Friday, September 30, 2016

Several sites review the West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Villette. The Stage gives it 4 out of 5 stars.
Picture: Anthony Robling
The innovation here is to set Brontë’s enigmatic and profoundly lonely heroine, Lucy Snowe, adrift in a fictional near future world, reinventing her as an introverted clone figure who has survived a pandemic that killed her two identical sisters and has been set to work on an archaeological dig searching for a cure embedded in the DNA of the Lady of Villette.
With a sharp techno-digital visual style, and a poetic narrative style that switches between direct speech and what’s stirring in Lucy’s locked-in mind, it’s a bold, demanding and challenging reworking that will divide Brontë-philes right down the middle.
It might not be the full Brontë: it’s not easy to get a grip on Lucy’s head-spinning inner quest to dig deeper into her own stricken soul and find love. But there are enough fleeting glimpses of the original story to hold the thing together, with space for new versions of key characters to emerge in Mark Rosenblatt’s slickly staged production, each one given strong individuality by an excellent cast and with an elfin-like Laura Elsworthy delivering an edgy, angry, tour-de-force performance as Brontë’s haunted heroine.
Bold, intense and unconventional interpretation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, with a powerful central performance (Roger Foss)
The Telegraph gives it 3 out of 5 stars:
The last time I checked, Charlotte Bronte’s proto-modernist 1853 novel Villette was not set on an archaeological dig somewhere in the future. Yet for a writer as radical as Bronte, there is something aptly daring in Linda Marshall-Griffiths’ new stage version, which drops the bonnets and other trappings of heritage theatre and recasts Brontë’s diffident narrator Lucy Snowe as a cloned survivor of a deadly virus tasked with discovering the remains of a nun called the Lady of Villette.
Granted, it sounds a bit like something you might stumble across in a forsaken corner of the Edinburgh Fringe. But give it time, and Mark Rosenblatt’s production, part of the 200th anniversary Brontë season at WYP, makes a sort of sense. [...]
Here, as Laura Elsworthy’s insomniac, malnourished Lucy embarks on her project against Jess Curtis’s eerie set, where hi tech computers sit amid the dust and bones of an archeological dig, echoes from Brontë’s novel – and life – keep pushing through. It’s not just Lucy’s unresolved love affairs with Nana Amoo-Gottfried’s genial John and Philip Cairns’s endearingly hapless Paul; Catherine Cusack’s sinister, controlling Beck, who observes everything that happens on the dig via video surveillance, or the discovery of the nun’s crushed remains in the grounds. Rather, the dig becomes its own metaphor for Bronte’s themes of sexual and emotional repression, of loss (the unspecified trauma Lucy suffers is here spelt out as the deaths of her sisters) and of Lucy’s own, tumultuous inner journey from the depths of darkness towards the light.
Still, Elsworthy has her work cut out making Lucy work as a character. There is a certain skewed logic in making the emotionally locked down Lucy a clone. Yet while Elsworthy underlines Lucy’s self dissociation with jolting, mechanised speech patterns, at times it sounds as though she has swallowed a metronome. You sense, too, that Marshall-Griffiths has bitten off more than she can chew, her play ultimately defeated by Brontë’s extraordinary imagination. Yet Villette is an astonishing novel buried in the shadow of the much better known Jane Eyre. This play makes a fittingly bold stab at excavation. (Claire Allfree)
The Guardian gives it 2 stars out 5:
This is not a typical page-to-stage adaptation but rather a standalone play inspired by source material. You can admire the ambition but not always the execution, and it often feels as if Marshall Griffiths needed to get further away from the original rather than being tied to its Gothic coat-tails. This Lucy Snowe begins at such a fever pitch that there is nowhere else for her to go, and while Laura Elsworthy gradually makes you warm to her, she is given too little opportunity to expose Lucy’s yearning heart and really make us care for her future happiness. (Lyn Gardner)
Entertainment Focus reviews it as well:
Initially, the play feels like it owes more to Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the novels of John Wyndham than to Brontë, but at the heart of this story is the tale of a woman’s identity in the shadow of her deceased sisters. Villette has an uneasy atmosphere; an underlying unrest, as if the soil should be left undisturbed and its history never exhumed. The play unearths the dirt of the land as one would tentatively dig into one’s unhappy past. [...]
