Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Brontës in Brussels - A Review

Our thanks to Helen MacEwan for providing us with a review copy of this book.
The Brontës in Brussels
Helen MacEwan
Peter Owen Publisher
ISBN 9780720615883
Helen MacEwan continues enticing Brontëites all over the world to travel to Brussels. Granted, it is a much easier, much more pleasant trip than it was back in 1841 when Charlotte, Emily, their adventurous-at-64 father and some members of the Taylor family made the trip from Yorkshire.

The Brontës in Brussels is the perfect Brussels companion. Ideal as a guide or handbook for a trip to Brussels, but also a very interesting read from the sofa in your living room miles away from the actual places described in the book. Helen MacEwans's knowledge not only of the Brontës' stay in Brussels as well as the works derived from it (only devoirs in Emily's case but also novels, references in letters, etc in Charlotte's case) but also of the history of the quartier Isabelle, which is quite intricate, encyclopedic and always to-the-point. She meets three different points in her book: conveying a sense of the Brontës' stay in and opinions of Brussels, telling about the historical, social and geographical contexts that surrounded them when there and helping the modern Brontëite find his/her bearings in Belgium as it is today. And she manages to combine it all into an enjoyable read.

Thus, for instance, The Brontës in Brussels shows us where the Brontës' acquaintances resided at the time, where the Brontës would have visited them, as well as other places the Brontës would frequent such as the Chapelle Royale (where the Brontës worshipped) but also adds the geographical and social context and the current situation of said places, whether still standing and, in that case, how different/similar they look, etc.

This is all accompanied by many maps - both contemporary and modern -, fragments from novels, devoirs and letters written by the Brontës and finally a large quantity of illustrations, very helpful in order to make the reader see Brussels as closely as posssible as the Brontës would have known it, given that the neighbourhood where the Brontës were staying - the quartier Isabelle - was mostly torn down, with a few surprising exceptions which can still be seen today. Add to that a summary of both of Charlotte's Brussels novels: The Professor and Villette, a timeline, a short history of Belgium up to Independence and a Brontë walk in Brussels. As if that wasn't enough, the prologue is written by Lyndall Gordon.

Google Street View screenshot of the place where the pensionnat was located.
Our only - minimal - complaint is the fact that Branwell is only portrayed as the drunk brother. In our opinion he would have been best left out of the picture rather than depicted in such a bad light:
They could open their own boarding-school, either in the Parsonage or elsewhere. [Charlotte] eventually opted for the Parsonage itself, despite the logistical problems of using a house with just four bedrooms and the drawback of having a brother who, when at home between jobs, had a tendency to roll in drunk in the small hours and once set his bed curtains on fire by knocking over a candle.
While his behaviour towards drink may have never been exemplary - to put it mildly - it was while Charlotte and Emily were in Brussels that Anne got him a post with the Robinson family. It wouldn't be until years later that he would set his bed curtains on fire, so it is rather unfair to mention the event when looking into Charlotte's decision. It is indeed a tiny thing to mention, but it stroke us as an unnecessary comment when reading the book.

Otherwise, nothing prevented us from thoroughly enjoying this book. Well, something else actually did: we are not based in Brussels and couldn't just take to the streets and walk in what's left of the footsteps of the Brontës. Thankfully, Helen MacEwan's evocative descriptions, the many illustrations the book contains and a bit of Google street view helped. Brussels is now, however, high on the list of trips to make. This book will be the first thing we pack then. Nothing new, of course, as Helen MacEwan's previous book Down the Belliard Steps ( also had the same effect.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Best ever conference

Sarah Fermi and Bonnie Greer
The Brontë Society website reports on this year's Brontë Society Conference on The Condition of England.
Juliet Barker was our superb opening speaker, initiating proceedings at the 2014 Brontë Society conference, which was held this year at the luxurious Scarman Conference Centre, at the University of Warwick.
Our conference theme was 'The Condition of England', and Juliet addressed the Brontë children's precocious absorption with the politics of their day, considering whether that passion really carried through into their adult lives. As ever, Juliet's argument was supported with minute and exhaustive research, on this occasion culled mainly from the juvenilia. It was a bold, thought-provoking and slightly provocative stance, ideal to lead off what was widely agreed to be our 'best ever conference', packed with stimulating, original and exciting research, and introducing some new faces likely to be key Brontë scholars of the future.
Novelist and critic Bonnie Greer, the Society's President, gave a rousing and emotional speech at Saturday's dinner, urging us to remember that 'We're Brontë, and no-one else is!' And Society Chair Sally McDonald was also on hand, as ever, to greet members, presiding over proceedings with customary calm and good humour to set the tone for the whole weekend.
Also attending were, among others: bestselling Belgian novelist Jolien Janzing, whose novel De Meester (The Master), about Charlotte's relationship with M. Heger, comes out in English in 2016, and is set to become an exciting film; influential biographer and TV presenter Rebecca Fraser, who delivered a paper on 'The Woman Question and Charlotte Brontë'; internationally acclaimed Brontë scholar Professor Marianne Thormälen, from the University of Lund, Sweden, who discussed the Brontë novels as historical fiction; and rising young academics Molly Ryder, Erin Johnson, Emma Butcher, and Sara Pearson, whose erudite and carefully judged work proved there to be an exciting, creative new generation of Brontë scholars on their way up.
Most appreciated of all, though, was surely Brontë Society Publications Officer, our conference organiser Sarah Fermi, whose hard work throughout the last three years ensured the conference worked as a crucible for great ideas, a meeting place for great minds, and a platform for the very latest in great Brontë scholarship. This was Sarah's last conference as organiser, and applause from delegates at Saturday night's dinner reflected not only professional appreciation for a job most excellently done, but abiding affection for a much-loved friend and lifelong passionate Brontëphile.
Do check out the website for a few more pictures of the event.

