Wednesday, June 12, 2013

To read or not to read the Brontës: that is the question

The Vancouver Courier reviews Blake Morrison's We Are Three Sisters, currently on stage at the Jericho Arts Centre.

For those up on their Chekhov, it’s easy to get into the head game of “Spot the Chekhov.” And that’s not a good thing; if you’re playing that game, you’re not fully engaged.
Nevertheless, We Are Three Sisters is an entertaining exploration of the lives of Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë and their brother Branwell. It’s far from gloomy and suggests that, for their time, they were strong-willed, strong-minded and talented women in a period when to be a woman writer was, as their patronizing father (Sean Allan) declared, never to be published. “Books cannot be the business of a woman’s life,” he pontificated. [...]
On opening night, United Players artistic director Andree Karas made a point of reminding us that everyone involved in the production is a volunteer and all but the director, Sandra Ferens, and two of the actors, Douglas Abel and Allan, are non-professionals. The quality of many of performances is far from amateur, however.
Like Chekhov’s Three Sisters, it’s an ensemble piece but, as with the brilliant Russian play, one sister stands out. Here it is Charlotte who is effectively foregrounded by Olesia Shewchuk who conveys all of Charlotte’s wit and fire. MariaLuisa Alvarez is Emily, the most withdrawn and secretive of the sisters while Victoria Lyons is a shy, blushing Anne, relentlessly pursued by the old doctor (Abel) as well as the flirtatious young curate (Nick Preston).
Helen Martin, in a green, off-the-shoulder gown (by costumer Elliott Squires), is the nasty Mrs. Robinson. (And here’s another connection: surely playwright Morrison borrowed “Mrs. Robinson” from The Graduate: older woman, younger man.)
Jordon Navaratil, as heavy-drinking Branwell, comes on strong in Act 2.
The frequent echoes of Chekhov are weird but I was otherwise drawn in and the production is excellent.
As for whether Chekhov drew inspiration from Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1857 biography of Charlotte Brontë (commissioned by Charlotte’s father), a Yorkshire theatre company might love to think so. It makes a good story: Charlotte, Emily and Anne as Chekhov’s Three Sisters. We know Chekhov read Cervantes and Schopenhauer. But Gaskell? (Jo Ledingham)
NPR's Monkey See discusses 'What Kids Are Reading, In School And Out' (in the US):
Most of the assigned books are novels, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men or Animal Farm. Students even read recent works like The Help and The Notebook. But in 1989, high school students were being assigned works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Emily Brontë and Edith Wharton.
Now, with the exception of Shakespeare, most classics have dropped off the list. (Lynn Neary)
The Telegraph shows the other side of the coin (across the pond in the UK):
The English literature GCSE will require pupils to study a “range of classic literature fluently”, making sure all children “develop the habit of reading widely and often”.
It will require pupils to study a whole Shakespeare play, instead of short extracts, and at least one 19th century novel from authors such as Dickens, Austen and the Brontës. (Graeme Paton)
And still speaking of both Shakespeare and the Brontës, The Catholic World Report takes 'Lessons in Love from William Shakespeare'.
Lovers of literature will be reminded of how the love between Romeo and Juliet parallels that between Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Compare Romeo’s remark with the words of Catherine about Heathcliff:
If all perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it … Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks … a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff—he’s always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself—but, as my own being—so, don’t talk of our separation again.
Catherine is possessed by Heathcliff who is the eternal rock upon which she builds her church. It is, therefore, not surprising that she confesses to Nelly that she would be “extremely miserable” in heaven. Her “heaven” is where Heathcliff is and nothing will separate her from the “love” of her god, not even the love of God. (Joseph Pearce)
This Moultrie News columnist suggests a few novels to 'escape from hectic life':
I’m a librarian, but because the aforementioned Miss Kaufman instilled in me a love for good reading. Because of her, some of my all-time favorite books are “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, “Anne of Green Gables” by L. M. Montgomery and “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger. (Susan Frohnsdorff)
BoDoï reviews Jane, le renard et moi, giving it 4 stars:
Jane, le renard et moi n’est rien de moins qu’un miracle de sensibilité et de poésie. Le sujet choisi (le harcèlement à l’école et le mal-être des jeunes) était plus que périlleux. Anxiogène et récupéré ad nauseam par les médias, il ouvre à toutes les dérives trash. Mais son traitement — Hélène sublime son quotidien par la littérature — est suffisamment original pour éviter l’écueil : la vision offerte est finalement optimiste, rappelant à quel point l’adolescence peut être aussi bien chienne que porteuse d’espoir.
A la fois sensible et violent, le texte de Fanny Britt s’accorde à merveille avec le dessin d’Isabelle Arsenault. Les crayonnés gris se mêlent d’aquarelles végétales lorsque le merveilleux s’introduit dans l’univers de l’adolescente. Le quotidien de l’héroïne est illuminé par une rêverie littéraire ou une belle rencontre avec un renard. Comme la jeune fille qu’il découvre, le lecteur se sent rasséréné, comme consolé de ses propres — et lointains — déboires adolescents. (Mélanie Monroy) (Translation)
Tablet's The Scroll thinks that 'Israeli Film ‘Fill the Void’ is Jane Austen for Jews':
In Austen’s time, powerful yet unspoken social forces shaped the lives of both her contemporaries and her female protagonists, and pressures to marry for reasons beyond personal fulfillment were commonplace. But as modern society strips away the bonds of tradition, community, and financial necessity which previously imposed external obligations on individuals—particularly women—tragedies of manners like Austen’s or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre have become increasingly difficult to write. The only way to portray a protagonist beset by such outmoded responsibilities is to set the story in the historical past—or in an isolated traditional religious community. (Yair Rosenberg)
The thing is, though, that Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë approached those 'tragedies of manners' rather differently.

Chron's Bookish is also somewhat off the mark when discussing women writing under pseudonyms
So the reasons for a male nom de plume today are the same as they were in the 1840s, when Charlotte Brontë published “Jane Eyre” under the name Currer Bell. In her day, too, publishers figured they’d sell more books with a man’s name. (Maggie Galehouse)
Let Charlotte Brontë give her own explanation:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice . . . [Our bold]
So the publishers had no say in it.

Die Welt (Germany) discusses the same topic and quotes from Robert Southey's letter to Charlotte Brontë ('Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be', etc.)

The Guardian features ten-year-old Shrinidhi from the TV programme Child Genius. She has
written four novels (three more than Emily Brontë did ... I think). (Sam Wollaston)
Another quite silly mention comes from The Toronto Star:
If Toronto homes were given names, like those English mansions in Brontë novels, then Twyla Gendron’s could be christened “A Testament to Kindness Manor.” (Catherine Porter)
Good news from The Telegraph and Argus as
A project to restore Yorkshire’s precious peatlands, including moors around Brontë Country and Skipton, has successfully saved more than 100 square miles of the landscape.
The Yorkshire Peat Partnership embarked on the multi-million pound project over four years ago, and in that time has restored 25 per cent of Yorkshire’s Moors. (Chris Young)
Mi Lorenteggio (Italy) reports that Wuthering Heights will be screened on July 17th as part of the first edition of the Lake Como Film Festival. 50 Book Challenge posts about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Reading in Reykjavík writes as she reads Shirley.

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