Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 10:58 am by Cristina in , , , , , ,    No comments
Nell Stevens, who will publish a book called Mrs Gaskell and Me next year, writes in The Guardian in praise of Elizabeth Gaskell and her defence of Charlotte Brontë.
Here are some reasons to hate Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë: it is moralistic and stultifying; it flattens Brontë’s brilliantly transgressive nature and confines her to a saccharine version of Victorian female victimhood. It is inaccurate, overemotional and, at times, libellous towards those she accused of attacking her good friend. You might also criticise Gaskell’s motivations: driven by opportunistic ambition to feed, vulture-like, on the carcass of Brontë’s reputation, rather than a true desire to investigate or memorialise.
You wouldn’t be the first to say so. Ever since its publication in 1857, Gaskell’s biography has been snarked at for its sins and failings. But there are reasons to cherish it, too: it is a loving defence of the value and power of women’s writing; a biography of a woman was revolutionary at that time; and it is a testament to the constraints placed on female writers and the ways they have found to move beyond them. [...]
The idea that Brontë was, in the words of one article, “a filthy minx” seems to us irrelevant now (if luridly exciting). But if people don’t read your books because they think you’re a whore, that is not exciting at all. Even Dickens’s reputation was hurt when he separated from his wife; imagine what a similar tenor of gossip did to the career and immediate legacy of a woman without Dickens’s connections, resources or privileges.
Enter Mrs Gaskell, who knew how the game was played. [...]
Gaskell was moved and disconcerted by Jane Eyre, and characteristically intrigued to learn the identity of its author (“She’s a she!” Gaskell crowed, on discovering the real name of author Currer Bell). Gaskell wrote of how much she liked Brontë after they first met, though “she and I quarrelled and differed about almost everything – she calls me a democrat and can not bear Tennyson”.
Their experiences of life and writing were vastly different: Brontë shy and isolated, surrounded by death and poems, a view of a graveyard and the moors from her windows; Gaskell extroverted and busy, scribbling in snatched moments, bouncing noisily between Manchester, London and Paris with her gaggle of daughters in tow. But what the two women shared was fundamental: they were writers. In Haworth, they walked together for hours, and “like the moors”, Mrs Gaskell felt, “our talk might be extended in any direction without getting to the end of any subject”.
Mrs Gaskell could be conventional – she once wrote a fan letter to George Eliot with the caveat that she wished she could have addressed it to a “Mrs” instead of a “Miss”. In other ways, she was a radical. Ambitious, literary, political, Gaskell stuck up for herself, and when Brontë died, she stuck up for her, too. In the face of snide gossip about Brontë’s moral character, she wrote a book that rehabilitated her friend as a devoted daughter and sister and, eventually, wife; a phenomenal talent who led a respectable life.
Brontë would have recognised this approach, having herself handled the post-mortem reputation management of her sisters. She took it upon herself to “improve” Emily’s poems in a posthumous edition, and thought it not “desirable to preserve” Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She almost certainly destroyed Emily’s second novel-in-progress, arguing that “an interpreter ought always to have stood between her and the world”. No wonder, then, that Gaskell tried to perform the same service. She was Brontë’s interpreter, a protector against the insults hurled at her after her death.
Today, it is easier for us to detest gossipy, moralising Mrs Gaskell than Brontë for her love life. But both are stalwarts against the maddening, exhausting criticisms of female writers: they couldn’t write, shouldn’t write. And 160 years later, The Life of Charlotte Brontë is a twin portrait of two women who knew that women can’t write, mustn’t write, but could, and did.
And now for the Brontës on stage:

The Yorkshire Post reviews Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre as seen at Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield:
It must be daunting to be tasked with adapting a classic novel that is as adored as Jane Eyre.
There have been countless stage and screen versions of Charlotte Brontë’s literary masterpiece but director/adapter Sally Cookson’s must surely be one of the best.
The trick, it seems, is to be fearless – not overly reverential with the material and absolutely commited to being true to the medium in which the story is being presented. Cookson’s credentials in this regard are impeccable – a highly skilled director and theatre-maker she knows exactly how to make a story leap into life on stage. The National Theatre production was a huge success at the Lytellton in 2015 and is now on a UK tour that takes in several dates in Yorkshire.