The Yorkshire Post has an article on the latest developments in the Brontë Society inner wars.
A group of Brontë Society members unhappy with the direction of the literary society has gathered 50 members’ signatures in a bid to force an extraordinary general meeting.
Critics are campaigning for the ruling council to step aside “to bring higher levels of professionalism and experience to the society,” according to a letter from two members.
As previously reported in The Yorkshire Post, Brontë Society members John Thirlwell, a TV producer, and Janice Lee, a retired deputy headteacher, have written to some members calling for fresh leadership.
They claim the society’s council has “lost its way” and was guilty of “micro-managing” the running of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which is owned by the Society.
Questions are also being asked about the circumstances surrounding the departure in June of Ann Sumner, the society’s executive director, after 16 months in the role.
Yesterday Mrs Lee said it had gathered the required number of signatures to call for an extraordinary general meeting.
She said that former Museum staff were among those calling for change.
The Brontë Society Council said feedback from members was welcomed and their concerns were taken seriously. (Andrew Robinson)
Still locally, The Telegraph and Argus praises the accessibility of the area.
Today, the Keighley and Worth Valley railway is among the popular tourist attractions God's Own County has to offer, transporting tourists from the industrial town of Keighley into the heart of Brontë country, home to the famous siblings whose legacy lives on in the famous tomes they penned such as Wuthering Heights. (Sally Clifford)
A columnist from The New Indian Express picks 13 books that made an impact on him before he was 13. One of them is
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: It was Jane’s inner life that drew me in, her loneliness and anger. The way the novel brought them alive, it was as if I was thinking her thoughts and feeling her feelings. I used to hide behind the curtain and read as a boy, not to hide from adult tyrants, but just to be alone with my books. (Jayaprakash Sathyamurthy)
Exclamations galore in The Guardian's comment on the Downton Abbey series five trailer:
Someone has a bad secret! Someone makes a scandalous suggestion! Anna Chancellor and Richard E Grant are in it! It’s all gone a bit Jane Eyre! 
Variety reviews Sophie Barthes's take on Madame Bovary and is somewhat reminded of Jane Eyre 2011:
As Emma pursues her lovers and redecorates the Bovary manse with equal vigor (in this time-constricted retelling, she remains childless), viewers may find themselves recalling 2011’s “Jane Eyre,” a similarly unexpected foray into 19th-century costume drama from a Sundance-launched filmmaker (incidentally, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “Sin nombre” played Park City the same year as “Cold Souls”). What both adaptations have in common, of course, is Wasikowska, whose chronic inability to court the viewer’s affection makes her a fine fit here. Few actresses are so good at projecting a natural air of discontent, and Barthes allows much of the drama to play out in her star’s face — in the hopeful smile she flashes when Charles agrees to perform a potentially career-making operation on a clubfooted young man, Hippolyte (Luke Tittensor), and in the disgust and loathing that overtake her when the surgery goes predictably, horribly awry. (Justin Chang)
The Daily Telegraph (Australia) looks at a property for sale in Clovelly with a tenuous Brontë connection:
Mr Gatenby said his family was also distantly related to the Brontë sisters, famed for their novel writing.
“At some point Dolly became the custodian of a cushion embroidered by one of the Brontë sisters, so this tenuous link with the great 19th century authors actually resided for years at 38 Burnie St,” Mr Gatenby said. (Melissa Kehagias)
What's On Stage recommends catching Peter McMaster's all-male adaptation of Wuthering Heights now that it's back in London (Three Weeks has a rather different opinion, by the way) . Writer Laura Cardozo is a fan of Jane Eyre, as read in an interview on ExcentriKs (in Spanish). Writergurlny reviews The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, both the novel and the 1996 screen adaptation. Leah Farmer reviews Wuthering Heights.

A new Wuthering Heights in Montana

Apparently there is a new Wuthering Heights film adaptation going on. It's a small US independent production. The alma mater of the project seems to be Bryan Ferriter (Interwoven Studios) who directs, writes and probably plays Heathcliff. Jasmin Jandreau was recently cast as Cathy as we read on Backstage:
After auditioning via the Web, she was chosen over 500 other actors.
Jandreau’s character is the heroine of the gothic romance, in addition to being the great love of the narrative’s protagonist, Heathcliff. The film is shooting through October in Montana, which Jandreau calls “a mystical vastness of space, rolling hills, and mountains. It’s the perfect location for filming ‘Wuthering Heights,’ and we have already done a lot of the horse-riding scenes! I love horses and I love riding, so this project fulfills me as an actor and human being.” (Briana Rodriguez)

Monday, September 01, 2014

'From dusty set-text into something vital and affecting'

A short article in The Guardian praises the British Library's Discovering Literature website.

If it hadn't been for a well-timed family visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, I doubt I would've finished Jane Eyre before my GCSE English literature exam. Simpering St John bored me, and I already knew the ending, having watched the film in class. Going to Haworth and seeing Charlotte Brontë's childhood writings, her letters and drawings, and the journal she kept as a young teacher, renewed my interest. Understanding the author and her times turned the novel from dusty set-text into something vital and affecting.
Now anyone with access to the internet can experience the same connection. Exhibits from the Brontës' childhood home can be viewed on the British Library's new website, Discovering Literature, along with William Blake's notebooks, an early draft of The Importance of Being Earnest, and thousands more pages from the library's Romantic and Victorian collections. There are also teaching notes, 150 articles by leading academics and videos including Simon Callow on Dickens as a performer.
While Discovering Literature is an important cultural resource that can be enjoyed by all ages, it has been carefully tailored to appeal to GCSE and A-level students. The British Library's research among teachers showed that original manuscripts, with their edits and revisions, dodgy grammar and messy handwriting, can be a powerful way of engaging pupils. Contextual material can also be a source of inspiration, and the site is packed with items such as letters, diaries, dictionaries, newspapers and illustrations that illuminate the historical, social and political contexts of classic works. An 1809 dictionary of underworld slang sheds light on Oliver Twist, for instance.
With education such a battlefield, and learning so geared to exams, it can be difficult for teachers to get on with their main job: to inspire. Anything that makes that task easier deserves to be celebrated. (Anna Baddeley)
The Warrington Guardian lists several events which took place in 1853 - the year that newspaper was founded. One of which is of course:
Charlotte Brontë had her novel Vilette [sic] published.
The Baltimore Sun looks at 'lodgings for literature lovers' and recommends Nora Roberts's Inn BoonsBoro.
On the other side of the state, the Inn BoonsBoro in Western Maryland is owned by best-selling author Nora Roberts, who undertook a restoration of the historic building. Many of the inn’s eight graciously appointed rooms and suites bear the names of literary lovers. Think Elizabeth and Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice,” Jane and Rochester from “Jane Eyre,” as well as Shakespeare’s Titania and Oberon from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (Donna M. Owens)
Estense (Italy) reviews the film 3 Coeurs and concludes that,
La fine è alla Wuthering heightsCime tempestose, l’unico, sublime visionario romanzo fuori dal tempo e da ogni schema di Emily Brontë, trasposto in tante versioni cinematografiche ad iniziare da quella di Buñuel del 1953. (Translation)
The Times states that 'summer is Fomo – Fear of Missing Out' and includes Kate Bush's comeback concerts as one of the things that you shouldn't have missed.

Coincidentally, many news outlets today such as The Telegraph report that,
Kate Bush becomes the first female artist to boast eight albums in the top 40 chart simultaneously [...]
She became the first female artist in history to score a UK number one single on the Official Singles Chart with a self-penned song. Wuthering Heights went on to top the chart for four weeks, becoming the first of Bush's 26 top 40 hits. (Elliot Pinkham)
Libran Writer interviews writer Martina Devlin.
Who are your favourite writers? Charlotte Brontë because she did something radical – she had Jane Eyre step out from between the pages of a book and speak directly to us: “Reader, I married him.” In those four words, Brontë dismantled one of the barriers between writer and reader. I visited Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, where she lived, and had to be dragged away by the others in my party, who wanted to do perfectly natural things like find somewhere to eat. I stood in the dining room where Brontë wrote, and imagined her pacing the table’s circumference at night, reading her own words aloud to herself (as we’re told she did). And missing her siblings, how she must have missed them – but carrying on. Until she married, when it all went dreadfully wrong.
The Brontë Sisters posts about Helen MacEwan's The Brontës in Brussels. Behold the Stars reviews Wuthering Heights.

Peter McMaster's Wuthering Heights in London

Wuthering Heights (Image: Niall Walker).
From left: Thom, Chris, Nick, Peter and Murray.
After the Edinburgh Fringe, Peter McMaster's Wuthering Heights will be performed in London:
Wuthering HeightsPeter McMaster
Battersea Arts Centre
1 - 5 Sep | 7:30pm

Peter McMaster’s award-winning, all-male version of Emily Bronte’s classic novel returns for a limited run this September, following sell-out performances last year.

Wuthering Heights
re-visits the landscapes and lives of the characters from this seminal text, and places them alongside a poignant and significant exploration of what it means to be a ‘man’ living in the world today.

Featuring overly 'high-drama', the darkness of the Yorkshire moors, full throated singing and touching memorials of being a boy, this bold performance from ‘one of Scotland’s most interesting young theatre makers’ (The Scotsman) is not to be missed.

Please note this show contains nudity, swearing and loud noises.

Developed through the Arches, Glasgow Platform 18 Award.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dickinson & Brontë. Love Advice

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on a local bookstore:

Rachel Parsons can be found most weekdays in her bookstore, Dayfly Books and Collectibles, on Mercer Street. She sells books that range from slightly used contemporary novels to Latin school books with stained brown pages. (...)
Parsons does more than sell vintage copies of “Jane Eyre” from her shop on Mercer Street. (Christopher Clay)
Embelezzia (in Spanish) talks about the new autumn-winter collection by UGG:
Leah Larson, la directora creativa de la firma, animó a su equipo de diseñadores a encontrar temas en la literatura, en sus personajes y en las historias para fundirlas con los diseños de UGG. El resultado es una colección que rinde tributo a los vendedores y anticuarios de libros y a sus d favoritos (desde Jane Eyre a Christopher Robin). (María SJB) (Translation
An alert from the Decatur AJC  Book Festival 2014 (Decatur, GA). The company Dad's Garage Theatre is doing improvisations like this one:
Nadia Mathews gets love advice from Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë at the 2014 AJC Decatur Book Festival.
Boa Informação talks about Wuthering Heights 1992. Kelanjo devotes a post to Emily's by De Luca Boutique, the bistro that opened at the Brontë Birthplace in Thornton. But take care before reading it. When you open it you will need imperatively to visit the place.

Emily, At-A-Site

A Summer initiative by the At-A-Site Theater company comes to an end today, August 31:
At-A-Site Theater’s marathon summer-long street theater project, titled “Celebrating the Birthdays of Dead Writers: The Afterlife of the Written Word” concludes with its final performance “Best of the Dead Writers” on Sunday at the Lexington Avenue Arts & Fun Festival downtown.
For this final day, At-A-Site Theater will be offering a “Best of the Dead Writers” interactive performance. Throughout the day, LAAFF passersby can choose from a menu of writers. Short selections or brief “random quotes” from the featured writer will then be read out aloud.
The listener will then receive a small business-card-size program that includes a quotation from the writer and the dates of the performance.
At-A-Site Theater presents theater in unusual spaces where theater and audience can meet. With “Celebrating the Birthdays of Dead Writers,” the troupe vowed to showcase a different writer every day beginning June 19. The words of 65 dead writers will have been presented by Sunday’s end, in Asheville, other N.C, towns and New York City. (Asheville Citizen-Times)
Last July 30, it was Emily Brontë's turn:
At-A-Site Theater presents a Summer Project Celebrating Birthdays of Dead Writers: Emily Brontë
July 30, 2014
Time:  12:30pm - 3:30pm
Downtown Asheville NC

Passersby are invited to chose from a menu of selections from this wild and unique British novelist and poet. The selected passages will then be read to them.
(The Reader may occasionally need to move to an alternative site because of weather or other onsite circumstances)
More information about Emily Brontë can be found at Wikipedia or find information about her village of Haworth in Yorkshire and her life there at this website. If you would like to disappear into the other-world of "Wuthering Heights".