The central character is Lucy Rose [sic], passionately played by Laura Elsworth. The dialogue is alien, purposefully offbeat yet performed with a staccato rhythm that at times feels a touch exaggerated. There is anguish and fervour in the performance, however the writing doesn’t seem to offer further shades other than bouts of psychosis. There are a few softer moments, but on the whole, the character feels decidedly one note. Perhaps that was the intention; entrapped as a clone who has a fragmented, shared identity with her sisters. Either way, it makes for a sometimes wearying and unsympathetic protagonist. [...]
Villette showcases a vibrant cast. Philip Cairns is warm and engaging as Paul, Lucy’s unlikely love interest. Catherine Cusack is agreeably steely and distant as Beck, though is arguably a little underused. Nana Amoo-Gottfried is charged and youthfully upbeat as John, whilst Amelia Donkor gets to have the most fun as Gin, the fancy-free girl with a healthy work-life balance. [...]
Villette is a bold concept which is well realised on stage. It feels a little like a play which has a few too many ideas, with not all of them well served. As a reimagining, Villette is certainly daring and original, offering flashes of brilliance and the seeds of great ideas. It’s well worth seeing for its morbid ambience alone. (Samuel Payne)
Impact takes a trip to Haworth and the Brontë Parsonage and rates the experience as an 8/10.
For the incredibly inexpensive price of £6 for a student ticket there is no better way to spend your time in Haworth. This is made even better, as the ticket is valid for an entire year, which means there is no excuse not to visit again. It wouldn’t be a trip to a museum without a long browse in the gift shop; I had to resist major temptation to buy everything! I eventually settled on a postcard and a notebook featuring a drawing completed by Charlotte Bronte herself!
Not even the heavy rain and cold winds could ruin this day! If anything, the hostile weather made the experience of being inside the house all the more comforting and realistic, as it meant you could understand why the sisters spent so much time inside writing. What trip to Yorkshire would be complete without a short walk to a local café to sample the best tea and cake available, which also added to the quaint feel of the day’s outing!
Not being the types to let the weather stop us, we were crazy enough to make the short drive and then a further mile walk to the famous Bronte waterfall, where the sisters often went to search for inspiration and to enjoy the tranquility of nature. Whilst we didn’t quite get the same tranquility, due to the muddy hills and torrential rain, it was still a stunning place to visit.
Anyone who finds themselves in Yorkshire should definitely visit Haworth, a lovely little village with so much to offer in terms of both culture, and, of course, photo opportunities. However, Bronte addicts beware, as you may never leave the gift shop! (Lizzie Robinson)
We wholeheartedly agree with everything said, particularly in regards to the gift shop.

Sady Doyle's Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear... and Why is one of those much-reviewed books which we never know for sure (at least not until we get to read them ourselves) whether they are badly researched/told, highly exaggerated in order to make a point or simply misunderstood by the media. This is the conclusion that The Atlantic draws from its pages on Charlotte Brontë:
Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and arguably the founder of modern feminism, was in her own age considered a trainwreck: She had several sexual partners and, as a result, a child out of wedlock. So, too, was Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre’s author had her own version of Rochester, but one who treated her terribly—and she was devastated by the breakup. (Megan Garber)
So many wrong things in just one sentence! And, again, we seriously find it very hard to consider these two women trainwrecks.

GP (Sweden) reviews the book Blåst! by Eva-Marie Liffner.
Så är det också, förutom axplock ur bibeln, folksagor, folksånger och antika myter, några av 1800- och 1900-talets stora författare som sammanförs i intrigen: systrarna Brontë, JRR Tolkien och den torsdagsklubb som inte bara innehöll Tolkien utan också, bland andra, C S Lewis. Referenserna är många och emellanåt branta.
