Loneliness: The Cure

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library

Loneliness: The Cure

In high school my favorite books were not One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or A Clockwork Orange, but Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This was around the same time that I was into the Cure (a curiously relevant moniker) and the Smiths. Maybe it was a not-all-the-way-goth phase that pushed me toward these moody places—Depeche Mode, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Soft Cell, The Sisters of Mercy, Cocteau Twins. You get the picture, especially if you were there. Everything was covered, at least conceptually, in dark red velvet and black eyeliner.

Jane Eyre is considered Gothic fiction, and its mood certainly bears this out. It paints a moody, deserted picture, Jane being orphaned and mistreated, forced to hide in velvet curtains or disappear into her books. Charlotte, the eldest Brontë sister, as well as many such artists, were wandering out of the same shadowy emotional landscape as these Dark-Wave rock bands, scratching a similar itch.

The images in Jane Eyre I hold onto, brooding and gloomy as they often are, made me feel warmer somehow. Maybe as an adolescent it was just nice to know that other people, even centuries ago, sought escape from the hassle of a confusing, wearisome world, through art and literature. Young Jane, curled up, half-hiding behind thick draperies and reading next to the window as a rainstorm raged outside—not so different that those nights staring out the window listening to The Cure’s "Prayers for Rain."

With this back-story, I was thrilled when I heard Cary Fukunaga’a film adaptation of Jane Eyre was coming to the art-house theaters in D.C. The slow sweeping shots of the purple English moors, the perfect atmospheric sound design—the details really draw you into that world. That world, however, can be pretty dismal. It might be misinterpreted as depressing, even with the romantic themes. Maybe you just need to have an appreciation for art that is dark and moody. The theater was packed (awesome) and almost half of the viewers, like your humble narrator, hailed from Generation X (double-awesome). There’s just something about that forlorn feeling that is so comforting.

The slight loneliness I see in people of my generation, like a longing for those loving, attentive parents we never had (even if  we did!) leads us to this gloomier terrain—Joy Division, Nick Cave, the movie Heathers, even old blues music—not only for commiseration, but also for affirmation.

Whether she knows it or not, the author/artist capable of stirring up these feelings has a great deal of healing power—conjuring melancholy for curing minor melancholia. There are certain gifts you can just never give away, and loneliness is one of them. And while loneliness might not seem like a gift, it is useful in the arts if it can bring people together and, ironically, make us feel less alone.

Here's a list of items I think qualify: