Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hurlevent. A review

Some weeks ago we posted several times (post one, post two) about the new publication of the graphic novel Hurlevent, written by Yves Leclercq and illustrated by Jérôme Deleers. Éditions Casterman have been so kind to send us a copy that we will review now.

The synopsis of the story as we posted before, translated from the original French is as follows:

1842 Two young English women, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, arrive in Brussels to live in a pensionnat and polish their French. In exchange for their accommodation, Charlotte will have to impart several English lessons, and Emily will keep company to a young blind woman: Katherine Murmaul't, sister to the German artist Oskar Murmaul't.The first meeting with the brother and sister marks the grounds on which their relation will stand: an atmosphere of troubled, sensual, intriguing passion. Each little gesture and each little word seem to hide part of their secret madness.

As it can be seen the storyline has nothing to do with the actual story, nor do the images - physically or psychologically - of Deleers' Emily and Charlotte have the slightest resemblance with what we know of the Brontë sisters and their stay in Brussels. But this is not to be interpreted as criticism, because since the very beginning the editors are quite clear:
This album is inspired by a not well-known episode of the Brontë sisters' lifes: their stay in Brussels in 1842. Nevertheless, this is a book absolutely based on the imagination and it's not at all a historical biography. Rather a dreamed biography.
From the perspective of a blog named BrontëBlog, what we can consider is if this dreamed biography is coherent with the spirit of Emily Brontë and her Wuthering Heights (as the graphical novel presents an alternative-reality explanation of how the novel was born). And in our opinion, we cannot think so.

The illustrations of Jérôme Deleers provide an atmosphere of ambiguity and irreality, nearly oniric that fits well with the dream-quality of some passages of Wuthering Heights. But this is not enough. When it's used a real author and a real novel, as a sort of cultural alibi, for creating a whole new reality the least that we can expect it's to be coherent with the principal trends of the author or the novel. And Hurlevent ignores them.

This reviewer is not a purist. I like to see our Brontës reworked, changed and explored. There's no problem, in my opinion, in using them for inventing a story if ... there's some justification. This modern, beautiful, bold Emily of the graphical novel is named after the author of Wuthering Heights, but it could be named after any other woman writer from any other place and time. It could be Mary Shelley (maybe with more justification).

The Brontë references are restricted to the Pennsionat Héger, a brief appearance of Patrick Brontë (perpetually angry, it seems) and a briefer description of the infatuation of Charlotte with M. Héger.

But, of course, this is what a blog devoted to the Brontës can judge. The graphical novel has other merits, much more important for sure than the ones related to its tiny connection with the Brontëana canon. The illustrations are spectacular, and the beauty of some of them is not easily forgotten. The book is splendidly edited and, if you forget about who the main characters are supposed to be, rather breathtaking.

This reviewer cannot judge the qualities of the illustrations from a more technical point of view, the interested (and fluent in French) reader can find more qualified reviews here:

ActuaBD
(...) Hurlevent is an extremely audacious, innovative album, with high artistic expectations. A remarkable work (...) (David Taugis)
Bedethèque / Krinein
It's an atmospherical comic. I was transported by that special graphic design. The script, what script? I should say, it's not that there was not a story, rather the feeling that the story is just an excuse in order to allow the atmosphere to enter the reader. (edgarmint on Bedethèque)
The original illustrations of Jérôme Deleers for Hurlevent were exhibited at the beginning of this month in the Hôtel de Ville in Brussels.

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