Ibland kliver gestalter rakt ut ur fiktionen och tar plats i handlingen, ibland apostroferas de genom att, exempelvis, ge namn åt gator eller fastigheter. Här finns exempelvis – med en inte så liten blinkning till Emily Brontës klassiska hittebarn Heathcliff – Heath Street och Cliff Mansion. Här finns, med lika tydliga blinkningar till Tolkiens sagovärld, ”tant Alv” som i sitt ”Gondolfska hus” hyr ut en våning till ”Johnnie T”. I en scen stöter också romanens berättare, mekanikern Ned Shaw, på två märkliga monster. Ett av dem heter Ork. Och till och med titeln är en litterär lek. ”Blåst!” är nämligen det namn som gavs till den allra första svenska översättningen av Wuthering heights (Svindlande höjder). [...]
I romanens andra del blir konstruktionen tydligare. Här korsklipper Liffner mellan 2000-tal, 1960-tal och Brontës senare 1800-tal. Av barnen finns bara Charlotte kvar. Och i vår samtid dechiffrerar de medelålders väninnorna Mags och George arkeologiska fältrapporter och mystiska lösblad samtidigt som Charlotte Brontë söker ett förlorat (stulet) manuskript.
Vem som lever och vem som dör är inte alldels uppenbart. Istället påminner Liffner om det motstånd som finns i fantasin. Och det eviga liv. (Ingrid Bosseldal) (Translation)
Aftonbladet (Sweden) reviews it too:
Och Liffner har trängt sig in i den världen inte bara med fantasi utan också genom en rejäl portion fantasy. Det här är visserligen ingen tungläst historia men så komplex för att inte säga snårig, att jag aldrig lyckas reda ut alla trådar, som författaren spinner fram och tillbaka mellan olika tidsplan och drömda eller levande människor. I ett av de moderna tidsplanen konstateras på ett ställe, att ”de här fyra ungarna skrev som tokiga hela livet. De lekte och levde och andades bara genom sina fantasier om påhittade land och språk och ändlösa krig och ändå finns det nästan inget kvar av dem i bokform. Bara några prydligt tillrättalagda romaner, noga ansade för att passa tidens litterära mode”.
Det tycks vara detta faktum, som triggat i gång Eva-Maria Liffners egen fantasi, det vill säga den fantasivärld, Gondal, som syskonen Brontë, Charlotte, Emily, Anne och Branwell, skapade och djupt levde sig in i, men som inte lämnat spår i de tre systrarnas romaner – Branwell var förmodligen lika skrivbegåvad men publicerade ingenting och var på väg att supa ihjäl sig, när han dog i lungsot samma år som Emily.
Men! Kanske det ändå fanns en roman av hans hand om just Gondal, eller om det kanske handlar om en försvunnen andra roman av Emily (många har fantiserat om vad hon skulle ha kunnat åstadkomma mer än mästerverket Svindlande höjder). Vi får följa hur detta eventuella manu­skript dyker upp i skyttegravarna vid Ypern under första världskriget och senare i källardjupen under Bodleian library i Oxford. Det forskas fram och tillbaka mellan tidsplanen, som även omfattar slutet av 1960-talet samt nutid. (Lennart Bromander) (Translation)
The Atlantic reviews Andrea Arnold's American Honey and is somewhat reminded of her Wuthering Heights adaptation.
Arnold is a British director who excels at uncompromising storytelling. Her protagonist Star has something in common with Mia, the isolated, impoverished teenager in her 2009 film Fish Tank, and even with the aloof, angry Heathcliff of her 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights. (David Sims)
While Zap2it looks at the latest adaptation of Poldark and thinks that,
What makes “Poldark” so clever, and such a viable commodity, is the way it simultaneously embraces and overcomes all these Cornish tropes. In the same way that a Bronte adaptation can’t be too wry and ironic, nor too hysterical or intense, the job with “Poldark” is to translate Graham’s work — with all the topical style and hyper-emotional trends — into something we can digest, experiencing it authentically rather than ironically. It’s the soap opera argument made real, and so expertly that it’s easy to forget that silly fight altogether. (Ann Foster)
Howl and Echoes lists '6 Songs Inspired by Books' and Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights is obviously there.
Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
Perhaps one of the best known literary adaptations in music, Kate Bush’s dramatic (and shrill) classic is brimful with the tragedy of Emily Brontë’s only novel. First published in 1847 under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell”, the doomed love of Cathy and Heathcliff has been a schoolroom staple of English Lit classes for decades. A prime favourite for TV adaptations, Bush’s version is perhaps the best known song to be inspired by Wuthering Heights.
