GUEST BLOG POST FROM LETICIA AT THE CROW EMPORIUM
I am very pleased to share this guest blog post with you today from Leticia at The Crow Emporium.
The Crow Emporium is one of my favourite online shops selling a range of literary themed items.
The Crow Emporium has recently released an illustrated edition of Jane Eyre, which must be one of the most beautiful editions ever produced of a classic work of literature.
The hardcover edition of Jane Eyre is cloth bound with gold foil. It features art work by artists Kirsty Maclennan, Maria Brunetti and Christina Rauh Fishburne.
Publishing Jane Eyre The Crow Emporium Illustrated Edition was an epic feat of artistic collaboration. I was stunned by the camaraderie, excited by the passion, enthralled by the vision that Charlotte Brontë engendered in all of us. Most of all I was beguiled by the question: How did the creativity of two women whose ancestors walked the same Italian streets centuries ago intersect in a small village on the North West moors of England?
I met Christina Rauh Fishburne through her brother Charles, a noted New York musician and both epic Brontëphiles. We instantly started swapping stories and were bemused to find that our families were from the same Sicilian province of Calabria, and joke to this day, there is a high probability we are related in some way. More than sheer geography leads us to this assumption, for something we also share quite vividly is our love for the Brontë’s.
Upon discovering the incredible writing, and then the artistic talent Christina had, I knew we had to make some magic together for my little shop The Crow Emporium. We started with the Brontë Juvenilia, Christmas scenes in the Parsonage with the Brontë siblings and culminated with the illustrated edition of Jane Eyre.
Over a cup of tea and a splendid cake (well, actually, over email – although I was eating cake when reading it), Christina explained “As a child I was fascinated by my mother’s account of her childhood. Her mother, my grandmother, left Italy for my grandfather in an arranged marriage. The last time I saw my grandmother, there was a series of framed photos near her bed: Jesus, The Madonna, all her grand and great grandchildren, and a black and white picture of a handsome young man. His name was Bernardo and she loved him. He was not my grandfather. My grandmother loved this man but had no future with him. If she’d had a future with him, I would not be here. The “what if’s” are unending. I don’t know the entire story of her feelings or if he even felt the same. She was a paranoid schizophrenic–strong beyond doubt, able to raise 7 children, able to survive in a foreign country, able to go on alone after being abandoned– but the young man framed beside her bed: did he love her? Did she write a backstory for herself in order to continue? Is that even wrong?”
My childhood was filled with similar endless stories that would make epic novels. Tales from lands far off. Rich, embroidered stories of people I only glimpsed in dusty frames and for whom candles were lit on important dates of the year. The whispered stories that children were not to hear (we KNEW), and the dark tangled paths that as a child you just didn’t understand. This is how I learnt to see the world, and people. Through words and retelling, from months old letters and voices on cassette tapes which were sent over oceans to unite lives which had been separated. As the times moved on and the worlds they spoke of evolved, my parents’ memories were stagnant and repetitious. Faithful, like a favourite classic tome. It was always a return to home. My Mum would patiently listen as she made our dinner in the kitchen, and I’d read to her from my constant creations. Dopey the Dragon who flew across the world, the gnomes who came to life at night and tended the garden, my endless book of spells which I would chant in the backyard, and the unending trips to the local library to find the next book. I was in effect, a squib-Matilda.
It was a similar experience for Christina, “My parents are incredible storytellers. Their sense of humor and riffing off of each other is legendary. I didn’t even realize the stories I’d been laughing at for years were, in fact, really freaking sad and scary until I was in my 20s. My parents deal. I think the children of the Greatest Generation either dealt or fell apart. My father’s mother was from Quebec, and his father was German-Irish. My mother’s parents were from Calabria, Italy. There’s no good reason for me to be living in England other than, I was meant to. The stories my parents told me were filled with laughter, joy, mistakes, fear, sadness, anxiety, and hope. Aren’t those the best elements of any story? The only books I want to read, the only stories I want to write, and the only legends I want to be a part of are made of those things. I love historical novels based in fact but absolutely not true. Possibility is everything to me. America used to be, maybe still is, known as the Land of Opportunity. An opportunity is a set of circumstances, it has to be taken, action must be chosen. A possibility is a thing that may happen. For no good reason other than it was meant to. I have great faith in God. There isn’t a lot of tangible proof going on in faith, of any sort. You have it, or you don’t. You deal or you fall apart. I’m not an immigrant, I’m only a foreigner. The best stories are from those who leave their established life, by choice or not, and start again in a new land. I believe every single person’s story is just that: leave what you know behind, use what you have, what you learn, what you’ve been given, and make something new.”
Like Charlotte, Branwell, Anne and Emily, our lives were enriched by the stories that we heard. I wonder what tales Patrick Brunty told of his ancestral lands. Charlotte and Arthur honeymooned in their familial lands of Ireland, both influenced no doubt by the stories they had heard and the ties which still called them to their tribal homes.
We know of these stories. These ties that bind. The tales of bravery. Crossing borders with a suitcase and only $30 in their pockets, or women who were wed to torturous strangers in far off lands. Women whose husbands died and were left to struggle and fight on farms whilst raising 4 children under five, men who were teachers in their country and worked in factories when they became disenfranchised of their identities. They had to recreate themselves. They had to regenerate. Forced to reinvent themselves like my Calabrian Nono who had to change his name from Antonino to Antonio because the man at the Argentine border said so, Patrick who changed his moniker from Brunty to Brontë, The grandmother who secretly loved another.
For Christina, “as a military wife, I’ll have lived overseas 12 years. I’m often homesick– for my country, my family, the familiar, and the convenient. In darker moments I’ll tell myself that I’m never where I want to be, and I’ll wonder why that is. Why can’t I be “allowed” to choose where I go? While I don’t consciously think of my grandparents, who, on both sides, came to America from other places, I do draw on something inside myself that’s anchored to a fixed point. In writing, I’m always trying to make two or more disparate events mean the same thing. In painting, I’m not at all concerned with reality–only getting the emotion of the shapes across. My goals in art are : texture, colour, half-accuracy, and total identity of feeling. The reader/viewer might not have ever watched an owl walk under a hedge and silently die, but they’ve felt the confused impulse to hope in the face of despair and endless frustration. Somehow, for me, telling a story about a dead owl is easier than saying I really hate my life at present, but have faith everything will be alright.”
In our lost worlds and drifting paths we all had to have the strength to adapt and change, and yet somehow hold on. Our hearts were anchored through stories, and through stories they released our minds. A hardship, a gift, the voices of the past becoming the stories of the future.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë The Crow Emporium Illustrated Edition can be found at www.thecrowemporium.com. To read the incredible stories of writer and artist Christina Rauh Fishburne head to https://www.christinarauhfishburne.com/
Thank you for listening to our story,
Leticia and Christina