as an avid reader, and now writer, than that of my own grandma.
My grandma was part of my literary journey from the very beginning. In my first years at school she would be the one to sit with me every night to listen to me read my readers. I would curl up on her lap in one of the soft loungeroom chairs, and she would patiently help me through difficult words, such as ‘hippopotamus’. We wouldn’t stop until I could read it fluently.
Then, every night before bed my sister and I would request a robin story from the English Women’s Weekly Grandma would order for the knitting patterns. As we curled up under the covers, she would bring the day to day troubles and adventures of the robin families to life.
It was also from my grandma I got my first taste of the classics.
Years before I could even attempt to read Jane Austen on my own, I was completely absorbed in her world though the BBC adaptions that lived in the VHS shelf. Sat by Grandma’s feet I was entranced by the story of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. The romance, the comedy and the quick wit sunk into my child mind, even if I didn’t fully understand it all yet.
These formative experiences greatly influence my taste in literature.
It was with great joy that at fourteen I was finally able to crack open Grandma’s copy of the complete works of Austen to finally read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. That copy now lives in my bookshelf, a precious memento for the grandma who passed away only a few short years later when I was sixteen.
It is often one of my greatest regrets that my grandma didn’t lived long enough to see me pursue my passion as a writer, that she passed before I could talk to her about those stories she loved so much as an adult. But, while she may no longer be around to share her favourite stories with me, her influence still lives on through the extensive bookshelves my grandpa built for her.
Visits to my grandparent’s house have often lead to a discovery of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. The dusty hard covers and their particular old book smells brings her back to me, even if only for the duration of the story.
So, while Elizabeth Barret Browning may have looked everywhere for grandmothers and found none, I was lucky enough to have one who not only encouraged me, but lead me to the world of literary grandmothers who I look to for inspiration today.