Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

March 22, 2006


Filed under: Anecdotes,Bronteana,Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 9:41 pm

"You have broken my heart today"

This post turned into something of a rant. I hope it is not entirely irrelevant.

This is what I said to someone I was having a very pleasant chat with today. I only met him recently, but he is the younger brother of one of my high school chums. He was not aware of my literary leanings, nor my intention of becoming a Bronte scholar. This is probably why he felt free to let loose a lengthy tirade against Emily, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights (at least Anne remained safe from his bile, although she was implied by the phrase: "three sisters who all died because they wrote bad novels." At the start, I averted my stunned gaze while he went on, not noticing my distress. My friend, seated next to me was in a similar state of shock. She, like most people in this particular area of Canada, had never read the Brontes. But she at least knew of my passion for their works- of Jane Eyre in particular.

"Jane Eyre wrote terrible novels! …"

…I think I may have become slightly more distressed.

"What's her name? Em-"

"Charlotte! …Charlotte…"

So, finally he just stopped on his own, and after a brief silence my friend turned to me and said: "Are you going to rebuff him for saying that?" I smiled, turned to him and meekly informed him that I'm going to be a Bronte scholar. And that Jane Eyre is my favourite book of all time. It was his turn to be alarmed, and he then attempted to "soften the previous outrage" and to stoke and soothe me into placidity, to coin a phrase. I am not easily vexed, so I engaged him in a discussion of Wuthering Heights. It turns out that the Brontes are now taught at my high school, where previously they had not. But he said that WH was taught "as an example of bad literature," and that "the whole concept of writing a novel around an anti-hero is terrible." Can I believe that this is true? Well… unfortunately, I cannot say it is outside of the realm of possibility but I intend to look into this.

My highschool was remarkable, unconventional, and extraordinarily liberal. One semester I had modern dance class before maths, geography, visual art, and vocal music. I spent about 80% of class time in some art class. The English program was horrid. I hated English until I entered university. English education, until grade 13 (now abolished), consisted of reading very bad Canadian fiction (such as the tale of an overweight teenage girl from a rich family who, depressed, goes to an island where she accidentally poisions herself until she is thin- and now she is happy, thin, and rich! Oh, and has a boyfriend). Doing plot diagrams, (which baffled me. I still do not understand their purpose, nor how one is constructed), and filling in charts of symbolism. I remember almost nothing from 4 years of English in this system- and only learned English grammar in university Latin.

In addition, the librarian was known as 'the Book-Nazi' (pardon the trivializing term- it is derived from the 'soup-Nazi' from Seinfeld). Upon entering the library all of your belongings were confiscated and placed in a detention area. The fiction section was forbidden, and the stairs leading to it were blocked with a chain. The librarian would select works of fiction each semester- they never seemed to change- and placed them on a table for us. You could be expelled from the library for sleeping, doing homework, or reading anything besides a book from the library itself. I had a friend who, early in the regime of this particular librarian, confronted her and said: "I refuse to obey these rules until you give me a reasonable explaination!" I thought: Why is she doing this to me? I will never read again! But somehow I escaped punishment.

And so, you see, I really can believe that WH would be used as 'an example of bad literature' at my dear old school! Do not be alarmed, grade 13 was completely different. It was run by a poet who demanded the best from us, and got it or else (there was at least one outburst of irrational rage per semester but we learned to expect them). And we learned to write proper essays, we wrote poetry and short stories, and begin to discuss books in a sane maner.

I really did love this school, honestly! I just don't comprehend why the English program was so ridiculous. I hear that my poet-teacher is now in charge of English there, and that the situation is much improved (and the Book-Nazi's chain has been sundered, and fiction flows freely once more). The school board also bears some responsibility. I uncovered a plot to annihilate the library system. I took out a book on Yeats' essays (I was an odd young woman) and the librarian unthinkingly said: "Oh, this book hasn't been taken out in a few years. This book should have been destroyed…" In their wisdom, the school board believed that the internet would make libraries redundant so they had an official policy of burning books not signed out for a certain period of time. They were not allowed to give them away, or to sell them. She offered to let me 'find' the book. I took out a shelf-full of books to save them. This policy was confirmed by other teachers. I only hope this too has changed!


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