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Jane Eyre has become so cosily a part of our cultural landscape that it is hard to imagine ourselves back into the mindset of the Victorians who first encountered it when it appeared out of the blue in 1847, published under the male-sounding pseudonym "Currer Bell". It became an instant bestseller, but quickly developed a reputation as a "naughty book", as GH Lewes put it. No one could doubt what Lewes called its "strange power of subjective representation", given the intense authenticity of its first-person voice. But as soon as critics concluded that the mysterious Currer Bell must be a woman, the book was attacked as "coarse" and immoral.
The most notoriously vituperative notice, published in the conservative Quarterly Review, accused Currer Bell of "moral Jacobinism" – of trying to start a revolution. It went on to insinuate that, if indeed female, she must have "for some sufficient reason … forfeited the society of her own sex", ie that she must be a fallen woman whose loose sexual behaviour had made her a pariah in decent circles. Few insults could have been more excoriating at the time. Charlotte Brontë – in reality, the spinster daughter of a provincial parson and a lifelong Tory – was nonplussed at being simultaneously tarred with the brush of political liberalism and personal libertinism.
It is easy today to dismiss Jane Eyre's Victorian critics as purblind prudes. The fact that the Quarterly's anonymous critic was herself a woman, Elizabeth Rigby, outraged 20th-century feminists, who saw it as an unsisterly affront from a hidebound conservative. Yet it is worth asking whether the intensity of the contemporary response was a more honest reaction to Jane Eyre's insistent abrasiveness than the modern tendency to remove its sting by blandly categorising it as a classic. (Read more)
Not since Gaskell has the Brontë patriarch appeared quite so odious. Harman harps on Patrick’s insensitivity, as he first courts a woman who rejects him, then refuses to take no for an answer, insisting they had some special understanding even as she tells him off. In Harman’s book, Patrick hardly takes an interest in his children’s writing. The evidence that might suggest otherwise may be lacking, but an inquiring biographer might well wonder why the mature Charlotte remained so loyal and grateful to the dullard Harman depicts. She reports that Patrick Brontë hardly seemed surprised at the secret his daughter revealed: She was the author of “Jane Eyre.” Could Patrick have been quite so unaware as Harman implies? Fraser believes that Patrick was teasing Charlotte by not reacting more strongly to her revelation.
Sometimes Harman seems all too sure of herself, as when she observes that Charlotte’s suitor, Arthur Nicholls, doing everything in his power to mollify the obstinate Patrick, “must have wondered which of the two — father or daughter — was being courted.”
These faults aside, Harman’s well-paced narrative and keen attention to the tentative and troubled way Charlotte adjusted to sudden fame make this latest version of a literary life all the more modern and captivating.
Have you ever set your face against a book? This year sees Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary and the novelist Tracy Chevalier has edited a short-story anthology each based on the climactic line of Jane Eyre — ‘Reader, I married him.’ Everyone knows it. I agreed like a shot because the brief fitted something I had been mulling for a while, and yesterday the handsome finished volume arrived. In the notes about contributors, it says: ‘Susan Hill has never read Jane Eyre.’ Lamentably, that is true, and now I suppose I never can. But the fact is, I have set my face against it, as my daughter has set her face against Animal Farm. Neither of us remembers where or why it started but we’ll never give in. But oddly, I actually believe I have read Jane Eyre, I know so much about it. Mr Rochester, the blindness, the mad wife in the attic…There are a lot of books like that, Oliver Twist being a standout (‘Please sir, I want some more’, Fagin’s gang, Bill Sikes the woman-beater). The reasons for setting one’s face against Animal Farm, however, remain obscure.
In this hugely enjoyable re-telling of Wuthering Heights – even purists will be won over – sensible housekeeper Nelly Dean is finally allowed to reveal her more tempestuous side. First brought up as Hindley's playmate, she later becomes his servant, though remains as devoted as ever to this increasingly brutish young man. Yet unlike the other adolescents at the Heights, Heathcliff and Catherine, Nelly must cook, clean and run the dairy. No gallivanting on the moors for her. Case, a professor of Victorian literature, does for Nelly Dean what Jean Rhys did for Bertha Mason – rescues her from the attic. (Emma Hagestadt)
This is a fascinating fictionalized account of the Brontë sisters as teenagers. Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ own juvenilia, Worlds of Ink and Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families in a thrilling, suspenseful fantasy. (Sarah Isbister)
In the publishing industry, romance continues to dominate, accounting for a whopping forty percent of all fiction sales. The genre encompasses a huge range from Danielle Steele (who is still knocking out four books a year and hitting the NYT bestseller list almost every time) to EL James and everything in between, including the classics of The Brontës, Margaret Mitchell and Jane Austen.On TCM (US) today, Wuthering Heights 1939 at 9:30 PM (EST). A "top-notch production" accordint to Times-Reporter.
Beam: 2016, a two-day event held at the Park Theatre in London, aimed at showcasing new musical theatre. It was jointly organised by Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musical Developments, and more than 40 new musicals were showcased and pitched to producers. [...]EDIT: And we know more, via Facebook:
Musicals that were pitched or showcased at the even included Wasted, by Chris Ash and Carl Miller, about the Brontës, and The List, written by Tamar Broadbent. (Matthew Hemley)