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Delicate Feminine Fingers of the Brontës

The Guardian interviews the comedian Bridget Christie:

Further encouragement to write a feminist show came from an anti-feminist writing implement. “I was in Ryman and I saw them on the counter: A Bic for Her. I asked the assistant: ‘What are these? Have they been selling well?’ She said: ‘No, we think they’re a bit silly.’ So I bought six packets and thought I could use them in some way.”
This purchase led her to pen a riff on how the Brontë sisters got all those novels written before the invention of a special pen to fit their delicate feminine fingers. Christie apologises that, not having brought her bag to the cafe, she doesn’t have any lady biros with her but, apparently, they are chunky although light, and have a rubber pad to prevent pressure calluses. (Mark Lawson)
The Washington Post reviews The Language of Houses by Alison Lurie:
The tone of Alison Lurie’s “The Language of Houses” is light and breezy. “A small Greek temple or a New England church is simple and formal, like the greeting, ‘How do you do?’ ” she writes. “A log cabin or a bus shelter, on the other hand, is simple and informal, the architectural equivalent of ‘Hi there.’ ” Her 1981 book, “The Language of Clothes,” directed a similar lens at fashion; her 1984 novel, “Foreign Affairs,” won the Pulitzer for fiction. Not surprisingly, there’s a literary bent to her latest undertaking, with allusions to the work of Charlotte Brontë, Tom Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates and Michael Lewis, whose decision to rent a seven-bedroom, $13,000-a-month New Orleans mansion at the height of the real estate boom gave him personal insight into the American penchant for overspending on a dream home. (Eric Wills)
The New Yorker talks about new covers for classics. It mentions the recent Penguin Wuthering Heights edition with a cover by Ruben Toledo:
It is possible and desirable to create cheeky modern covers for classics. Penguin itself has done so beautifully with its Graphic Deluxe editions, which feature covers drawn by noted illustrators and cartoonists. The new designs make the old books look like hip, vital collectibles, but they also convey something essential about the work of literature inside. The artist Ruben Toledo’s cover for “Wuthering Heights,” for example, which is edged by windswept tree branches like black lace, has the panache of a fashion drawing. (Margaret Talbot)
The Independent discusses the power of anonymity:
Throughout history, anonymity or pseudonymity has had many uses – whether hiding rebels from the gaze of the authorities (remember “I am Spartacus!”?) or allowing the likes of Jane Austen (“By a Lady”) and the Brontë sisters (“Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell”) an entrée into the male world of literature. (Boyd Tonkin)
The Hindu discusses a new trend on Facebook:
Over the past couple of days, people have started naming 10 books that ‘left a lasting impression on them’ and then tagging friends, asking them to do the same. If you’re tagged, you need to post your list of 10 books, before tagging more friends — and so on. So far, all the usual suspects have featured, from the Brontë sisters, to J.R.R. Tolkien and Paulo Coelho. Bringing up the Indian side, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth seem the most popular. 
We read on The Tyee:
Good stuff is thin on the ground at the moment, which is why we return over and over again to Heathcliff and Cathy, Rochester and Jane Eyre, even Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, with two of the most physically blessed humans on the planet (George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) eyeballing each other's assets. (Dorothy Woodend)
Jacqueline Wilson chooses her six favourite literary orphans in The Times. And Jane Eyre, of course, features in the selection.

Le Nouvel Observateur interviews Augustin Trapenard, editor of Emily Brontë's Devoirs de Bruxelles and several Brontë papers:
"Je n'ai pas d'autres religions que la littérature", ajoute-t-il, convoquant cette fois les textes sacrés qui ont changé sa vie : "les Hauts de Hurlevent" d'Emily Brontë (objet de sa thèse), "le Bruit et la Fureur", de Faulkner, "Tendre est la nuit" et "Gatsby le magnifique", de Fitzgerald. Il a tatoué sur lui une phrase de "Gatsby". (Alexandre Le Dollec) (Translation)
El Correo (Perú) talks about the exhibition La Mujer de Bellocq by Patricia Villanueva:
Mitad humana, mitad animal. Objeto de deseo e instinto asesino. La lucha eterna entre civilización y barbarie encarnada en un ser que batalla entre dos mundos. Inspirada en la serie de fotografías de Storyville (1912) de E.J. Bellocq, las novelas de Jean Rhys y Charlotte Brontë, la Metamorfosis de Ovidio y su amor eterno por los cuervos, Villanueva crea una oscura leyenda acerca del instinto de sobrevivencia, del amor, de la existencia sin testigos y del deseo de sentirse vivo en los ojos del otro. (Translation)
Worldwide Branding's Contributing Authors traces a profile of Brontë scholar Christine Alexander; Carcanet Blog announces the upcoming release of The Essence of the Brontës by Muriel Spark; Paranoias RiKanna (in Spanish) and Gator Book Chom post about Jane Eyre; Auxiliary Memory reviews Wide Sargasso Sea.

The Fame Lunches

A new collection of essays which contains one on the Brontë sisters:

The Fame Lunches,
On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontës, and the Importance of Handbags
Daphne Merkin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374140373
ISBN10: 0374140375

A wide-ranging collection of essays by one of America’s most perceptive critics of popular and literary culture