As a piece of theatre it is perfect – inventive, imaginative, totally compelling. Employing exciting physicality and live music on a versatile multi-level set, while at the same time giving due prominence to Brontë’s fine original dialogue, it is rivetting from start to finish. There are some ‘almost-forgot-to-breathe’ moments and at no point does its three hour running time feel too long. The script places right at its centre Jane’s life story, never allowing it to become secondary to the love story between a governess and her employer. Having said that there is a great zingy chemistry between Nadia Clifford as Jane and Tim Delap as Rochester which ensures the audience is always rooting for their happy ending.
Clifford absolutely inhabits the role – her ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’ Jane is a feisty bundle of energy and Delap delivers a refreshing take on the traditionally ‘brooding’ hero – laconic and world-weary yet vulnerable and tender. The three-piece onstage band provide fine accompaniment by turns poignant, atmospheric, jaunty and Melanie Marshall, as Bertha Mason lends her beautiful singing voice to the storytelling, including a a stand-out rendition of Mad About the Boy. The rest of the highly talented ensemble cast play multiple roles with great flair, nailing each characterisation with aplomb. And as a team they work together brilliantly – a hilarious rendering of a bumpy stagecoach ride is a prime example.
An unmissable treat. (Yvette Huddleston)
The Reviews Hub gives 4 out of 5 stars to the production as seen at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre and sums it up as 'Fresh, Vital and Vivid'.
As Jane, Nadia Clifford progresses from young child to strong woman impressively, combining her steely strength with an obstinate streak and impassioned concern that always feel genuine. Tim Delap’s Rochester is similarly layered, initially gruff and aloof, but with his relationship with his dog, Pilot (played humorously in a scene-stealing performance by Paul Mundell) showing the compassion within.
The chapters of Jane’s life before her arrival at Thornfield, from the orphan’s housing with her cruel aunt and callous cousins to her schooling at Lowood and progression to teacher and governess, can seem as if being ticked off a list prior to the heroine’s first meeting with Rochester. It is a testament to Clifford, and the cast around her, that instead we see a progression from childhood to womanhood.
And a big part of that growth is the role of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s first wife and the original “mad woman in the attic”. Rather than being revealed at the end of the piece, Melanie Marshall’s Bertha is omnipresent, singing folk songs, contemporary pop numbers and arias that comment on and illuminate elements of Jane’s life. Recasting Bertha as an alter ego to Jane in this way removes some of the mystery surrounding events at Thornfield, to be sure, but it also grants the character a grace and tragedy that enriches the overall piece.
At a shade over three hours, Jane Eyre is one of the longer productions currently on tour in the UK. But it feels exquisitely paced, illuminating Charlotte Brontë’s tale in ways that feel fresh, vital and vivid. (Scott Matthewman)
The Bucks Herald reviews the production at the same venue.
Given the numerous locales and different time periods that the story is set in as well as the epic scale of the story, it is some achievement to pull off all of this. But to do with essentially one set and a handful of actors speak volumes for the quality of this production.
But the set by Michael Vale is ingenious, based on several different levels. Striking enough on its own but when all the production elements come together, it effortlessly transforms from all of the locations.
There is also a lot to admire in the acting as aside from Nadia Clifford in the title role and Tim Delap as Rochester, everyone else plays multiple characters and portray them very well. There is a lot to like about Clifford as Jane Eyre, especially as she plays the character through childhood and adulthood.
The other thing to mention is the music, played live and creating the perfect atmosphere for the show. Perhaps surprisingly as well, music is used and there are plenty of modern and recognisable tunes for people to spot. This comes to prominence during the show's climatic sequences and Melanie Marshall as the singer has a stunning voice.
Confession time, I am not a massive fan of the story or Victorian period drama generally and while this production didn't change my view of the story too much, I was thoroughly impressed with the production and suspect that there will be a lot for fans of the book and newcomers to the story to admire. (Steve Mills)
The Yorkshire Post has Deborah McAndrew tell how she adapted The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for the stage. The production opens tonight at York Theatre Royal.
