Monday, February 08, 2016

Monday, February 08, 2016 12:30 am by M. in ,    No comments

The Brontë Sisters in Other Wor(l)ds
Editors: Qi, S., Padgett, J. (Eds.)
Palgrave MacMillan
ISBN 978-1-137-40514-2
It is said at the very beginning of the introduction to The Brontë sisters in Other Worl(l)ds:
Ever since their first publications in the late 1840s, the works of the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) have inspired countless literary adaptations (novels, dramas, short stories), musical works (settings of songs and poems, musicals, libretti, operas), films, ballets, art works, literary criticism, translations, and even comic books. The reception of the works of the Brontë sisters in Europe and the United States has drawn extensive scholarly attention. However, much needed scholarship on their position in other wor(l)ds—languages and cultures—remains to be done. 
This book, edited by Shouhua Qi and Jacqueline Pidgett, tries to fill this gap with a selection of several unrelated articles exploring this fascinating and largely unexplored territory. Their work, nevertheless, is not totally in the dark. In 1989, Donna Marie Nudd began to clear the field with Jane Eyre and what adaptors have done to her. But, arguably the book which put adaptations and derivatives in the Brontë scholar landscape was Patsy Stoneman's seminal work on Brontë derivatives in Brontë Transformations: The Cultural Dissemination of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Some years ago another (more ambitious) selection of papers was published in A Breath of Fresh Eyre. Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre and more recently Hila Shachar focused on Wuthering Heights film adaptations in Cultural Afterlives and Screen Adaptations of Classic Literature.Wuthering Heights and Company.

Nevertheless, the primary intentions of The Brontë Sisters in Other Worl(d)s are more precise than these books. As we quoted before, Qi and Pidgett's aim is to engage in an approach which displays the negotiation and eventual appropriation of the Brontës' works by other languages and cultures. As in any compilation book, the different chapters and topics are not equally interesting and the final result is somewhat uneven.

The introduction firmly frames the intentions of the book (which largely exceed the final results of the book) which is to cover the cultural assimilation (in terms not only of translation per se) of the Brontës in different geographies. Regrettably many of the most promising and interesting venues hinted at the introductory framework like the different responses on the Brontës in Germany, France or in the Mediterranean countries are not discussed in the book which centers on more travelled scholar routes like the Caribbean or Mexico.

One of the most interesting chapters is the first one devoted to the Brontës' works in China. The popularity of Jane Eyre in China is well-known and was sparked by, of all possibles sources, the Jane Eyre 1970 film adaptation with George C. Scott and Susannah York. Shouha Qi documents this curiosity and traces the background to the evolution of the Brontës' reception in China from the very beginning until today. A fascinating account which nevertheless has to be read more as a summary digest of a much more detailed yet-to-be-written critical history of the Brontës in China.

An article about Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea in a book like this one seems almost unavoidable. One wonders, nevertheless, if it was really necessary. The book by Jean Rhys has been extensively discussed in many contexts and critical approaches before and we expected that this collection of papers could assume its groundbreaking status and could run away from its comfort zone. Nevertheless, Suzanne Roszak's discussion is not centered on the critically overcrowded postcolonial perspectives but in highlighting the generally ignored Gothic qualities of the Rhys text by itself and not only because of its Brontë predecessor.

The Caribbean continues to be the background of the following chapter. An a priori highly interesting discussion of both the transportation of Wuthering Heights to the Caribbean and its retelling in French in Maryse Condé's La Migration des Coeurs and its subsequent English translation as Windward Heights. The topic discussed by Jacqueline Padgett is a fantastic playground where adaptation, cultural assimilation and (re)translation work together as in very few other occasions in the history of literature (some Shakespeare plays are probably the only other cases we can recall). Nevertheless, the author of the article tends to overuse the critical literary tools when applied to simple interviews for newspapers or promotional texts and damages the overall (sometimes a bit twisted) vision of the author.

One of the best articles of the collection in our opinion is the one devoted to Luis Buñuel's Mexican film Wuthering Heights adaptation Abismos de Pasión 1954. Here we cross the boundary between literary adaptations and go into the more diverse intermedia studies, in this case film studies. Kevin Jack Hagopian does an excellent job discussing the film in several overlapping frameworks in which we can study it: as a Buñuel film, and particularly a film of his Mexican highly idiosyncratic period, as a Wuthering Heights post-colonial (but in a very special Hacienda-like way) adaptation or as a piece of (pseudo)melodrama with Wagnerian echoes.The angles are multiple and not necessarily exclusive. A good example of critical approach that only enlarges the subject of study and not encapsulates it in a particular framebox.

One cannot say the same about Saviour Catania's discussion of Yoshishige Yoshida's 1988 Japanese film Onimaru, also based on Wuthering Heights. Not because we think that his approach to the film using Georges Bataille's hypermorality, the framework of Noh theatre or his detailed study of the soundtrack of the film are wrong. No, they are not. They are fitting and thought-provoking. The problem is that what could become a very interesting discussion is obscured by the overuse of an impenetrable jargon that renders casual reading difficult and only seems to be addressed to an already converted audience.

The last chapter is not exactly disappointing but a bit arbitrary. Why a study about Michael Berkeley's Jane Eyre opera in a book like this? Of course it can be justified, you can almost justify anything using the right redefinitions, as a sort of  translation to another language/media, the operatic language. But it is forced and frankly not convincing.

The Brontës in other wor(l)ds, though a bit disappointing towards the end, opens a new window of study exploring the critical landscapes that are just merely glimpsed across the book. It is no small achievement, to be a pioneer.

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