Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Spectator reviews Claire Harman's new biography of Charlotte Brontë:
Claire Harman’s new biography casts Charlotte not as feminist heroine but as an unhappy, unfulfilled woman, disappointed in all the men closest to her [...]
The time is ripe for reassessment. It is 20 years and more since Charlotte’s last major biographers, Rebecca Fraser and Lyndall Gordon, reclaimed the eldest surviving Brontë sister as a feminist heroine, fierce in her defence not only of her art, but also of the right of women to choose independent lives of their own. In the intervening period, the publication of all Charlotte’s extant letters by Margaret Smith — truly one of the glories among modern editions of Victorian writers — has enabled Brontë scholars to dispose of the final accretions of myth, a residue of the purple-heather school of Brontë biography, and Harman has taken full advantage of this.
Her book, which is admirably concise, takes as one of its major themes the contrast between the restricted lives of the Brontës and the wide-ranging scope of their imaginations. [...]
If the first part of Charlotte’s life reads like the ultimate tale of a literary Cinderella, who are the villains in the story? Patrick Brontë certainly, seen here as the family’s ‘solitary egotist’, putting self-preservation above much else. Perhaps George Smith, Charlotte’s publisher, who seems never to have missed an opportunity to tell posterity about how plain and lacking in feminine charm Charlotte was (Harman has uncovered a self-portrait of Charlotte, doodled on the back of a map, in which she appears the very image of Jane Eyre staring at her reflection in the mirror). And what of Constantin Heger? Was he ever overly demonstrative towards the hypersensitive youngEnglishwoman? He undoubtedly earned her rebuke when she wrote, in Shirley, that ‘a lover feminine’ cannot seek an explanation when a man goes cold on a woman whose love he has carelessly engaged.
‘A year ago,’ Charlotte wrote after the deaths in quick succession of Branwell, Emily and Anne, ‘had a prophet warned me how I should stand… how stripped and bereaved… I should have thought — this can never be endured.’ No wonder she opted in the end for marriage to Arthur Nicholls, her father’s curate, a good, if limited, man, devoid of romance. Claire Harman misses nothing of the unbearable poignancy of Charlotte’s premature death during pregnancy. As Charlotte had written in her epitaph for Lucy Snowe: ‘The orb of your life is not to be so rounded; for you the crescent-phase must suffice.’ (Mark Bostridge)
Coincidentally, The Spectator also has another article on 'the decline of feminism' which ends like this:
Surely we should be revelling in the fact we’re the ‘second sex’ no longer, and teaching our girls how to rely on what Emily Brontë called our ‘no coward’ souls. (Emily Hill)
The Wall Street Journal discusses the flu:
Yet the flu is rarely taken seriously. The problem, according to Virginia Woolf in her essay “On Being Ill,” is that the flu is far too prosaic an illness to be taken seriously, in real life or in literature: “Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza…but no.” Heroines never succumb to the flu: Mimi in “La Bohème” dies of tuberculosis, Emily Brontë’s Cathy in “Wuthering Heights” in childbirth, Émile Zola’s Nana of smallpox. (Amanda Foreman)
Two Brontë novels have made it onto the list of '9 Classic Gothic Novels That Will Get You Into The Halloween Spirit' compiled by Bustle.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is arguably the author’s most beloved novel. It tells the story of an orphan, Jane, who must live with her cruel Aunt Reed who, along with her children, constantly makes her feel unloved and inferior. Jane is soon sent off to a boarding school, and after that, gains employment as a governess. Despite her difficult life, Jane remains resilient, and kind. Eventually, she falls in love with her employer, the mysterious and rough-around-the-edges Edward Rochester. But Thornfield Hall is hiding a dark secret that threatens to destroy Jane’s happiness.
"It seemed, sir, a woman, tall and large, with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back. I know not what dress she had on: it was white and straight; but whether gown, sheet, or shroud, I cannot tell.”
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights was published only a few months after Jane Eyre. The novel takes place on the spooky Yorkshire moors. Its fragmented narrative is told from different points of view and adds to the strangeness of the plot. It centers on the lives of Catherine (or Cathy) and Heathcliff; the latter is adopted into Cathy's family from a young age. Heathcliff and Cathy’s love is the stuff of legendary Gothic romance, but the novel is as much about their love as it is about Heathcliff’s revenge. The novel will plunge you head-first into an exploration of an intense, transcendental love in all its destructive glory.
