Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

April 9, 2006

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A First Look at Agnes Grey

My copy of Agnes Grey arrived in the mail a few days ago. In two days I had finished it, despite having much to do (hope none of my professors are reading this…But, then, it was for a good cause). I ended up with the Everyman paperback edition which includes a selection of Anne's poetry. I read the introduction, which was, to me, informative although I question it as I did catch one error which skewed things a bit. The writer claims that proof of how Aunt Branwell's Methodism had produced a kind of hysteria in the children is seen in Charlotte 'seeing' an 'angel' beside Anne's crib. Charlotte never claimed to have seen an angel, but a fairy which is not at all the same thing. I don't believe Aunt Branwell putting much faith in fairies as messengers of the divine (and anyone at the time who did believe in them would be more alarmed at seeing one by a baby's crib, yes?).

I have been working and studying with a publisher for nearly a year now, so I must speak out at the disgraceful state of the backcover copy even though it is of little consequence. Agnes Grey is not a long book by any means… It does not take long to write backcover copy. Why on earth, then, is Rosalie consistently referred to as Matilda about 5 times in the tiny paragraph of text? Could they not flip through the book for 3 seconds and check her name? There, I've said my peace. I really think publishers need to abandon these glued bindings as well. It's only a 10 year old copy and it already creaks because the glue has gone hard. Unfortunately almost all books published today are bound in this fashion.

On reading AG itself: I had a repeat of the feelings I experienced while reading Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Once again I was probably unduly critical as I read and once again I was baffled. Now, I had 'played' Anne Bronte before and prepared for the experience by reading what I could which might help me do her justice. I have a first edition of Charlotte Bronte and Her Circle by Shorter. So, I opened the section on Anne and what did I find? The first line declares that there's no doubt that Anne would be forgotten entirely, her works discarded, if she had not been Charlotte Bronte's sister! Harsh words! I was puzzled then, and I am puzzled now. It isn't because I would like to appreciate Anne's work- there is simply much to appreciate! If you doubt me, consider that I have been trying- actually trying– to appreciate Jane Austen and I find I still cannot. My feelings are that Anne is a better writer- but before I am torn limb from limb I will admit that I have peculiar tastes and that there are flaws in Anne's work which may lower her work's value after my initial enthusiasm wanes. However, I can never see justification in pronouncing her work so utterly forgettable!

I have a peculiar way of feeling when writing is genuine and when it is contrived. Much of what I've helped publish this year is contrived (again, hoping the publisher doesn't see this… No, actually I have told him so). Anne's work is genuine, and makes me believe in it. Her beginnings are stronger than any of Charlotte's novels, and continue with an unerring movement towards the end, maintaining a steady flow- until the end. And here is where the fault lies. Her endings are disappointing, not as strong as the rest of her work by far. And being the last impression of the entire work, I think they tend to colour how the book is remembered. I recall when I read Tenant that I was convinced it was superior to all but Jane Eyre and Villette until I reached the end. There is a curious hestitancy in the endings of Tenant and Agnes Grey.

This post is already extremely long, so I will have to keep the rest of my thoughts on the book for another time.

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March 25, 2006

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Filed under: Books,Criticism,Jane Austen Comparisons,Jane Eyre,Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 10:38 am

Dear Jane… Austen

I came across this little Brontë reference this morning. It caught my attention, not because it is yet another comparison between the Brontes and Jane Austen, but because it seems like a peculiar way to make the distinction between the two.

Patrice Hannon, English literature professor, is 'jumpstarting' her career as a novelist by writing a self-help manual on love written with the voice of Jane Austen. The book is called 'Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine's Guide to Life and Love.' The idea for the book came from her students who were commenting on how realistically Austen depicts relationships. This is where the Bronte reference comes in:

As opposed to unrealistic romantic notions often found in novels like “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre,” Austen championed cynicism and lifelike dialogue, according to Hannon.

I know that Charlotte's portrayal of Mr Rochester was attacked when the book was published as being unrealistic, but as a whole it both books seem remarkably lifelike in their dialogue- for the period, of course. Both books also delve in the depths of the human psyche, rather than those parts which are most readily accessable. What Charlotte was more blunt in saying, it is in a sense superficial in comparison. I don't often trust Austen's good natured characters (not implying that all of them are good natured). I suspect what I don't know about them might show they are not what they seem to be. I can conceed some ground on the dialogue but cynicism seems a strange way of distinguishing the two. I have not read much of Jane Austen, however, so I may be unwittingly saying something foolish here. In conclusion, I believe neither Charlotte, Emily, not Jane are less realistic than the other. If this is heresy, I cannot help it.