From one of America’s most insightful and independent-minded critics comes a remarkable new collection of essays, her first in more than fifteen years. Daphne Merkin brings her signature combination of wit, candor, and penetrating intelligence to a wide array of subjects that touch on every aspect of contemporary culture, from the high calling of the literary life to the poignant underside of celebrity to our collective fixation on fame. “Sometimes it seems to me that the private life no longer suffices for many of us,” she writes, “that if we are not observed by others doing glamorous things, we might as well not exist.”
     Merkin’s elegant, widely admired profiles go beneath the glossy façades of neon-lit personalities to consider their vulnerabilities and demons, as well as their enduring hold on us. As her title essay explains, she writes in order “to save myself through saving wounded icons . . . Famous people . . . who required my intervention on their behalf because only I understood the desolation that drove them.” Here one will encounter a gallery of complex, unforgettable women—Marilyn Monroe, Courtney Love, Diane Keaton, and Cate Blanchett, among others—as well as such intriguing male figures as Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, Truman Capote, and Richard Burton. Merkin reflects with empathy and discernment on what makes them run—and what makes them stumble.
     Drawing upon her many years as a book critic, Merkin also offers reflections on writers as varied as Jean Rhys, W. G. Sebald, John Updike, and Alice Munro. She considers the vexed legacy of feminism after Betty Friedan, Bruno Bettelheim’s tarnished reputation as a healer, and the reenvisioning of Freud by the elusive Adam Phillips.
     Most of all, though, Merkin is a writer who is not afraid to implicate herself as a participant in our consumerist and overstimulated culture. Whether ruminating upon the subtext of lip gloss, detailing the vicissitudes of a pre–Yom Kippur pedicure, or arguing against our obsession with household pets, Merkin helps makes sense of our collective impulses. From a brazenly honest and deeply empathic observer, The Fame Lunches shines a light on truths we often prefer to keep veiled—and in doing so opens up the conversation for all of us.
The chapter on the Brontës is Moping the Moors. There's also an article about Jean Rhys, The Lady Vanquished. A review can be read on the Jewish Journal.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Is Errol Flynn available for the Brontë Society?

The Yorkshire Post gives more details about the turmoil at the centre of the Brontë Society. It seems that at the heart of the problem lies the rather sudden (and not well explained) departure of Ann Sumner last June:

About 40 members of the literary society, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, have expressed concerns and how its governance is having an impact on the world-famous Brontë Parsonage Museum, which it owns.
Critics are close to getting 50 signatures to force an extraordinary general meeting in a bid to oust the ruling 
In a letter, members John Thirlwell and Janice Lee claimed there was an urgent need to “modernise” the society. (...)
Mrs Lee told The Yorkshire Post that, in her opinion, the current council appeared to be “enthusiastic amateurs”.
Mr Thirlwell claimed the running of the Parsonage Museum should be left in the hands of museum staff, putting an end to what he called the “micro-managing” by the society’s council.
He added: “The big picture is that the Brontë Society has lost its way. The museum should be run by a Trust and in a more professional way.”
Mr Thirlwell claimed a 
recent consultants’ report concluded the Brontë Society was not best placed to be a fund-raiser because it was members’ club.
Members including Mr Thirlwell and Mrs Lee are still angry at the sudden departure in June of Ann Sumner, the society’s executive director, after just 16 months in the role.
Questions have been asked about the circumstances of her leaving, but details have not been disclosed.
Mr Thirlwell, a TV producer, said: “I, for one, would want Ann Sumner to come back.
“She had improved the relations between the village of Haworth and the Brontë Society, which has not always seen eye to eye with the village. She was very well respected in the museums field.”
Mrs Lee, who is a volunteer at the museum, added: “Ann Sumner came with a remarkable CV – she was amazing and had already started making inroads into taking the Parsonage forward.” (...)
The Brontë Society Council confirmed it was aware a letter had been sent “expressing concerns” over the way it was governed. (...)
“The council is working hard with an experienced and accomplished leadership team to ensure that the business planning of the Brontë Parsonage Museum is on a secure footing.”
The List reviews the Peter McMaster adaptation of Wuthering Heights recently seen at the Edinburgh Fringe:
This is not a faithful theatre adaption of Emily Brontë’s classic: from the beginning the all-male cast announce they will be playing various characters from the novel as well as themselves, taking Heathcliff’s temperamental disposition as the driving force behind a rollercoaster of a play exploring the male psyche.
Directed by Peter McMaster, who also plays Nelly and himself, Wuthering Heights is an undoubtedly brave piece of theatre. Taking on the nineteenth century classic and injecting synchronised dancing to Kate Bush, Catherine and Heathcliff’s love from the perspective of a horse and a man in drag (who derobes and wrestles naked) make this an oblique look at a familiar tale.
At times cracks in the whirlwind performance surface – audible count-ins to dance moves, a genuine concern that the horse may collapse – and it becomes hard not to want of a little more of Brontë’s story as a reference point. (Maud Sampson)
The Guardian reviews The Novel: a Biography by Michael Schmidt:
Schmidt does the tiny notes beautifully, and an alert, specific comment often brings the flavour of a page of Faulkner or Charlotte Brontë before us. The book took me a good while to read, as I kept breaking off to rediscover this novel or that. To that extent it is a great success. (Philip Hensher)
Los Angeles Times reviews the Errol Flynn biopic, The Last of Robin Hood:
The real-life drama “The Last of Robin Hood” starts three years later, when Flynn suffers from increasing heart trouble, back problems and substance abuse, and is so desperate for work that he agrees to play Edward Rochester in a stage version of “Jane Eyre.” (Michael Sragow)
Errol Flynn as Rochester? Well, as a matter of fact it was a very short lived performance as  we read in Errol Flynn: The Life and Career by Thomas McNulty:
[In 1958] Flynn made the ill-advised decision to appear in his first American stage production. He had not worked on stage since his brief stint with the Northampton Repertory Players. Perhaps his interest in the play, written by Huntington Hartford and based on Jane Eyre, stemmed from his continuous need for money. (...)  Re-titled The Master of ThornfieId, the play was another disaster. Flynn's heavy drinking contributed to his inability to remember his lines. He reportedly loaded the set with supplies of vodka and upon forgetting his lines would saunter to a bookcase or desk and pour himself a quick shot. Sometimes he broke character and addressed the audience, digressing into anecdotes about John Barrymore. The play folded after only a few performances. Flynn, perhaps embarrassed by the turn of events, said, "I can't do much with this the way it's written" In response to that Hartford said, "In my own defense, I'd like to say that I have yet to hear my play (from Flynn) as it was written." (Errol Flynn: The Life and Career by Thomas McNulty, McFarland & Company (2004), pp 283)
Emily Brontë was a 'healer type' (INFP- Introvertive, Intuitive, Feeling-Perceptive) in the  Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) according to Medical Daily:
 INFP, “the healer,” makes up two percent of the general population and his ideal career would be in medicine, teaching, or litigation. In romantic relationships, he is supportive and loving along with his good sense of integrity. He craves harmony and emotional engagement, and respects and values his partner deeply. Famous people of this personality type include Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Emily Brontë, and Jimmy Carter. (Samantha Olson)
Arts.mic lists several 'exceptional' webseries:
This remake of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre does a great job of adapting a Gothic setting to the present day. Run by a small crew of actors and writers, its low budget makes the series feel authentically like a vlog from a new YouTuber. While the ending is a little disappointing, the series as a whole does a great job of bringing even the smallest characters to life. (Rachel Grate)
The Daily Express interviews TV presenter Alex Jones:
At the moment I am re-reading some of my favourite classics such as Jane Eyre and The Bell Jar but I love contemporary fiction too. I recently read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and it completely blew me away. (Lucy Benyon)
The Star Phoenix reviews The Immigrant by James Gray:
The frames have the brownish, ominous tint of old blood. The sets conjure the smell of mould and cloying perfume. And the story itself feels like something left behind in Charlotte Brontë's bottom drawer. (Katherine Monk)
The Conversation on reading pleasures:
Those novels, with their racy covers and dry English wit, lent me a sense of much needed sophistication. This was money in the bank for a plump British Asian 14 year-old who wore glasses, and had a reputation for starting conversations with the line, “Have you read Jane Eyre?” (Preti Taneja)
The Plymouth Herald reminds us of the fact that, for a time, James Taylor was compared to a modern Heathcliff:
Taylor is known as probably the greatest sensitive-male singer-songwriter of all time – but Time magazine in 1971 noted his appeal to female fans and compared his strong-but-brooding presence to Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff.
Writings Corner posts about Contemporary Patriarchal Society in Wuthering Heights; the Parsonage Twitter shares a 1828 Anne Brontë drawing; The Halifax Reader posts about Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell; Ripassamo Insieme (in Italy) reviews Jane Eyre.

