Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday, December 11, 2016 9:52 am by Cristina in , , ,    No comments

Celebrating Charlotte Brontë: Transforming Life into Literature in Jane Eyre
by Christine Alexander and Sara Pearson
The publication of this book was pade possible by a generous bequest from Frank Milner (1930-2014), a member of the Brontë Society
ISBN: 978-0-9505829-0-0
Celebrating Charlotte: Transforming Life into Literature in Jane Eyre by Christine Alexander and Sara L. Pearson is the official publication of the Brontë Society as a tribute to Charlotte Brontë on her bicentenary. But what is it exactly? Let's put it this way: if Jane Eyre was an exhibition, this book would be its guidebook. It fits the bill of the standard guidebook: it's a large book with a beautiful cover and great-quality paper full of high-resolution images pertaining to all aspects of both Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre. It's a book no Brontëite can resist:
When we envisioned the reader of this book, we pictured someone familiar with the novel, perhaps someone who would even have Jane Eyre close at hand while reading this companion work.
Many people reread Jane Eyre at this time of the year and this book is obviously the perfect companion for the big bicentenary reread. The structure of the book follows the structure of the novel to the point of being divided in (not actual) volumes and chapters, just like the original edition of the novel was. Each chapter begins with a short summary of what happens together with a brief commentary on how this pertains to Charlotte's life. Then, several paragraphs from the chapter are quoted and each is 'dissected' with reference to Charlotte's life, her family's or her historical context. It's like the notes at the end of a scholar edition, but less arid and more visual.

After the publication of Shirley, when people in Yorkshire, started finding parallels between the fictional characters and the local characters, Charlotte candidly explained her creative process to Ellen Nussey:
You are not to suppose any of the characters in 'Shirley' intended as literal portraits. It would not suit the rules of art, nor of my own feelings; to write in that style. We only suffer reality to SUGGEST, never to DICTATE. The heroines are abstractions and the heroes also. Qualities I have seen, loved, and admired, are here and there put in as decorative gems, to be preserved in that sitting.
This book aims to expose the reader to that 'suggestive' reality. The things that Charlotte lived, experienced, owned or saw that helped shape a classic novel like Jane Eyre. For instance, here's a lovely tidbit which we had always overlooked when reading the novel. Discussing the fact that Jane Eyre's parents' grave is
part of the pavement of a huge churchyard surrounding the grim, soot-black old cathedral of an overgrown manufacturing town in ---shire.
Christine Alexander and Sara L. Pearson conclude that said town is Manchester as for a while it was the only town in England ever to have a cathedral (cities, not towns, have cathedrals) and so
Why did Charlotte choose Manchester? Perhaps she indulged in a bit of wry humour in making the birthplace of her novel Jane Eyre the birthplace of Jane Eyre herself.
Historic facts (why Rochester couldn't just get a divorce, for instance, or religious quotations and practices well-known to the Brontës) , the world around them (what are bilberries? How does one make a seed cake?) Charlotte's personal history and interests (her painting, her life--did you know that one of the chestnut trees in Ellen Nussey's Rydings garden had been split in two by a storm?), and - something terribly important in the case of the Brontës - their early writings are looked into for glimpses into what went into the creation of Jane Eyre. All are flawlessly treated and relevantly brought-up. Christine Alexander, who may know the Brontes' imaginary worlds better than they knew them themselves, shows just how the world within and the world without are a perfect blend. Events that could previously come external sources had similarly taken place earlier in the juvenilia, etc.

The book also includes some bits of literary criticism on key bits that have spawned thousands of essays: the symbology of the red room, the madwoman in the attic, etc.

And it is all agreeably accompanied by lovely, great-quality pictures.

Celebrating Charlotte: Transforming Life into Literature in Jane Eyre shows how one of the most iconic books ever written came to be and offers a glimpse into the literary genius that was Charlotte Brontë in the year that marks the 200th anniversary of her birth. Many may think that looking for facts in fiction somehow debases that work, but in this case the reader turns the final page with exactly the opposite impression. If anything, this book enhances the novel, not just because we have lost much of the context natural for Victorian readers, but because we see how a wonderful writer is capable of putting together the most day-to-day events and things and write a novel as powerful and as life-changing as Jane Eyre. And for feats like that, we still celebrate her birthday two centuries later.

PS. It makes a delightful Christmas present for any Brontëite, especially those who particularly favour Jane Eyre.

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