Austenite readers of Brontëana will no doubt find this a little unsettling:

“When I was merely twenty, I fell in love with a young Irishman. We knew very little of one another — far too little, indeed, to have fallen so deeply in love,” Hannon writes in Austen’s voice. Convinced that Austen’s life was not as plain as legend might have it, Hannon hopes readers will pick up on the subtle drama that unfolds behind the love advice.

March 4, 2006

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Filed under: Articles,Blogs,Criticism,Jane Eyre,Uncategorized,Wuthering Heights — by bronteana @ 5:12 pm

"Who am I"?: The many faces of women's identity in Victorian Literature.

This a really interesting excerpt from an essay by Bronteana reader, and fellow Bronte-scholarling, mysticgypsy. She compares several answers to the question 'who am I' as a woman in Victorian literature, two of which are from Bronte heroines:

I am my beloved: Catherine Linton (Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights)For Catherine, who she is as an individual depends on how much she is a part of her soulmate, Heathcliff. As long as she was free to be with Heathcliff, she could be herself, but the moment she goes against her nature, i.e. try to "better" her self by marrying Linton, and thereby breaking her relationship with Heathcliff, she loses a part of herself. After her marriage to Linton, Cathy takes on another persona. She is no longer the girl who would roam wild and free in the moors. Instead, she is confined to the suffocating gradure and Victorian sense of propriety in Thruschcross Grange. Cathy even acknowledges to Nelly that she and Heathcliff were one when she says "I am Heathcliff". Hence, in this case, the woman takes the identity of her beloved.

I am his equal: Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre)For Jane, her identity as an intelligent, independent woman is resolved through ties with Edward Rochester, her imposing employer and master of Thornfield. Although Jane does seek her own independence (and thereby her identity as a single woman), in the end, she finds she does need Rochester to be complete. Firstly, there is the telepathic relationship that she shared with Rochester, which I believe was a strong indicator (from the author) that as long as that supernatural connection was there between Jane and Rochester, they could not be entirely happy without each other. They needed each other to be whole because they were "equals" and complemented each other. Jane needed Rochester during moments of her insecurity (when Rochester was more controlling of her), and by the end of the story Rochester needed Jane when he was (phsycially) found wanting (thus Jane controls Rochester). This kind of relationship is differnet from that of Cathy and Heathcliff in that this is a relationship of equals, where only each will do for the other, but each keeps their own identies. Jane is NOT Rochester in the manner as Cathy affirms she IS Heathcliff.

The rest of the post (although not the rest of the essay) can be found here.

February 14, 2006

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Filed under: Bronteana,Criticism,Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 9:28 am

Valentine's Day -When the thoughts writers turn to the Brontës

I am still unwell, and read Joyce last night before bed which isn't good either (often when I read before going to bed I have very interesting dreams related to the material. When I studied Suetonius there were a lot of very strange dreams. This time I dreamt about language).

Today is St. Valentine's Day, and the internet is buzzing with references to the Brontës. Novels are being recomended as gifts for the beloved, the stories are turned over for various reasons- sometimes to question whether such relationships exist in 'the real world', and sometimes to wonder what makes these stories so moving. For example, from The Hindu, Radha Nair, a retired English professor mentions Wuthering Heights:

"Heathcliff and Catherine are the opposites and such strong individuals. They had to give each other up and that there was no fulfilment adds to the aura."

But there are some articles which take a more unique approach to the day. This one discusses literary love, comparing Latin and 'American' writings (which apparently include Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë):

For latin writers, the language of love comes naturally

The best lines, says Lynne Barrett of FIU, "are often of rejection or renunciation … Often when one is declarative, there is a larger problem. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy says to Elizabeth: `My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.' He then blurts out his struggle against loving her because of her `low connections,' vulgar sisters and silly mother, so by the end of his proposal she furiously rejects him."

Or Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester: `Come to me — come to me entirely now,' said he. `Make my happiness — I will make yours.'"

But he's a man with a wife locked up in the attic.

Perhaps I'm still not clear headed but does this actually make sense to anyone? Declarative sentences reveal what sort of larger problem? A lot of characters use declarative sentences but don't have wives locked in their attics! I cannot help but think that the Latin authors probably use declaratives as well, and that I can think of more expressive lines in Jane Eyre that would stand on equal footing with those of the Latins (sadly, when I read the title of the article, I thought about Ovid…).

January 12, 2006

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More Video Clips from JE the Musical and Transvestism in CB

This is sure to please Esther! Thanks once again to Thisbeciel for these clips from the Jane Eyre Musical! Some of these are repeats from the last time, but I don't think anyone will mind too much?

An Icy Lane
You examine me
Waking Rochester
I know who heals my life
the Gypsy
the Proposal
Wild Boy/Farewell Good Angel

Thisbeciel also came across this interesting poem, 'Transvestism in the Novels of Charlotte Bronte' by Patricia Beer

1 When reading Villette, Shirley and Jane Eyre,
2 Though never somehow The Professor
3 Which was all too clear,
4 I used to overlook
5 The principal point of each book
6 As it now seems to me: what the characters wore.

