Hello reader, welcome to a wonderful, moving, and inspiring guest post. I’ve made no secret of that fact that I adore the Brontë pieces I’ve purchased from The Crow Emporium. One of my favourites is the newly released illustrated edition of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. It’s a beautiful edition, lovingly crafted, and has pride of place on my bookshelf. Below is a guest post from Brontë fan and founder of The Crow Emporium, Leticia Lentini, in which she describes how the illustrated Jane Eyre came to be. Reader, I love it. And so will you.
The Making of The Crow Emporium Illustrated Edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre by Leticia Lentini
On a particular day in July 2020 I was surrounded by a world in the midst of a pandemic where everything seemed hopeless. I turned to my special book for comfort as I nestled into my old armchair with a snoring Boston Terrier asleep on my lap. I remember another time of hopelessness when this book became my salvation from drowning in grief. The book of course was Jane Eyre. As my mother lay dying from cancer without cure I would spend every hour by her side, and when she would fall asleep I would escape to the moors and into the footsteps of my heroine. Literally finishing the last line and returning to the first in a single movement of my aching heart.
I thought of Charlotte, sitting by the bedside of her father in a dark room, after his own medical battles with his eyesight. I thought of how she created when darkness was her companion. I thought about how creativity does not need to wallow in pain or sadness, but in fact how it elevates us from those moments. I lifted my eyes and caught sight of something twinkling in the people around me. For as the world was plunged into darkness, there was a burst of stars that set the sky ablaze. I quickly turned to my bleary eyed companion and said “A homage to Charlotte, where we thank her for her courage to keep fighting, her ambition to surmount the impossible, her writing which transported, and her heart which longed.” This was the beginning.
I turned to my creative sisters. Artist and writers each one, both fiercely talented I knew the power of coming together and championing the fire that lay within would produce magic. We walked around our digital table and together re-imagined one of the greatest stories written by one of our favourite authors.
As artist and writer Christina Rauh Fishburne who painted the twenty iconic images for the book explains, “Charlotte, as a small, quiet, woman writer, has been an inspiration to me since high school, but it hasn’t been ‘til the past 3 years that she’s become truly special to me. The more I read about her the more I see not just the odds she overcame but also the power of her personality. I want so much to be like her. My father was a minister, my brothers and I had our own elaborate childhood world, I’ve written stories since I was 5, I’ve self-published books, and I also can’t help but write. But the fire Charlotte had, the determination and clarity of her vision, and the struggle to create through torrents of grief are things I can’t replicate. She was a one-off.”
Kirsty Maclennan intricately illustrated the incredible title page, and a whole alphabet for the book. We decided very early on to take inspiration from the beautiful old books of the past. Kirsty explains:
“For both the title page and the illustrated alphabet, we were inspired by Art Nouveau and the decorative arts as a whole, with William Morris, among others, being a major influence. From the beginning, I wanted to incorporate the image of Bertha Mason into the illustration. She is the woman who does not get a happy ending. I want the reader to see her, to remember this and ask, why? Hence, she looks out of the title page, surrounded by reams of coiling hair, with her hands pressed against an invisible barrier.
“With equally gothic connotations, the title page also features Rochester’s chestnut tree, which becomes so emblematic of his and Jane’s love. In keeping with the Gothic sensibilities of the novel, the theme of the alphabet is flowers and plants that are given in grief and mourning. When my grandma passed away half way through the project, the alphabet took on a renewed sense of meaning to me. There are hidden messages of love woven into each and every letter.”
Three years ago I created The Crow Emporium as a place to elevate creativity, to celebrate literature, to champion collaboration and talented women. This project was the culmination of that dream. Christina is no stranger to the world of collaboration and creation with oceans and physical hurdles in between. She writes:
“I love collaborating! I’ve worked with my brother, New York based musician Charlie Rauh, on several projects, and, currently, with Icelandic musician Inga Bjork. Working with Charlie and our other brother, Chris, has primarily been my way to cope with being so far away from my family– especially during uncertain times. In fact every collaboration I’ve done is with someone I can’t physically meet with! Something very important happens when two or more are gathered with a shared purpose, and something truly special when none of those people can see each other. Science is beautiful in that you can add two solutions together and expect an outcome, or you can combine two elements and know exactly what will happen every time. Art is beautiful because you never know what will happen when you tell a musician, a writer, and a painter to look at a tree and tell you what they see.”
Towards the end of the project I knew there was a little more fairy dust that needed to be sprinkled. When I worked at the Brontë Parsonage Museum library, I remember seeing the fragments of textiles in the collection and marvelling at how beautiful they were. I wanted to somehow capture that in the book. I reached out to Argentine artist Maria Brunetti to help me re-imagine the ‘Thackeray Dress’ as our stunning endpapers for the book. A literary cherry on top of an already abundant cake of creativity. The artists had delivered upon the vague and seemingly impossible dream of a girl and her dog in the midst of a bleak world.
The final missing piece was a soundtrack. Every great moment needs a tune to accompany it. And I could turn to no other than one of the most talented songwriters I knew, Lizzy Rose Sanders. Again, without hesitation, she simply understood what was being unravelled in this project and became a part of the swirl of creativity that brought together such disparate talents in one beautiful crescendo.
It is this creative coming together which made the project so special, and the end piece so majestic and iconic. We all wanted each other to succeed, we all gasped and applauded when each piece came into frame, we quietly created alone, but celebrated in sisterhood. We kept to our task, telling no one of what we were doing, styling it Project Gytrash so we could secretly talk about it without accidentally revealing the secret. The excitement and wonder of the creations lifted us from the weary world that was struggling to breathe, into the realm of sunlight just beyond the borders of the fate of Icarus. For we did this not for great profits or fame, but for a humble tribute to a woman we loved, because we could not help but create.
“As an artist, it is not often that I have the opportunity to work on a collaborative project. It is also not something I do unless I have complete faith in the project and my fellow creatives. The Crow Emporium edition of Jane Eyre was, from the very start, buoyed by the generous spirit and sheer talent of everyone involved, all of whom, it is worth noting, are women. Everything about this project just felt right. Something that bound us all, even before we began, was our aim to do full justice to Charlotte Bronte’s work and a story that meant so much to each of us.”
Huge thank you to Nicola from Brontë Babe Blog for allowing us to tell our little story of how the little shop known as The Crow Emporium created a bit of Bronte magic. You can find Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, The Crow Emporium Edition and associated artwork at www.thecrowemporium.com
Thoughts on the Edition
Reader, I hope you enjoyed reading this lovely piece by Leticia. And I hope it has inspired you to dare to dream in this very uncertain world. I can’t recommend this edition of Jane Eyre highly enough; it’s just a dream. From the gorgeous red cover to the beautiful endpaper, and from the wonderful illustrations to Charlotte’s brilliant storytelling, it’s an amazing edition to have in your collection.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
Introduction and final paragraph by Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
The rest of the piece is a guest post by Leticia Lentini of The Crow Emporium.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images or videos from this post without seeking permission first. Photograph of Bob is copyright of Nicola F. All other images and videos in this post belong to Leticia Lentini who has kindly granted me permission to feature them on this post.