Brontë Society Conference: The Condition of England

Today, August 29, opens the annual Brontë Society Conference at the Warwick University:
The Brontës and the Condition of England

The next Brontë Society conference will take place on 29, 30, & 31 August 2014, at the Scarman Conference Centre, Warwick University.

In the nineteenth century the term ‘Condition of England’ was applied mainly to the economic and commercial problems of the nation. For this conference we would like to broaden the meaning to include, if possible, some of the other major national concerns of the day, which would have impacted on the Brontë family and possibly influenced their works. Some of the
most obvious examples are: development of the railways; controversy over home-rule for Ireland; abolition of slavery; Catholic emancipation; Law reform; and the Chartist movement. The last topic is particularly pertinent, as Haworth was at the very centre of the rapid industrialisation of the former cottage industries of wool-combing, spinning, and weaving.

The aim of this conference is to give meaning and depth to the anxious national concerns of early 19th century England, ones which would have impacted the young Brontës both in their lives and works. We hope to create an overall picture of what the world looked like to the passionate young inhabitants of Haworth’s Parsonage.

We are greatly privileged to have some of the leading scholars in this field to address us. The key-note speaker will be Juliet Barker, the author of the closest thing to a definitive biography of the family, The Brontës. Other speakers include Rebecca Fraser biographer of Charlotte Brontë, Dr Robert Logan, Chairman of the Irish Brontë Society, whose understanding of the young Patrick and the influences on him growing up is exceptional and Marianne Thormählen, author of The Brontës and Education and editor of The Brontës in Context. Our President, Bonnie Greer OBE, will be present and will give the after-dinner speech at the conference dinner on Saturday.

The conference location this year is at the purpose built Scarman Centre, Warwick University, just eight miles from the ancient county town of Warwick, which lies on the River Avon, and boasts the country’s oldest school (Warwick School, established 914), as well as a castle dating back to 1068 and The Norman Conquest. To the South, and a little less than seventeen miles from the University is Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.
More information here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Brontës on Pen stylus

Keighley News reports the local concerns about the application for the building of a barn near Ponden Kirk:
Opposition is mounting to plans to build a livestock building on a scenic spot outside Stanbury.
More than 50 objections have been submitted to the application for the new barn and access track at Ponden Kirk, Ponden Lane. (...)
Christine Went, trustee of the Brontë Society, comments: "This structure's excessive size, which is out of scale with existing buildings in the area, and the materials from which it would be fabricated, would render it highly and inappropriately visible in a landscape valued for its literary and historical associations.
"The building would be situated midway between Ponden Hall, a grade two listed building, and the natural feature known as Ponden Kirk, both of which have long-standing associations with the Brontë family and their works."
Dursley Gazette talks about the upcoming Brontë season by the Butterfly Psyche Theatre & Livewire Theatre:
Whether you're a hard-core Brontë fan or if you've never had the pleasure, these fresh new adaptations of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by West Country theatre companies Butterfly Psyche Theatre & Livewire Theatre are sure to invigorate, inspire and melt hearts around the South West this autumn.
Performed in rep, with only one and two actors, there's a chance to mix-and-match an old favourite along with a new acquaintance, as well as the chance to see all three in omnibus performances at most venues.(Jayne Bennett)
The Telegraph celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sheridan LeFanu and reminds us of the possible influence that one of his stories might have had on Charlotte Brontë:
His story A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family (1839), the tale of a madwoman in the attic who attempts to kill her husband’s new bride, may have guided the hand of Charlotte Brontë.  (Matthew Sweet)
You can read it here and judge for yourself.