7 Mr Rochester dressed up as the old crone
8 That perhaps he should have been,
9 De Hamal as a nun.
10 There was no need
11 For this. Each of them could
12 Have approached his woman without becoming one.

13 Not all heroines were as forthright.
14 Shirley in particular was a cheat.
15 With rakish hat
16 She strode like a man
17 But always down the lane
18 Where the handsome mill-owner lived celibate.

19 Lucy, however, knew just what she was doing.
20 And cast herself as a human being.
21 Strutting and wooing
22 In the school play
23 She put on a man's gilet,
24 Kept her own skirt, for fear of simplifying.

25 Their lonely begetter was both sister and brother.
26 In her dark wood trees do not scan each other
27 Yet foregather,
28 Branched or split,
29 Whichever they are not,
30 Whichever they are, and rise up together.

January 2, 2006

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Filed under: Articles,Criticism,Jane Eyre — by bronteana @ 6:40 pm

Some Things to Consider, I hope!

This article formed the preface to the 1988 Penguin edition of Jane Eyre. In many ways insightful, but in places slipping strangely into uncertain territory. As I read along, the first thing to grab my attention was a mention of 'Lord Rochester'. This is not, in fact, Lord Rochester- John Wilmot, but Mr Rochester gratuitiously elevated to the nobility. I have read much Bronte criticism, and it surprises me how often little slips like this occur. I am sure my professors would object to such things as creating entire plot points but I have seen that as well as imagined characters. I do not recall which article it was, but in one article about Mr Rochester (I think it was) I learned that there was damning evidence that Jane had been merely a tool for Mr Rochester (and patriarchy) all along for her first action in their relationship is to mail a letter for him. She is in fact mailing a letter for Mrs Fairfax when she meets Mr Rochester- and she volunteers to take it, in fact.

A wonderful professor of mine insisted that we must not only set up citations but thoroughly explain them to make best use of the evidence. Maybe this is what is lacking in this paragraph which deals with the Byronic 'dangerousness' of Mr Rochester:

Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights is more clearly an adult's rendering of incestuous childhood obsession than are any of Charlotte Brontë's novels, but the romantically dangerous Rochester is most likely a remnant of the children's sensational world, the poetic antithesis of all that was dull, dreary, routine, and circumscribed in the world of Haworth Parsonage. Here is Jane's first vision of the man she will adore: Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright; I could see him plainly. His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height, and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted . . .; he was past youth, but had nor reached middle age. Like Emily's Heathcliff, that Byronic, doomed hero; yet unlike Heathcliff—who after all starves himself to death in his deranged attachment to the past—since, by the novel's end, after he goes blind, Rochester does become domesticated. The Gothic has become tamed, and redeemed, by ordinary marital love. However unlikely for Brontë's time, or for ours, Jane Eyre ends upon a note of conjugal bliss: I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together…. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking. The orphan Jane is no longer "resisting all the way"; no longer, at this point, required to be Jane. The novel's passionate energies consume themselves as the apocalyptic fire at Thornfield consumes unregenerate Bertha.

Firstly, I have no idea what she means by Emily's 'incestuous Childhood obsession.' If anyone would like to speculate on this, feel free by all means (as always)! But let's look at this quote carefully. This 'first vision' is of a late man in a cloak, average in height, deep of chest, and angry. the cloak can't be important- it's wintertime. The physical description doesn't say much about his character, and his 'ire' and 'thwarted' look should be understandible considering that he just sprained his ankle falling from a horse! I'd like to suggest that it's quite a leap from this to pronouncing him 'byronic and doomed' and 'like Heathcliff'. As for the second quote, I wonder why Jane would have to resist herself? For, as she says elsewhere, she is 'indulging her sweetest desires'. How is she 'not being Jane'? She nowhere says that she has changed her thoughts or conversation to suit Mr Rochester- they happen to harmonise with one another. The image of their heart beats is not one of submission of one to the other- each is separate and yet familiar enough to be inextricable. Also, there are more than a few readers who would say the 'passionate energies' are by no means burned off with Bertha. That is granting far too much symbolism to Bertha- she is not the focus of eroticism that she is often made out to be.

And in a paragraph presumably about the 'increasing melodrama' of the work, after she discusses Mr Mason (who is not at all melodramatic, as the quote she uses illustrates) she moves on to Bertha:

When, later, Jane is brought into Bertha Mason's presence and mockingly introduced to Rochester's wife, she is naturally revulsed—she feels no kinship with this creature. And though Jane charges Rochester with cruelty in so despising and exhibiting his mad wife, claiming that Bertha cannot help her condition, Jane cannot really identify with the woman; and rather too readily forgives Rochester his curious (and ungentlemanly) behavior.

