It is treasure. I have opened a door into my own past, as well as the Victorian past within the pages. My grandmother and I shared these books, me handing them over to read, while she handed each one back with a review. We lived the lives within the pages, critiqued the storylines, talked about suffering with, liking, or cheerfully disliking the characters and, generally, discovered again how much we had in common.
Holding these books again, more than 20 years since she left us, I admit it, I cried my eyes out. I picked our favourites to turn into new editions but most of it has been time travel for me, a sweet kind and full of sun.
I took up one book and heard my Grandma's voice telling me how she liked it. Another one, I remembered her face as she enthused over it. In her case, enthusiasm was measured in a small cup. she did not care for over-egging. But she enthused over these books. She was too young to remember the times, but she grew up with people who were former Victorians, who spoke as the characters did and lived lives that were not fiction.
To me, a nostalgia freak and history fan, the books showed me what my other life might have been like, the life I felt was more mine that a modern one full of harsh light. Something in the prose spoke my language: attention to detail, focus on the inner self, the need to look for a higher purpose - religious or otherwise. Inherent in each book was the message that it was never too late to become a better version of yourself, and that other people were essential in this betterment.
So, then, I spent this Christmas in a haze of Victoriana and memories, reliving moments spent meeting with a book in our hands, a keen look to see if the other had finished the one unread. The kitchen at our old house from where I'd take a chair so Grandma could sit comfortably as she couldn't do couches. The window out to the garden nearby, light drifting in as we talked. The quiet times spent without talking.
Each book edited so far has not been edited alone. I have revered the stories, respected their writers, edited gently and every single step was taken with the memory of a voice I sometimes struggled to hear these last few years.
I am living somewhere else. I open the door and am the girl who forgets how young she is, friends with the woman who slips back and is a girl too, one with strawberry-blonde hair, living a life worthy of one of our Victorian heroines with little brothers and sisters to care for and a mother lost too soon.
We sit in a room lit by late afternoon sun, talking until it is time to close the curtains, turn on the light and, setting the books carefully away, we go to make tea, go home, go on to be a little better than we were before we were here, together.