“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” —the first sentence of Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre." She then describes the cold wind and penetrating rain that inhibit further exercise. It sets the tone for the novel’s exploration of the restraints placed on women in society. Jane’s bold assertion of selfhood and independence is nothing short of heroic.
Were it not for a period of forced seclusion, however, would Brontë’s keen perceptions and feelings have found expression?
It was while she was cooped up in a hotel room nursing her father after eye surgery that she penned her masterpiece. No possibility for a walk—but plenty for writing. In fact, not a few books owe their existence to a writer’s isolation.
In the case of Mary Shelley, she, along with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, were forced indoors by fierce summer storms while vacationing in Switzerland. To entertain themselves, Lord Byron proposed they each write a ghost story. Mary’s contribution was "Frankenstein." Her monster wasn’t just created in a laboratory. He was born of one of Mary’s nightmares, a writing challenge, and physical confinement.
Neither society nor nature imposed isolation on Marcel Proust so he famously created it himself in his cork-lined bedroom to write "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu." William Faulkner retreated daily to a shack in his backyard. John Banville has two writing desks: one facing a wall, the other an opaque window he claims he never looks through. Philip Roth couldn’t bear to be distracted, not even by a kitten, when writing. Housebound for a week by a blizzard with her two young sons, Nora Roberts discovered her gift and love for writing. The rest is history.
That a writer must disconnect to connect—to the subconscious, to an inner voice, to vision, and, most of all, to readers—is a paradox. I, for one, embrace it.
Find your shed, welcome the storm, banish the cat. Listen for the whisper.