Digital Spy, Pocket-Lint and others talks about a curious initiative by Microsoft to promote the release of its new Surface Pro 3 tablet:
To celebrate the launch of its Surface Pro 3 tablet, Microsoft commissioned renowned ballpoint pen artist James Mylne to recreate three of the famous paintings hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London, using just the tablet and its included Pen stylus.
He chose to render The Brontë Sisters [in the video -->] by Patrick Branwell Brontë, Dame Christabel Pankhurst by Ethel Wright, and William Shakespeare, associated with John Taylor. All three are iconic works, and Mylne opted to reproduce them in black and white on the Microsoft slate. (Rik Henderson)
The Independent (Ireland) mentions a curious side effect of climate change. What about weather-inspired literature:
From the cold, wet and foggy streets of Dickensian London in Oliver Twist, symbolic of the underbelly of crime in the city, to the classic Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, the weather is a constant and pervading feature.
I wonder would this tragic love story be as compelling if not set amidst the misty, dark, desolate and bleak Yorkshire Moors?
Connecticut Post talks about Susan Elizabeth Phillips's novel, Heroes Are My Weakness:
With her new book, the author has attempted an homage to the stories she loved as a young reader.
"It's my take on the gothic, Daphne DuMaurier. `Jane Eyre.' Remember those book covers with the house on the cliff and the heroine in her nightgown running away? I wanted to use all of those elements," the novelist said. (Joe Meyers)
Now Daily has some facts about Kate Bush's career:
She wrote the song Wuthering Heights as a tribute to the best novel ever...
...(no, we're not debating it) and the chorus goes, ‘Heathcliff - it's me Cathy. I've come home. I'm so cold. Let me in-a-the window.' Genius. (Obviously this topped the charts.) (Jo Usmar)
Le Nouvel Observateur (France) is devoting a series of articles to famous siblings. Now is the Brontës' turn:
 Noël 1827. Dans le presbytère de Haworth, sur cette lande écossaise et venteuse qui échauffera bientôt leurs âmes romanesques et solitaires, sont assises au coin du feu Charlotte, Emily et Anne Brontë. Elles ont entre 11 et 7 ans.
Il y a là aussi leur frère Branwell, moins choyé par la postérité mais qui n'en fut pas moins influent dans la construction d'un univers commun. Le garçon s'ennuie. Charlotte, dont l'esprit gambade sans cesse, a une idée: «Supposons que chacun ait une île à soi.» Immédiatement, le fertile quartette entre dans un jeu de rôle. Ce n'est pas leur premier. Les mondes qu'ils imaginent à quatre, pleins de magie et de surnaturel, sont une échappatoire à un contexte funèbre. (Read more) (Translation) (Anne Crignon)
We have to point something out, however. Patrick Brontë was not 'un méthodiste austère et autodidacte'. No doubt Methodism was a strong influence on Patrick Brontë's background but he was loyal to the Church of England all his life.

Libération (France) reviews Madame by Jean-Marie Chevrier:
De vieilles anglaises, se dit-on, à égrener les phrases de Madame. Comme dans «éducation anglaise», une tendance au fouet et au corset, un manoir genre Hurlevent ou Rebecca. (Eric Loret, Claire Devarrieux and Thomas Stélandre) (Translation)
Buxton Advertiser talks about the upcoming Wuthering Heights performances of the ChapterHouse Theatre Company at the Buxton Pavilion Arts Centre; Dictionopolis reviews Wide Sargasso Sea.

Unrest within the ranks of the Brontë Society

It seems that tomorrow's opening of the annual Brontë Society Conference will be anything but quiet. According to Museum's Journal, there is saber-rattling in the Society's ranks:

Members of the Brontë Society have expressed serious concerns about the organisation’s governance and are seeking to call an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) in order to elect a new council of trustees.
Following a meeting of more than 20 members in July, a letter was sent out to the society’s membership last week detailing a number of allegations about the conduct of the council and asking members to support the calling of an EGM.
It said: “It is essential and urgent that we gather 50 signatures of paid-up members to requisition an [EGM].”
The letter, which a source has shown to Museums Journal, said it was necessary to elect a new council in order to “modernise” the organisation and bring “higher levels of professionalism and experience to the society”.
It described a “difficult” situation for staff at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which is run by the society, and raised concerns about the council's lack of action following the departure of former executive director Ann Sumner in June.
The letter stated: “The post of executive director remains unadvertised. Financial reporting both of the society and its trading company, Brontë Genius, is months behind schedule...
“This is extremely serious for a business dependent on seasonal income and requiring up-to-date information to facilitate decisions that can improve performance during the busiest months of trading. (Geraldine Kendall)

Food, Elizabeth Gaskell, Sarah Waters and Contemporary Female Bildungsroman

Tomorrow is not only the opening of the 2014 Brontë Society Conference but also of this confernce in Slovakia with several Brontë-related talks:

12th ESSE Conference in Košice, Slovakia
Friday 29 August – Tuesday 2 September, 2014
Department of British and American Studies, Faculty of Arts and SKASE (The Slovak Association for the Study of English)

Agata Buda, University of Technology and Humanities in Radom, Poland,
Food as the Representation of Gender Roles in the Victorian Female Novel

The aim of the paper is to analyse the idea of cooking/eating in two Victorian novels: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. Both works present the idea of food as one of the major points of reference in human relationships. One of the aspects worth analysing is family eating. The meetings are preceded by careful preparation of meals (e.g. preserves by Mrs. Tulliver or Nelly’s dishes). The food often becomes the major topic during these meetings, showing in this way the gender roles in the nineteenth-century England: females are irreplaceable in preparing food but men very often ignore the final product of cooking. This idyllic space of collective eating (according to M. Bakhtin) can be frequently destroyed by refusing; men refuse to eat either because of sadness (Mr. Earnshaw) or being fussy (Linton); women do not eat due to the fact they are busy taking care of men (Cathy) or are more interested in reading (Maggie). Both sexes are aware of the demands society poses to them. Neither Cathy and Maggie are allowed to read books, but expected to be mindful about meals.

María José Coperías Aguilar, University of Valencia, Spain,
The Reception of Elizabeth Gaskell in Spain

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1865) was a prolific and well-known Victorian writer who enjoyed great popularity during her lifetime and sold a comparatively high number of copies of her books. However, after her death, her work seems to have fallen into oblivion in the minds of most readers and critics, except for her novel Cranford and her biography of Charlotte Brontë. Although an incomplete collection of her works was published in the early 20th century and some occasional critical studies were also published in the first half of that century, it was not until the 1950s, with Marxist criticism, and in the 1970s and 1980s, from a feminist approach, that she was rediscovered. In this paper we will try to analyse how her work has been received in Spain, especially in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Despite the few translations we have managed to find for the first half of the 20th century, in recent decades there appears to have been a great increase in popular interest in reading her work. However, this great interest in Elizabeth Gaskell does not seem to exist in the academic world.

