Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Breath of Fresh Eyre - A Review

Editions Rodopi kindly sent us a copy of A Breath of Fresh Eyre. Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre edited by Margarete Rubik and Elke Mettinger-Schartmann. After reading it carefully, this is our review:
A Breath of Fresh Eyre. Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre.
RUBIK, Margarete and Elke METTINGER-SCHARTMANN (Eds.)
Rodopi, Amsterdam/New York, NY, 2007, 418 pp.
Hb: 978-90-420-2212-6
€ 84 / US$ 118
A Breath of Fresh Eyre. Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre is a volume edited by Margarete Rubik and Elke Mettinger-Schartmann consisting of twenty-five papers (plus an introduction and an epilogue) offering, quoting from the backcover, 'a comprehensive collection of reworkings that also takes into account recent novels, plays and works of art that were published after Patsy Stoneman's seminal 1996 study on Brontë Transformations.'(1)

The reference to Stoneman's book is, of course, totally fitting but it should be clarified that A Breath of Fresh Eyre cannot be considered a continuation or an extension of Brontë Transformations. Some of the articles cover aspects already mentioned in Stoneman's books and the present volume does not have the cohesion (impossible for obvious reasons) neither the completeness of Stoneman's book.

A book like A Breath of Fresh Eyre can be approached from several perspectives. Judging each contribution separately, analyzing the topics treated and absent or (more ambitiously) tracing a sort of map of the critical state-of-the-art in Brontë studies according to the different approaches used in the contributions to the volume. We will humbly try to cover all of them.

The vast majority of the contributors to this book are scholars from different German or Austrian Universities, a fact not surprising considering that the volume belongs to the Austrian IFAVL collection(2). This common background should be taken into account when some common trends of the articles are highlighted.

One of these common trends can be checked in the bibliography of the different papers. Gilbert & Gubar's Madwoman in the Attic is referenced in fourteen out of the twenty-five articles (56%), added to Spivak's Critique of Post-Colonial Reason and other similar approaches (Showalter, Boumelha...). Therefore, it seems that sometimes we are not reading a collection of articles on reworkings of Jane Eyre but of Bertha Mason. The madwoman in the attic's final revenge is to conquer the novel where she was imprisoned. It's also surprising that in a collection such as this one, Stoneman's Brontë Transformations will be just referenced by ten of the authors and Donna Marie Nudd's works or even Lucasta Miller's The Brontë Myth are just testimonially quoted.

Let's enumerate what the topics treated are. After an introduction by Barbara Schaff, Part 1 is devoted to novel adaptations. The subject is widely explored:

Jean Ryhs's Wide Sargasso Sea is discussed in three papers (but appears as an intertext in several others). Arizti discusses the novel in terms of Morson's theory about the ethical representation of time in narrative fiction and Loe uses landscapes to evaluate the internal cohesion and the differences between Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. More interestingly, Müller places himself outside the common post-colonial critical thought (particularly among the different contributors of the book) and argues that
it can be said that, as far as colonialism is concerned, Jane Eyre lacks an intended or unintended subtext. While in the presentation of Rochester there is a subtext, i.e. a blank which can be filled with reference to a Victorian context of specifically male prerogatives in matters of life and sex, colonialism is a gap, a hole or a blind spot in the novel. (...) Modern readers, however, are bound to find such a subtext, which derives from the fact that they read the novel from (...) another ideological position. What Charlotte Brontë is blind to is transparent to them.
Some post-Stoneman's clearly Jane Eyre-inspired novels are discussed: Ines Detmers analyzes Hilary Bailey's Mrs. Rochester: A Sequel to Jane Eyre (1997), D.M. Thomas's Charlotte (2000) and Kimberly A. Bennett's Jane Rochester (2000). D. M. Thomas's novel is also the subject of a paper by Sue Thomas that goes to the limit by identifying Bertha's images through psychoanalytical readings. Mardi McConnochie's Coldwater (2001) is the subject of a very informative article by Maggie Tonkin. Other novels loosely inspired or read through a Jane Eyre narrative are treated in a paper by Ursula Kluwick: Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac, Margaret Drabble's The Waterfall, Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine and Jamica Kincaid's Lucy. The analysis is limited to the exploration of the role of anger in the main character's development.

A series of articles now focuses on the influence of Jane Eyre in several sci-fi and fantasy novels. Jürgen Wehrmann writes an interesting but incomplete(3) summary of post-feminist science-fiction novels including Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. This novel is also the subject of three more articles: Margarete Rubik 'takes a cognitive approach to the text world and Fforde's novel' exploring how Fforde dissolves the frontiers between fact and fiction. Mark Berninger and Katrin Thomas's approach drifts into the kind of critical theory that Fforde himself parodies in the terminology used in his novels(4). Finally, Juliette Wells looks into the character Jane Eyre as a sort of inspiration for Thursday Next herself.

