Tag Archives: Charlotte Brontë

For the Jane Eyre obsessed, or perhaps not?

I had a small Jane Eyre geek-out a few weeks ago. That is, reading books related to Jane Eyre, not the actual book since I reread that 3 times last year already. (I have to admit though, I am tempted, especially after finally watching the movie adaptation). It was fun mostly, not completely satisfying, but how can an adaptation or book-inspired novel really ever fit the expectations of the original?

Jane - April Lindner // Poppy, Little Brown and Company 2010

“What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?” is really all the explanation you will need. Jane is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre: Jane as nanny to the daughter of rock star Nice Rathburn who lives at Thornfield Park. However horrible it may sound to purist Brontë fans, the retelling is really very cleverly done, written in modern language Lindner* manages to update the story to modern times pretty well. She does cut out some of the more controversial scenes in the novel and I really don’t know how convincing the storyline of having to keep the wife in the attic is in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, I wonder why Lindner chose to set the story in the US rather than England? And clearly Lindner’s associations with the word rock star are very different from mine. Apparently Bruce Springsteen inspired her, but I kept thinking Bon Jovi or other too polished rock. Eek. No, not my kind of rock star at all, but the story works well enough for what it aims to be. I do not know how I feel about her taking on Wuthering Heights next, I think it may have been better to stick to one book instead of turning it into what I am afraid will be a formula.

Becoming Jane Eyre - Sheila Kohler // Corsair 2011

Meh. It is really all I can say to this fictional biography of Charlotte Brontë. Becoming Jane Eyreit is called, but it moves well past Charlotte writing that novel. Yet, it was the part of the novel that described her writing Jane Eyre that annoyed me most. It was almost as if Kohler could not settle on what she wanted this book to be, or on how to portray Charlotte in it. I could go on a tangent about the apparent need to draw parallels between author’s lives and their works of fiction, the need to have women writers have one passionate love affair before they can truly comprehend the world enough to write a novel, but maybe this frustration was influenced by recently re-watching Becoming Jane (about Austen). What bothered me about Becoming Jane Eyre was the gap between the reader and the character in the novel. It was as if I was never allowed to identify with Charlotte Brontë, not even really know her. I assume this was a conscious decision, because it’s there in the way the book was written. It is ‘she’, ‘she’, ‘she’ all over the place: as in she does, she feels, she longs, she writes. Is this describing instead of showing? I do not know, but I do know I got tired of reading ‘she’ every two sentences. And then there is the passion that is no passion, as Sasha wrote about before. Perhaps because the reader is not allowed to identify with Charlotte? Perhaps because the prose reads clunky when it tries to convey feeling? I can turn open the book at any passage in the first 100 pages to show you this. Take:

How she had trudged through the damp streets of Brussels, half-crazed with longing, lust, and jealousy, reluctant to return to the school. She lingered there in the dark and the rain to escape black thoughts. She walked to forget her Master and beloved friend who had replaced her father and her brother – her black swan, the first to discover her talent and encourage her art. How she has waited for his letters!

Charlotte’s perspective is not the only one covered in the book. Many characters are featured, for example the nurse of Charlotte’s father when he is operated on his eyes. And later on, Emily and Anne. Somehow, the book improves when Charlotte’s sisters enter the scenes. They take the story to a new level, allow more sympathy, allow a more direct glimpse in their lives. Their role is short, but it is what momentarily improves the experience. It is where the book started to remind me a little, a very very little, of The Taste of Sorrow. I tell you, if you want a fictionalised account of the lives of the Brontës, of Charlotte Brontë even, go look for Jude Morgan’s book.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde // Hodder 2001

So. Much Fun. Everyone has read The Eyre Affair*. It looks like everyone enjoyed it. Most even seem to love it. I did not love it, but I did enjoy it a lot. It was the perfect light read at a time when my world was too busy to make much sense of anything. Thursday Next, an agent who works for a bureau that tries to solve crimes, crimes of literature. In an alternate universe, the world takes literature so seriously that criminals start kidnapping fictional characters. I know, I know. Fun. And silly, but in a good way, I think. Not the most Jane Eyre related book, but in a way it was (trying to avoid spoilers here). I enjoyed reading about this world where literature is taken so seriously that it becomes almost scary. People who believe Marlowe or some other author has written Shakespeare’s plays knocking on your door, to convince you of their point of view, like Jehovah’s witnesses. Etcetera. It can border on the ” *sigh* now don’t be ridiculous!” – reading experience, but it never crosses the line into that world of annoyance. I am looking forward to reading the next installment in the series, although I do not think I will go out of my way to get my hands on a copy.