“I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch: instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand. The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, "Let me in – let me in!” (Mariam Tareen Seth)
Culture 24 has an article on a different plan for this year's Halloween as it's the 'first ever Halloween Museums at Night'. The Brontë Parsonage Museum has joined in:
The Brontës knew a thing or two about drama, and the creaks and chimes of their after-dark Parsonage send a shiver down the spine. Housekeeper Tabitha Aykroyd has macabre stories to share, with the bong of the Brontë grandfather clock ushering in superstitions and ghosts.
The Bluffton Icon shares the highlights of a recent university talk by author April Lindner:
“Messing with the classics,” as she called it, provides certain benefits, including “an opportunity to ride on the shoulders of giants, to borrow some of their strength,” noted the author of “Jane” and “Catherine.” Those books are reimagined versions of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” and Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights,” respectively. Most recently, she has also updated E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View” in “Love, Lucy.” [...]
But a prospective writer of retellings should be aware of “an equal and opposite pitfall” as well, she told her listeners, who also included high school students on campus for the daylong English Festival. Some “purist” readers “will never read a retelling,” and others “will only hate-read such a book,” she maintained.
Even given a more open-minded reader, though, “the task of reimagining a beloved classic story comes with the very real potential for failure,” she said. It can look, from one angle, “like an act of extreme hubris,” and, in fact, she continued, failure to live up to the source material is “almost a given.”
Lindner said retellings aren’t, as some critics have claimed, fan fiction, which she defined as “writing for one’s own satisfaction, or sometimes that of a small audience of fellow fans. A retelling goes a step farther, is conscious of a wider audience and of making something that can stand on its own.”
But both forms, she added, start with the same impulse—“coming to the end of a story and looking for a way to dwell in its world and its thematic obsessions a bit longer, to spend more time with beloved characters, to make them your own. Like fan fiction, a retelling is what happens when rereading a story for the fifth or 10th or 100th time simply isn’t enough.”
So it was with “Jane,” which “grew directly out of an ongoing fascination with ‘Jane Eyre,’” her mother’s favorite novel and, eventually, one she loved, too.
“I found myself hooked on the challenge of translating the idiom of the past into the present, and in doing so, the challenge of making the story my own while still seeking to retain something essential about its themes and characters,” she explained.
“The experience was so satisfying that I decided I was going to write more,” said Lindner, who transformed the “Jane Eyre” character Mr. Rochester into a rock star in “Jane.” Next came “Catherine,” and on the heels of “Love, Lucy,” she plans retellings of “Persuasion,” by Jane Austen, and “Romeo and Juliet,” where “there’s room for endless retelling, I think.”
“I love doing it, so I keep doing it,” she said. “Retellings are just an awful lot of fun.” (Fred Steiner)
Fan fiction is similarly discussed in New Statesman.
But we’re increasingly seeing people call things “fanfiction” as a compliment, meant to lift up both fanfiction and the work that draws the comparison. Some of this is grounded in historical precedent: when we reference famous works of literature that play fanfiction’s games, we work to ground our modern practices in the “seriousness” of literary history. Sometimes we talk about bigger ideas of influence and retelling – like, say, much of Shakespeare’s work – but sometimes our examples get as specific as the tropes that fill the best fic. Two of the most famous modern examples, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, both take minor characters from famous works (Hamlet and Jane Eyre, respectively) and twist the stories from their perspectives. The first piece I ever published about fanfiction, during the explosion of 50 Shades of Grey and the resulting media narrative that painted the vast world of fanfiction as a tawdry black hole, was explicitly meant to draw these comparisons, to suggest that fic deserves just as much intellectual praise as “real” literature.
But I’m not sure I could write that piece today. (Elizabeth Minkel)
In an essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Joanna Chen says,
I grew up in North Yorkshire, England. I read Middlemarch and Jane Eyre.
We can't end this without mentioning Crimson Peak, of course. The Hindu has interviewed director Guillermo del Toro:
Did you choose to cast Tom and Jessica because they are attractive and charming, but also have incredibly dark natures?
That comes directly from gothic romance, whether it is Mr. de Winter in Rebecca or Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights — Mr Craven in The Secret Garden, Nicholas Van Ryn in Dragonwyk, or Jane Eyre, or Uncle Silas in Sheridan LeFanu’s novel — there is always a very attractive male character that is also brooding and dark. However, ultimately in most of the fiction, he turns out to be innocent. I’m afraid that in Crimson Peak, he is not as innocent! But the idea was, can someone be guilty and still feel real love? That is one of the other ideas in the movie. I think Tom embodies the attractive male character, but is also vulnerable and intelligent.
Anglotopia has a post on the Brontës.

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