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Nature, naming and dreaming are all tangled together in perhaps the most famous childhood reading scene in English literature. Jane Eyre is 10, and on the novel’s opening page she has retreated to read on the “window seat”, screened off by a heavy red curtain from the rest of the house. Seated cross-legged, she relishes the “double retirement” of her situation: behind a curtain and within a book. The book is Bewick’s History of British Birds , in which Thomas Bewick’s woodcuts of bird species are accompanied by name details and explanatory notes. As Jane turns the pages, her mind is set wandering: “Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting.” She imagines herself northwards, up into the white wastes of the Arctic, borne there on the wings of words and woodcut. “I feared,” she says wonderfully, “nothing but interruption.”
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