Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tuesday, June 06, 2017 7:41 pm by M. in , ,    No comments
With great sadness, we report the death of author Helen Dunmore (1952-2017). A great storyteller, she enveloped her stories in wonderfully poetic descriptions which appealed to all five senses. She was a natural master of the English language. But she was also a Brontëite. In her own words:

Financial Times (February 9, 2008)
Have you ever imitated another writer’s style?
I’ve been influenced by a large number of writers. I copied the patterns in the poetry of Keats and T.S. Eliot in my teens. I aspire to F. Scott Fitzgerald for precision in writing, and Charlotte Brontë for her daring.
The Telegraph (April 16, 2016)
What I love most about Jane Eyre is the ferocity of her radicalism. She refuses to see the world as it tells her it should be seen. She will speak out, although she is a friendless nobody: small, pale, plain and female. From the first page there are hints of the fire that burns in her. Jane is out of favour, banished from the family hearth. She hides away in her own no man’s land, a window seat where she sits “cross-legged, like a Turk”, revelling in the pages of Bewick’s History of British Birds. A drawn red curtain conceals her from the room, while the glass protects her from “ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly from a long and lamentable blast”.

Jane Eyre is between two worlds and belongs in neither, although she will have to live in both during the course of the novel. She will be a beggar-maid, exposed on the moors, and a princess wooed by the King of Thornfield Hall, Mr Rochester. Neither will satisfy her. Jane’s quest is long and solitary, and she is protected only by her fiery spirit and incisive intelligence. But if Jane Eyre has fairytale and mythic qualities, she is also an intensely political creation. Jane genuinely does not believe that morality has anything to do with wealth, power or social standing. She repudiates the idea that women’s mental capacities are less than those of men. She would rather live alone than accept a relationship that compromises her independence. Strong stuff even in our times, but revolutionary in 1847. At 10 years old she castigates rich, powerful Mrs Reed for her hypocrisy and cruelty. At 18 she sets out into the world to support herself, having done everything possible to secure an education.

Her relationship with Mr Rochester is, to put it mildly, challenging. She will not be flattered: she must be an equal. Is Jane Eyre lovable? Perhaps not. She is intensely critical, and quick to scorn. There is no warmth of humour in her. She is elemental, with “rather a look of another world” as Rochester says, and yet at times extraordinarily prosaic. But if not lovable, she is utterly compelling. There was no one like Jane Eyre before she blazed on to the page, and into a million imaginations.
And in her own works:

In 2001 she included a very Brontë-related story in her compilation Ice Cream: Mason's mini-break where she made fun of certain elitist circles through an encounter between a self-important author who patronises no less that the ghost of Charlotte Brontë herself in the moors. In 2004, she contributed a foreword to the Hesperus Press anthology of Emily Brontë's poetry Poems of Solitude. Finally, in 2016, she contributed a story in which Grace Poole defends Bertha Mason: Grace Poole, Her Testimony to Reader, I Married Him.

Brontë echoes can be traced in her novels. In her last one, Birdcage Walk, a French first wife dies in mysterious circumstances and an RAF officer waves to be let in through a window in The Greatcoat). She even described the main character Eeva in her novel House of Orphans as being like Jane Eyre in refusing certain destinies.

Often when reviewing other novels for different newspapers, she found a Brontë connection (Shirley in Stevie Davis's The Awakening, Villette in The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen, etc.) She also participated repeatedly in talks and panels at the Brontë Parsonage Museum (the latest occasion was last year reading from her contribution to Reader, I Married Him).

May she rest in peace.


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