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Comfort Reading

Comfort reading is a very broad concept to me. I never realised this. Last year (I cannot believe it has been almost a year already!) when I was in Sweden, alone and homesick those first few weeks, I read YA book after YA book, until I became so fed up with them that I never bothered to review them all. Young Adults books can be real pleasures, but reading too many at a time can have them become predictable, especially if, like I did, you concentrate on only vampire-ish fiction.

After that, I became slightly obsessed with Jane Eyre. I guess that mood lasted. I cannot help but feel lately that all I wish to do is reread Jane Eyre. But this is the thing with blogging, it makes you keep track of your reading. And ever since I started writing about what I read, I want to keep doing that – even if I am rereading a book. But can I really reread Jane Eyre when it has been only eight months since I read it twice, or wait a minute, three times in a row?

Lately I am reading many many books at a time. This has several reasons: I listen to one while running, I am reading for the Feminist Classics project, I read on the couch at night but prefer my ereader in bed, etcetera. There is no clear pattern and there are few books that truly seem to engage me. Like Ana mentioned in a blog post of hers last week, if I read a book I really really like, I usually wait to long to write about it and I forget too much to actually make a proper post. I was never big on note-taking while reading and most of the time I simply remembered enough to write about the books, but now I feel like I may as well review the books I never got around to last year, since they are about as fresh in my mind.

Back to comfort reading. The only books that I feel are safe enough to explore at the moment – I often feel some books are too complicated, or perhaps too harsh and bitter and angry and sad – are those I at this moment consider my true comfort reads: Books in line of Henrietta’s War (Bloomsbury Group books), or Virago Modern Classics (Elizabeth and her German Garden was simply wonderful), or Persephone’s or well.. you’ll understand what I mean. They are gentle. I think gentle is the perfect word for them. They do contain problems, bitterness even, but the characters are often so easy to feel compassionate with, to identify with, and their settings never get cruel in a black-and-white thriller & horror movie manner.

Oh, and anything Jane Austen related. Rewrites if they are good enough, books about her life and work. But the problem with Jane Austen’s original works at this moment is that I know them too well, and sometimes familiarity can be a problem. I am longing for that passionate feeling, that feeling of “oh wow, Mr. Darcy” or even just “oh wow, I cannot possibly put this novel down in the upcoming three hours.” I love my comfort reads, but a lot of them are comfort reads at this moment when I have little time for reading because they are also okay to put down for a while. I would like to be caught up in a book once again, feel I need to read it NOW. But perhaps this will have to wait for more quiet times.

What I am currently reading:

Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari
I am listening to this while running. It was on offer for free a few weeks ago from here. I thought it would be nice to listen to a Young Adult book while running, nothing too complicated. But ugh, those scenes about the pox and the turtle that refuses to be killed make me feel sick to my stomach.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
I am reading this for the Feminist Classics Project. I was supposed to host the discussion on this in July, but only one person managed to finish the book in time. I am not sure I will finish it by the end of August. It is interesting. Simone de Beauvoir is clearly a very smart person. But she is also very hard to follow at times. Plus, and I’m sorry to say it, this book is loooong.

Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
This book is a gem. I am forever grateful to Danielle for making me aware of this author. His travels in Eastern Europe on the brink of the Second World War – fascinating. It is not a fast read though, it needs time and dedication. Almost feels a little like meditation.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
I wanted YA with dept. I think that is what I am finding here, if this is even YA, does anyone know? The writing style is beautiful. But I am a little scared for the scene. You know, that scene, that everyone talks about when they review this book. I really need to start reading this again. Writing about it makes me feel I neglected it this past week.

Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein
When I saw Teresa was reading this on goodreads, I hurried over to netgalley to request my own copy. Teresa has recently reviewed it. I just started reading (have read 30 pages) and find it very interesting. But also a slow read, lots of literary theory so far.

Consequences by E.M. Delafield
Last night when I was still awake at 3 am, I did not really feel like continuing in “Why Jane Austen”, so I reached for a Persephone. Ah – these books are true wonders. I am only 15 pages in, but I feel like I just know I am going to love this. I know it will be bitter. It is the setting and period I love. Lately, novels set in 1900-1920 seem the thing for me. I never really understood people’s obsession with the period, now I cannot get enough.

See my problem here? I am reading too much at a time. Some of these books I am enjoying too little, but most of them I really like. But for those I cannot find the time they truly merit.

What are you reading this Sunday?