I have read this scene very many times and I have never detected mockery. Rochester speaks ironically, but not mockinging and these are two different things. he does not believe that Bertha is his wife in any other than a nominal sense. Otherwise, I fail to see where this comes from. And why can Jane not identify with Bertha? Why does she reproach Rochester, then- when throughout the novel she has been anxious for him to get rid of her for his own safety (in the figure of Grace Poole)? She has changed her position, apparently but the article does not acknowledge this. She does feel at least enough 'kinship' to refer to her as a 'poor woman' and not a monster or a beast any longer. In addition, she says nothing about Rochester's 'exhibiting' his wife. He has not been 'exhibiting her'- she has been concealed for ten years. He wishes now that his secret is known, to have it known completely.

I write on this article mostly because this following paragraph touches on a nerve I have. It is regarding the 'Whitcross' section of the novel. It begins:

Numerous readers have felt that the long Whitcross section, consisting as it does of nearly one hundred pages, is an awkward digression in Jane Eyre; and one is nudged to recall that the publishing firm of Smith, Elder had rejected Charlotte Brontë's earlier novel, The Professor, as "undersized." (But if Currer Bell would write a full-scale, three-volume novel for them, they would be "most interested.") Still, the carefully transcribed section is required for symmetry's sake. Brontë's authorial strategy is to balance one kind of temptation with its obverse (if Rochester is all romantic passion, urging her to succumb to emotional excess, St. John Rivers is all Christian ambition, urging her to attempt a spiritual asceticism of which she knows herself incapable).

There is a startling tendency to view this part of the book as the artcle describes, and I think it is completely groundless. All I will conceed is that it is evident that Charlotte is playing with the Gothic convention of the two men- one dark and dangerous, one fair and virtuous. It is one of the most vital sections of the work- not an 'awkward digression.' It would take far too long for me to outline my reasons, here but I hope to use one example to at least challenge this perspective. There is a point at which St.John attacks Jane's feelings for Mr Rochester, claiming that the 'tie' she cherishes is unlawful but also that she is being selfish and will live obscure if she persists in it. It is only one brief statement he drops, and yet very profound for at the end of the novel there are two things that I am sure no one would seriously dismiss. Jane is 'living with and for' what she 'best loves on Earth' (Mr Rochester), living 'for' him unselfishly when she could live contentedly and selfishly with someone more conventionally eligible or on her own. But more importantly, instead of dying nameless in India, an anonymous female missionary following the program not her own, she has written her autobiography, claimed her life and sealed her name to it- the very opposite of 'living obscure'!

December 1, 2005

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Tenant of Wildfell Hall Month!

I am sure I have fallen behind the times, and become neglectful of announcing the LERO Brontë book reading months. I believe Wuthering Heights month has just passed us by- but I am in time to spread the word for Tenant of Wildfell Hall! If you haven't read the novel yet, there is no time like the present. I was introducted to the novel when I enrolled in the Victorian seminar at my university- which happily that year was explusively on the Brontës. We read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Shirley in that order. By the end of the course, Tenant had been declared the best of them all by the majority of the class, and a request was made for the instructor to include Agnes Grey as well, and to replace Jane Eyre with Villette the next time the course is taught. I read it with some unfortunate expectations. I was curious to know why Anne is so often treated slightly by academics and critics. She is certainly not the less loved than her sisters are by the readers! It would have been best not to have these ideas at the back of my mind, but I could not help it.

I was baffled. There was nothing lacking, in my opinion, in Tenant. There's a peculiar power which is evidenced in the work of all three sisters. I forget that I am reading sometimes. I intend to read it again as soon as I can find the time (not this month at least. As you have no doubt noticed, I have been quite busy lately). It seems to me that it begins strong, and remains a very engrossing book until near the end. There is something not quite solid about it on first glance. This might not necessarily be a criticism. Often when I stumble over something it more often than not points the way to something deeper happening beneath the surface of the narrative somewhere. A second reading might clear this up. Does anyone else have similar issues with the ending?

Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the only work by Anne Brontë to be adapted for film. In 1996 it was made into a three hour television movie. I believe it is currently out of print, which is a real shame. I have a first edition of 'Charlotte Bronte and her Circle'. The chapter on Anne is really unbelievable in the way it completely discredits her as a writer. I do not have it on hand, but the editor claims, in the introduction (it may even be the first sentence…) that it is a certainly that if it wasn't for her sisters, she and her works would be forgotten. In my humble opinion, an easy test of this claim is to imagine what we truly would have thought of her works if she had not had her sisters' works to compete with. Would they really be so uninteresting, so skilless?

Here is an interesting, although far too brief, article on the Critics of Wildfell Hall by Glen Downey.

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