Hi APC, my name is Ines! I am 16 and I am a senior in a French high school. I am Moroccan on my father’s side, and French on my mother’s, but I have spent my entire childhood in France. Writing is a tough exercise, especially when you have a lot of ideas in mind. I have decided I would use this white page to talk to you about literature, and about how I discovered my-feminist-self through reading.
I guess I can only consider myself a lucky person when it comes to books: my mum is a literature teacher, and I remember spending hours as a kid in front of her bookcase, pretending to read books while I was actually holding them the wrong way. It came to me naturally, like a medicine you’ve always known about: books would now be mine. I guess, even if this metaphor has been used again and again, it is right to say that reading is a never-ending journey. It is not only a way to escape from the world, but it is also a way to reshape it, understand it, and understand how to change it. In a world where we define ourselves through our image and appearances, reading makes you define yourself through what you learn, and what’s inside you. Most of all, it is a way of learning to appreciate being alone: for hours, there is just you and these ink-covered pages, in a dimly lit room.
I could make a list of all the books that changed me, but there are too many of them. However, I have only read one book that felt like a part of me, whose words felt incredibly right, perfectly chosen. I read Wuthering Heights for the first time when I was twelve, and have read it again and again since then. This novel defines passion through the incredible love story between Cathy and Heathcliff. The story never goes where you think it will; every single word is a surprise that makes you doubt what you have just read. But what’s the most incredible to me is how every single emotion I felt the first time I read Wuthering Heights was as intense—if it is not more—the second, third, fourth time I immersed myself in the book’s pages. Emily’s words never lose their power.
A second thing that fascinates me about Wuthering Heights is its writer, Emily Bronte. Her life seems to be as mysterious as her book, also an ingenious mix of truth and fantasy. She grew up with three siblings (including two sisters who also became writers), but always was the shy, wild one. They say she used to walk all alone in the moors, losing herself in the endless cold hills. When looking at her apparently boring life in the 19th century empty moors of England, I cannot help but ask myself how she could possibly have invented such an amazing and unusual story. And this question, which historians tried to answer unsuccessfully, makes the book appear like even more of a mystery.
Looking back to the first time I read Wuthering Heights, I also realize that this is surprisingly (or not) the book that grew me as a feminist. It wasn’t “The second sex” by Simone de Beauvoir, or “A room of one’s own” by V. Woolf, which, I agree, would have been more logical. But books, fortunately, are spaces where logic doesn’t need to apply. How boring it would be if you could apprehend every single emotion that a book procures you, every single effect that it has on you. Well, Wuthering Heights changed me as a feminist, probably because of two things. The first one is because of the fascinating character of Cathy. As a child, she escapes her nurse and goes playing on the moors; she is impetuous, brave and probably a tiny bit mad. But then, her relationship with Heathcliff prompted many questions. It was probably the first time ever I was introduced to a true display of passion, and to quote Cathy, speaking to her nurse, “Nelly, I am Heathcliff”. These words seemed very beautiful to me, but also very violent. I felt that, they completed each other, but more than that, Cathy forgot herself, submitted herself to her love. Love is perceived in society as an emotion where you give up aspects of yourself for someone else. A part of me realized, not only that in the 19th century, women surrendered themselves to their feelings for men, but that part of me wanted a love like this one.
I truly believe that when you discover this incoherence, these opposite feelings in your very heart, then you discover yourself as a feminist. Maybe feminism is not first about revolutions, but most importantly about asking questions!
Thank you for reading me, I can only wish you will find yourself in a book, whatever the book it is.