Soňa Šnircová, Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia,
Girlhood in Susan Fletcher’s Eve Green and Tiffany Murray’s Happy Accidents: Contemporary Transformations of the Female Bildungsroman.

Published in 2004 as debut novels by contemporary writers, Eve Green and Happy Accidents share some important similarities. Fatherless and abandoned (for different reasons) by their rebellious mothers, the young heroines have to move from cities to the rural setting of Welsh farms to be brought up by their maternal grandmothers. Both authors place the coming-of-age stories into the context of the female Bildungsroman tradition, using allusions to Jane Eyre as important structural elements of their narratives. My paper will claim that these two texts represent a new stage in the development of the female Bildungsroman since their appropriation of the tradition can be defined as postfeminist: Susan Fletcher, who makes the romantic motif of Jane Eyre central to her novel, appears to support the new cult of (almost idyllic) domesticity, while Tiffany Murray, whose images of domesticity are, on the contrary, interwoven with grotesque elements, uses the mad Bertha motif in the way that challenges victim feminism.

Eileen Williams-Wanquet, University of La Réunion, France,
Reviving Ghosts: The Reversibility of Victims and Vindicators in Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger

I would like to pursue the conclusion Susana Onega comes to, in her answer to George Letissier, concerning the identity of the “little stranger” in Sarah Waters’s fifth novel (2009), showing how Waters associates the use of the Gothic and of psychological realism to “plumb the psyche” (Robert Heilmann) and express the unspeakable trauma of the mixed feelings involved in British class relations. Although the novel is set in the context of the class crisis of the postwar period, the trauma transcends time and space. The transtextuality with Jane Eyre shall be developed, in order to suggest that the “phantom” unconsciously carried by the narrator-focaliser, Faraday, is also that of Bertha Mason and of Jane Eyre herself, revived with a vengeance in The Little Stranger. Haunted by the ghost of a ghost of a ghost of a past text that itself keeps spectrally and anti-lineally returning, Waters’ novel, typical of postmodern romances that “create doubt” (Elam) and blur temporality, rethinks the relation between victims and vindicators, offering a reflexion on the ubiquitous and elusive nature of evil, and on its origins: if a victim cannot exist without a tormentor and if a traumatised victim returns to take revenge, where do vulnerability and responsibility ultimately lie and how can the endless repetition of the same, the repetitive spiral of violence, be broken?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

No Wuthering Before the Dawn

Kate Bush's first comeback concert is, of course, all over the news. Regrettably she didn't included Wuthering Heights on her setlist:
Certainly, her voice still sounds terrific – although she no longer includes Wuthering Heights, her first and biggest hit, on her set list. (Jan Moir in Daily Mail)
It is not difficult to realise why Kate Bush made such a startling impression when, in 1978, at the age of 19, she burst upon the scene with Wuthering Heights, cartwheeling in her weird dance moves to No 1 in the charts – the first woman to reach the top with a song she had written. Everything about it was rich and strange: the swooping soprano, the musical progression and the words! Even in the hippy Seventies lyrics based on Emily Brontë’s mad fantasy seemed far-fetched: “Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy, I’ve come home. I’m so cold!” Then there were her looks: unusual but stunning. (The Telegraph)
The singer shares a birthday, July 30, with novelist Emily Brontë. Kate's birthday is known as Katemas and it is celebrated by devoted fans all over the world.
Kate's debut single, Wuthering Heights, is based on Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name but the singer hadn't actually read the book at the time. (Emma Pietras in The Mirror)
 In 1978, a 19-year-old doctor’s daughter from Kent mimed her way through Wuthering Heights on Top Of The Pops. Scary yet sexy, romantic and other-worldly, Kate Bush’s wild-eyed rendition of a song she wrote after catching the last ten minutes of a BBC adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel (she didn’t read the novel until later) was a life-changing, generation-defining moment in pop culture. (Will Hodgkinson in The TImes)
The aftershocks of punk and new wave were still rolling across the cultural landscape, disco was in its pomp,Jeff Wayne had just unleashed his musical version of HG Wells’ “War Of The Worlds”, and then suddenly there’s this girl singing a song about an old Emily Brontë  novel in a strange, witchy voice. (Fraser McAlpine on BBC America)
Yelena Akhtiorskaya remembers why she disliked English class in New Republic:
Imagine my shock then, when we began reading novels and taking apart the characters and events as if they were real, trudging laboriously through Steinbeck and Brontë, answering the equivalent of who, what, where, how, and why. My literary identity fractured; I loathed the assigned books and dreaded analyzing them, but loved my secret books, which I’d never defile by deconstructing (or thinking about too hard).
SBS on Spring fashion(s):
After a 150 year hiatus, Victorian era skirts are back, and shorter than ever! More titillating than their 150 year old predecessors, these skirts reveal an entire ankle (so racy), and make a great costume should you ever choose to attend a party dressed as ‘Sexy Charlotte Brontë’ or ‘Sexy Emily Dickinson’. Long and flowing, these skirts are also great for sneaking people and things in and out of places. (Nina Oyama)
New York Daily News makes a list of great books to bring along this Labor Day:
"Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys.
Rhys takes the done-to-death story of "Jane Eyre," flips it and reverses it. By exploring that "crazy woman in the attic," she opens up a story about love, identity and destiny. Could a woman who is told she is crazy over and over again learn to believe it? Heartbreaking and sad, this book taught me in college about how the ability to express vulnerability gives us strength.
North Devon Gazette presents the Wuthering Heights performances at the Tapeley Park Gardens by the ChapterHouse Theatre Company; Quite as Mouse reviews Jane Eyre; Tony Walker uploads some recent pictures of Top Withins.