The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

The Taste of Sorrow - Jude MorganThe Taste of Sorrow – Jude Morgan
Headline Review, 2009

I may have made little squeaky noises while jumping up and down (don’t ask) when I unwrapped Gnoe‘s Christmas parcel this December. The Taste of Sorrow was the book I was most eagerly looking forward to owning, and I had almost given up on receiving it for Christmas since my parents had not been able to find it in the bookstore. Happily, the book lived up to my high expectations, and more. So thank you again, Gnoe, for this wonderful gift!

The Taste of Sorrow is a fictionalised biography of the Brontë sisters. Since I knew next to nothing about the lives of the Brontës before reading this book, I cannot remark on the historical accuracy of the book. But, I can say, that the sisters felt very real to me. Morgan paints all of the sisters as individuals, with their own charms and faults. The fact that the book is written in the present tense helped me feel even more engaged. It really feels like you are living Emily’s, Anne’s and Charlotte’s lives alongside them. That, and the superb writing, is what makes the book incredibly hard to put down.

There are several reasons why I loved this book so much. Ana points out one very important one in her post on the book, when she says that the suffering and death of Emily and Anne are not portrayed as martyr-like qualities, but are instead depicted as the tragedies they were. The book shows  how shocking and sad and please-I-do-not-want-to-give-up-yet death at a young age often is. The sisters are no heroes, they are persons. They are charming in their own ways, they have flaws, they get cranky, they get sad, they can be hopeful. Look how I start to write as if Morgan’s version of the sisters are the sisters? It is not that he claims he knows the truth, it is simply that he writes in such a convincing manner.

Hopeful? You say, but the book is called “The Taste of Sorrow”. And yes, there is a reason for that, but that does not mean that the sisters did not have plans, did not aim to take control of their life (wanting to start their own school, writing novels and publishing them). But it is undeniable that sorrow is a heavy ingredient in this book. I did not feel sad all the time while reading it, but melancholic? definitely. Here are three sisters, who have lost their elder two sisters when they died at school, who have a brother Branwell who wastes his life and theirs along with it. They try to make a life for themselves, but often Branwell makes it impossible for them to do so. And if not him, it is their father. Who bluntly tells Charlotte when she says she wants to be a published author, that is an unworthy thing to do for a woman and that certainly she won’t be able to do so. Here are three sisters that have a lot of accomplishments, but who are expected to put all their hopes in their brother, who proceeds to get drunk, most of the time.

My feelings towards Branwell Brontë go a long way to paint what a fabulous job Jude Morgan does as an author. I did not know anything about Branwell. I somehow thought I was meant to admire him. I have heard people speak highly of him before. But from the very start, I felt uncomfortable with him. I felt I could not like him. And yet I did not know what disappointments were to come. I struggled with my feelings, why could I not like him? And then, slowly, bit by bit, I started to feel justified in my feelings towards him. Jude Morgan does a perfect job of setting up the relationships in the family: the admiration and expectations that are directed at Branwell, his sometimes arrogance, sometimes insecurity, his indulgence in the fact that he is the “man of the house”. The struggle of the sisters with the general disappointment in him, but also their unconditional love for their brother.

Ah, I’m afraid this post is not going to convince many of you to pick this book up, with my unconditional gushing. But please do.  There is so much to it. The book is not just about the Brontë sisters, but also about being a woman in the nineteenth century and how hard it was to build your own life at the time. How intellectual accomplishment can isolate you from the outside world.  It is also about social expectations, the ruin drink and drugs can bring to a whole family, the sadness of death & the escape imagination can bring.

Admittedly, the style of the book takes a little getting into. But once you’re past 20 pages, it makes you appreciate the story all the more. Jude Morgan does a great job in painting the atmosphere of the parsonage and the family life of the Brontës. The Taste of Sorrow made me appreciate the Brontës even more. It helped me turn my Jane Eyre obsession into, what I think will be a lasting Brontë obsession. I have a feeling I might understand Emily a little better. I feel an instant respect for Anne. And I love how I now feel I “know” all of them a little better, not just one of the three, not just Charlotte.

Can I say one more thing? Something that angers me? Why, oh why, did they decide to rename the US edition “Charlotte and Emily”? The equality of all sisters is underlined again and again in this book, even Maria and Elizabeth play a part, why ignore Anne in the title?

The Brontës, a Reading List

I recently fell in love (or fell in love all over again) with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I also love making reading lists. So what is a better way of keeping myself occupied than combining the two? I decided to add the other Brontë sisters to my list as well, but I do admit that I have mainly focused on Charlotte Brontë.