The opportunity to adapt a Brontë novel appealed to McAndrew, as did the chance of working with director Elizabeth Newman again with whom she had previously collaborated on a Bolton Octagon production of David Copperfield. When Newman rang her two years ago to suggest they work on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall together, McAndrew was delighted. “Having grown up in Yorkshire, the Brontës are in my DNA,” she says. “I read Charlotte’s novels and Emily’s Wuthering Heights very early but I didn’t come to Anne’s work until a bit later when I was in my twenties.” She says she remembers reading Anne’s first novel Agnes Grey and being impressed by how impassioned it was. “She was very angry about a lot of things to do with the situation of women and particularly impoverished educated women – a lot of it was based on her own experiences as a governess – and she revisits those arguments in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. One of the most remarkable things about the novel is the way in which Brontë communicates her forthright views on gender equality and self-determination novel while maintaining the reader’s interest through its totally compelling narrative arc. “Although it is very radical and feminist and an exceptional achievement for a woman of Anne’s class and experience, at the same time it is a romantic novel,” says McAndrew. “And it is quite conventional in many ways, but I think that is its strength. It is not dry and it’s full of complex, well-rounded characters. She didn’t write a political pamphlet, she wrote a story.” The challenge for McAndrew, then, was to incorporate all those elements into her adaptation and make the story work as an engaging piece of theatre. “You have to sort of swallow the novel whole and then bring it back out on stage,” she says. “ I have to think about what works for a modern audience – if they are going to be interested and engaged I have to hook them in and keep them but I have obeyed Anne’s structure. so throughout the first Act we don’t know who Helen is and Gilbert’s obsession with her grows. That is great for audiences who don’t know the book as they get drawn in. I have used my own box of tricks as a dramatist, so I’ve built the tension and the curiosity around her.” Some characters have been cut, which is often necessary as large casts are generally unfeasible, and other technical aspects – such as editing long speeches and extending short scenes – have to be taken into consideration in order to make it work on stage. That is McAndrew’s craft and she is happy with the end result. “It feels like it exists in its own right as a play, it doesn’t feel like a novel on stage. ” Spending time with the book and bringing it to life for a theatre-going audience has been “a privilege” says McAndrew. “It’s been a real labour of love. I grew up with the Brontës – not only their books but as women writers they were always going to be a great inspiration for me.” (Yvette Huddleston)
Dorset Echo reviews We Are Brontë currently on stage at the Corn Exchange, Dorchester.
Sound effects paint a picture of bleak winds in a mysterious landscape which means we must be in Yorkshire moorland country where the Bronte family lived.
Right, that’s all the miserable part of the story taken care of, from now on we can enjoy the capers of a pair of actors as they enact a weird and wonderful picture of some aspects of the literary siblings lives while at the same time poking relentless fun at the gothic horror genre.
Physical comedy takes on a whole new image with this crazy couple as they explore a large house, do the washing, replicate a Heathcliff love scene and even bring Kate Bush into the scenario.
Funny and imaginative, the aim is not so much to explore the Bronte family history and novels as to take a witty and clever look at how we see their troubled lives with it ranging from hardship, hope and family tragedy.
With little in the way of dialogue or scenery, actors Sarah Corbett and Angus Barr make the most of a collection of props as they turn the tables on serious dramatic biographies and bring laughter into a madcap scenario that at times has echoes of the best of Father Ted. (Marion Cox)
Bustle recommends '9 Classics Every 20-Something Needs To Read (If You Haven't Already)' including
4 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë
Yeah, yeah, you probably already know about the "secret attic wife" reveal, and yes, Mr. Rochester and Jane don't exactly model the healthiest of relationships. But Jane Eyre still holds up as one of the greatest coming-of-age stories of all time: a young woman (and a deeply entertaining narrator) learns confidence and self-reliance, and only returns to her boyfriend once she's figured herself out. (Charlotte Ahlin)
Similarly, Verily Magazine lists '4 ways [in which] Jane Eyre speaks to the modern woman': resilience, sense of direction, integrity and hope.

BookBub Blog recommends Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair to fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. The Brussels Brontë Blog looks at Lewis Carroll's own copy of Villette.

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