First published in 1886, The Story of My Heart, by Richard Jefferies, is a slim, mystical volume—a nature-writer’s exploration of his own soul.
Three years ago, well-known naturalist and author Terry Tempest Williams and her writer husband, Brooke, stumbled upon an old copy of the book in an independent bookstore in Maine. They were immediately caught by its stunning prose.
“My heart was dusty,” Jefferies writes in the opening paragraph, “parched for want of the rain of deep feeling; my mind arid and dry, for there is dust which settles on the heart as well as that which falls on a ledge.” Who was this eloquent writer from another century, they wondered?
Their search for the answer would lead the pair to England and then France and the Louvre, as well as on a journey into their own hearts. Jefferies, it turns out, was an English nature writer, essayist and journalist. He did not lack 20th-century admirers; Rachel Carson supposedly kept two books by her bedside: Thoreau’s Walden, and Jefferies’ book.
The Williamses’ quest culminated in this sincerely felt tribute, The Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies: As Rediscovered by Brooke Williams and Terry Tempest Williams.
Jefferies’ writings, the Williamses note, are relevant today: He was a great proponent of exercise, for example, in particular daily walking, as well as of the benefits of being idle. But his real message was a spiritual one, urging the reader to “go higher than a god; deeper than a prayer.”
After each chapter by Jefferies, Brooke Williams balances the Victorian prose with a chapter of his own commentary. He sees in Jefferies a kindred spirit, someone he could imagine being friends with today. “This story,” he writes, “is about living in this modern world, vastly different from the natural world we evolved into.”
As Terry Tempest Williams (a Corona native who now lives in Utah and Wyoming) writes in the introduction, readers who have never heard of Jefferies before may “rediscover what it feels like to fall back in love with the world.”
Torrey House Press and the Williamses have done a great service for the 21st century with this reissue. The Story of My Heart speaks across the ages, and belongs on the same shelf as Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Muir, Beston and Leopold.
This review originally appeared in High Country News.
The Story of My Heart, by Richard Jefferies: As Rediscovered by Brooke Williams and Terry Tempest Williams
By Richard Jefferies, Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams
233 pages, $21.95