Part 2 is devoted to Visual Adaptations.

Among them we find three articles devoted to TV and film adaptations. Verenna-Susanna Nungesser compares Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Jane Eyre, both the novels and the movie adaptations (Hithcock's and Stevenson's respectively). Sarah Wootton talks about the Byronic substratum of Rochester and how it appears in some adaptations. The idea is very interesting but lacks completeness in the analysis of the different films treated(5). Finally, Carol M. Dole's analyzes the functions of child characters in five feature-length films. Although the author justifies the use of only feature-length films and not miniseries, we rather believe that a more complete analysis could be of interest. In general, these articles leave a wide field untouched and the feeling that a lot of critical work remains to be done.

The next series of articles is devoted to adaptations for child readers and illustrations of Jane Eyre novels. Marla Harris 'explores ways of picturing/illustrating Jane Eyre' and explains how to abridge the texts without losing authenticity. Norbert Bachleitner draws a comparison between two Classics Illustrated comic versions of Jane Eyre in 1947 and 1962 and Michaela Braesel discusses four illustrated editions of Jane Eyre (1872, 1897, 1904 and 1905). These three articles provide a very interesting insight into aspects of the Jane Eyre popular heritage, which has not been sufficiently explored. Finally, an article by Aline Ferreira centered on Paula Rego's series of paintings inspired by Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.

Part 3 is devoted to opera and drama adaptations.

Walter Berhart and Bruno Lessard sign two articles on Michael Berkeley and David Malouf's 2000 opera based on Jane Eyre. Particularly interesting is Lessard's article exploring the intertextual, but also intermedial (interoperal we could say) influences of Berkeley's opera. A couple of articles examines two plays of Polly Teale's Brontë trilogy. Jarmila Mildorf looks into what she calls 'mad intertexuality' in After Mrs Rochester and Kathleen Starck explores Polly Teale's Jane Eyre particularly as a staged version of Gilbert and Gubar's Madwoman in the Attic ideas(6).

A couple of somewhat disconnected articles close the section. Elke Mettinger-Schartmann talks about John Brougham's 1849 stage melodrama based on Jane Eyre. The play is placed as the antithesis of the abovementioned psychological version by Teale. Brougham's is focused on class differences although calling the reading Marxist is a little bit extreme(7). Rainer Emig finds curious, but quite forced, connections between Sarah Kane's play Blasted and Jane Eyre in the last article of the section. The epilogue is an article by Michelene Wandor describing her work adapting Jane Eyre for BBC Radio 4 in 1987.

It's difficult to understand why a book that examines so many Jane Eyre recent derivatives, one of the most significant ones of the last decades is not mentioned at all: Paul Gordon and Michael Caird's Broadway musical Jane Eyre (neither the other Jane Eyre musicals, obviously). It's an unforgivable drawback for a book that, irregular as it may be, solidly adds up to the critical body of work of the ever-growing Brontë transformations genre.

(1) Stoneman, Patsy. Brontë Transformations. The Cultural Dissemination of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1996.
(2) Volume 111. Internationale Forschungen zur Allemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenchaft (IFAVL)
(3) It's hard to say why Sharon Shinn's Jenna Starborn (2002), a more than obvious possibility, is not included or mentioned.
(4) Or even in Jasper Fforde's talks:

"Metafiction. It's one of those grey terms bantered around by people who like to study fiction rather than enjoy it, and use expressions like 'Narrative topography', 'absentation of actuality', 'paradigmatic axis of associations' and 'metaphorical chain of deterritorialised signifiers.' (Science-fiction UPC Award 2007, Conference, 27/11/2007, Jasper Fforde, Thursday Next and Meta Fiction)
(5) Furthermore, it's a pity that the latest BBC adaptation was too recent to be included or discussed.
(6) The last play of the trilogy, Brontë, is also very rich in intertextual allusions not only to Jane Eyre but to other Brontë novels.
(7) The author of the article relies on Stoneman's work in order to date the first performance of the play in 1856. Nevertheless, Stoneman's new book, Jane Eyre on Stage, 1848 -1898, enlarges the information available and quotes from the New York Spirit of The Times giving 1849 as the opening year. On the possible 'revolutionary meaning of the play', Stoneman - in her latest book - says, 'Once again, a lower-class audience is entertained by seeing class enemies mocked, while the play as a whole re-establishes social harmony by focusing on virtuous individuals'.


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