Recorded in 1978, the lyrics were actually written by Bush aged just 18. Inspired by just ten minutes of a BBC mini-adaptation that aired on 1967 television, she also discovered that she shared her birthday with Emily Brontë (July 30). Singing as the ghost of Cathy, calling to Heathcliff from the bleak moors – and from beyond the grave – the track stayed at number one in the British charts for four weeks.
Bush actually fought hard with record label EMI to have Wuthering Heights released as the lead single for her album, The Kick Inside. A rare victory for a young artist, who was definitely more savvy than her floaty dresses and mystical demeanour might have indicated to unsuspecting label execs. (Susie Garrard)
PopMatters reviews the book The Kate Inside by Guido Harari:
Thus, there are perhaps two ways to see Kate Bush: as postmodern art-pop pariah haunted by a Faustian bargain with fame, or perhaps more cynically, as media strategy invested in that very bargain. The first Bush is a double-edged sword capable of gesticulating through the ether as both performer and performance: at one side, the very down to earth, thoughtful, charming, discreet, and authentic, individual with an endless reserve of poetic and musical insight within her; at the other side, the myriad artistic products of hocus pocus and make-believe, like wailing in the wind Cathy of Wuthering Heights, Babooshka, and all the Running Up That Hill stuff. [...]
Cathy of Wuthering Heights was inspired not by the Brontë novel but by a TV adaptation of it. (Pietro de Simone)
If you have been reading BrontëBlog for a few years you will know that there is a columnist that resurfaces from time to time with '(c)rude' Brontë references: Tanya Gold. She reviews a place in London's Strand called Bronte (for Lord Nelson) for The Spectator.
I hoped that Bronte would be filled with Victorian writers licking ink off their fingers and bitching about Mrs Gaskell being a third-rate hack; but it is not to be. (Do not think I am vulgar. My description is accurate. Wuthering Heights is a rude novel, and Jane Eyre is worse. St John Rivers, its Christian Grey, is surely a Spectator subscriber). [...]
It is named for Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Bronte. His title, it is believed, was borrowed by Patrick Brunty, the Irish blacksmith’s apprentice who educated himself and came to England to father a literary dynasty by mistake. Patrick was a skilled public relations man and curate; he added a stylish umlaut. The Brontës, of course, have their own homage restaurant in Haworth. It is called the Bronte Balti House, and it features in the Daily Telegraph’s Ten of the Worst Days out in Britain. I thought the Bronte Balti House was OK when I covered the Brontë Death Cult for the Guardian, but I was keen to escape the Parsonage of Passive Aggression and Death, and nowhere else was open. The Brontë Death Cult, which was founded by Mrs Gaskell in an oblivious act of jealousy, is very passive-aggressive, and its shrine is the parsonage, a house that looks like a dead body. What do you call a woman of humble origins who just happens to be a genius when you are not? A sickly moor hag, or witch. I cannot blame Mrs Gaskell for the Bronte Balti; but she would like it. She would love to imprison Charlotte’s memory inside a crap curry house near Bradford, with naan bread: I’ve got you now, corpse!
So Bronte is named for a man no one calls Bronte. It could have been called Nelson, decorated with eye patches and plastic parrots, like a Padshow hell shack; or it could have been called Gaskell, an angry and flouncy tearoom that wrote bad novels and one marvellous, vicious and dishonest biography called The Life of Charlotte Brontë; or it could have been called — and this is my wish — Brunty: Pens, Sex and Potatoes.
Pure (Tanya) gold.

'Not among Brontëites', is what we'd say to this columnist from The Pitt News:
For this year’s Dining Guide, we wanted to figure out a question as old as the University itself — how do you impress a date? Instead of giving you our opinion — this Culture Editor once invited a woman to his first-year dorm to watch “Jane Eyre,” so he’s disqualifying himself — we wanted to hear from you. (Kevin Lynch)
Vanitatis (Spain) is reminded of Jane Eyre by the 'pullover you won't be taking off this autumn'. Papel en blanco (in Spanish) reviews Jane, le renard et moi. AnneBrontë.org marked Elizabeth Gaskell's 206th birthday yesterday with a post about her.


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