Readingwise, nothing can beat the year when I discovered the following books, back to back - Gone with the Wind, Pride & Prejudice and Rebecca. All three remain my perennial favourites. Elizabeth's wit, Scarlett's courage and charm, the gauche herione crippled by shyness in Rebecca inspired in me ambitions I had scarcely dared to entertain.
And the men!
Swashbuckling Rhett, whose sardonic eyebrow cocking smile hid a yearning to be understood. Kind, noble Maxim. Who, all gruff and grim, never let on his fears. And the imperious Darcy. Who humbled himself before the woman he came to admire.
I lived in those worlds then. Still do sometimes, it must be admitted. Every afternoon, my reading corner in the Southern Avenue flat would magically disappear, and I would be in Atlanta, peeping behind voluminous skirts as men bowed and women tossed their curls. Or I would be running along to the cove in Manderley, heart in my mouth, as the Cornish sea frothed in menace.
I suspect, all these women writers, at some point, were little girls much like I was. And maybe Margaret Mitchel really did meet her Rhett. Or Daphne du Maurier really did love a Maxim. Her precious Manderley does exist, so did perhaps Mr de Winter.
Much has been made of Austen's little romance with a young Irishman named Tom Lefroy in the movie Becoming Jane. So while that solves our mystery of who the real Darcy was, why Jane never let go of her prejudices to be united with her Darcy, I wonder. She died young, leaving behind her works that continue to charm and enthrall. But did she die of a broken heart?
It's true though, to create something that moves us as much as these beautiful pieces of literature do, requires much more than talent, ingenuity and wit. It needs that special brand of wisdom and feeling that can only come from one who has experienced something similar. From someone who has known great love and even greater pain.
I had known neither when I first read these books. But now that I am older, and have seen much more than I ever thought I would, these books still touch me in a way few things can. That's the real magic these women had. And while many maudlin efforts are made everyday to reach some of their stature, I would be surprised if anyone really can.