Original Work:
Shirley – Charlotte Brontë
Vilette – Charlotte Brontë
The Professor – Charlotte Brontë
Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë: reread?
Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Early Writings – The Brontës

Related Fiction (even if only a title reference):
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
Thornycroft Hall – Emma Jane Worboise
Miss Miles: A Tale of Yorkshire Life 60 Years Ago – Mary Taylor
Nine Coaches Waiting – Mary Stewart
The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde
The Brontës Went to Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson
Teas with Mr. Rochester – Frences Towers

Contemporary/YA:
Jane Airhead – Kay Woodward
Becoming Jane Eyre – Sheila Kohler
Romancing Miss Brontë – Juliet Gael
Wuthering Bites – Sarah Gray
Jane – April Lindner

Non-Fiction:
The Life of Charlotte Brontë – Elizabeth Gaskell
Selected Letters – Charlotte Brontë
Brontë in Love – Sarah Freeman
The Taste of Sorrow – Jude Morgan (fictional biography)
The Three Brontës/The Three Sisters – May Sinclair

Note 1: I want to acknowledge the very useful and informative Brontë Blog for providing links to lots of works on the Brontës.
Note 2: This list is by no means complete. As you can see on the Brontë Blog, there is an endless amount of texts on the Brontës, this is just a very small selection of books that I think I would like to read.
Note 3: Please feel free to give me any more suggestions as to what you think I should read!

Religion in Jane Eyre

Another misunderstanding. I think this one came with my idea that the Brontës were quite patriarchal in their religious attitudes. Or maybe it is because her father was a clergyman and in my mind that turned into “strictly religious”. Prejudices all around, on my part.

"I said my evening prayers" - F.H. Townsend, http://janeeyreillustrated.com/

But how could I ignore the religious themes in this book? Or, how could I have missed them before? In my first reading of Jane Eyre, I must have been too occupied with the love story and the gothic qualities of the book. Knowing the story, at least a little, reading it for the second and third time, I think I had more patience to look at the other aspects of this novel. And religion is a big aspect, or at least, it seemsd to be so to me. Maybe it is because I’m a religious studies student? But really, it is everywhere in Jane Eyre.

Intermixed with humor, when Mr. Rochester exclaims:

In the name of all the elves in Christendom, is that Jane Eyre?

Humor, but not mocking humor. No glaring disrespect for anyone who as a Christian still has a sense of these ideas. Later on, when Jane hears Rochester’s plea for her, through nature, or somehow, I could not help but wonder if part of this isn’t Brontë’s worldview as well. Or at least, she understands it enough to have Jane Eyre feel that way. And I was left wondering how this idea of religion back in the nineteenth-century works. Is it the influence of the Romantics? It is so easy to forget that there were other takes on religion, apart from the stricter line that came with the (re)awakening of pietism, the line I so often have to study.

There is prejudice as well. Catholicism is something that Jane Eyre, or is it Charlotte Brontë? (we’ve discussed this before), clearly does not respect. When her cousin explains that she will go into a convent, Jane says:

“You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a French convent.”

But when Protestantism is taken up, or rather, when Catholicism isn’t mentioned and there is talk of religion, I admit I’m fascinated. Since I study missionaries, the observations on St. John were very interesting to me. Somehow, I always assumed that people would be in awe of missionaries back then. These were people who were so convinced of their faith, of their calling, that they abandoned their home and went “into wild and unknown land” (that is not a quote from Jane Eyre, btw). And St. John is seen as a good man, a very Christian man, a man with a calling. And yet, through his righteousness he forgets to love the people that surround him, really love them, really feel. He only feels and loves his calling, so it seems. He is painted as an incomplete person. You could almost pity him. Almost, if he hadn’t suffocated Jane as he did.

And there’s Rochester’s redemption. Which is truly redemption, in a sense. He suffers, he loses his sight and his arm, and then when Jane returns to him, slowly, ever so slowly, he recovers his sight. When I read Jane Eyre for the first time in high school, I admit I couldn’t really deal with this. And in a way it still gets to me: why did he have to lose his arm and his sight? But I understand it better now, I understand the message. It might not be my worldview. I do not share it a 100%. But I do respect it for what it means to Jane Eyre, as a character. And that is such an important part of the story.

There is one more thing. In the preface to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë defends her portrayal of a person who tries to commit bigamy, she defends her novel against those who feel that such works will always be sinful. If only for this, I feel for Charlotte Brontë, and respect her. I think I haven’t read something written in the 19th century before, by a woman, that is so forceful, so clear in its intentions, so much an opinion, on such a big topic as religion.

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is – I repeat it – a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

There must be books written about the Brontës ideas on religion, right? If not, please, someone, write that book. I, for one, would love to read it.