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review 2019-11-19 17:31
The Life of Charlotte Brontë (Gaskell)
The Life of Charlotte Brontë - Elizabeth Gaskell,Elisabeth Jay

I'm sure I'm not saying anything very original when I write that the principal virtue of Mrs. Gaskell's Life of her friend Charlotte Bronte is the immediacy, both chronological and, to a degree, personal, between the life and the writing of the life; while, on the other hand, the principal drawback of the work is a tendency to suppress uncomfortable or unflattering details, not just because of Victorian prudery (though there's some of that at work) but also because the biography was written when Charlotte's one remaining close relative, her father, was still alive and was in fact the one who asked for the book to be written.

I find it interesting, though it perhaps says as much about me as about Bronte, that the passages I have chosen to highlight as I read almost all refer to her opinions on other authors. It also, I think, says quite a lot about Mrs. Gaskell's choice of materials from the reasonably large amount of correspondence (most of it from one close friend, though) she had at her disposal.

 

Here's a passage that I find in equal measure fascinating and irritating (the latter because the entire set of recommendations, to a female friend, are premised on what is "safe"):

You ask me to recommend you some books for your perusal. I will do so in as few words as I can. If you like poetry, let it be first-rate; Milton, Shakspeare, Thomson, Goldsmith, Pope (if you will, though I don't admire him), Scott, Byron, Campbell, Wordsworth, and Southey. Now don't be startled at the names of Shakspeare and Byron. Both these were great men, and their works are like themselves. You will know how to choose the good, and to avoid the evil; the finest passages are always the purest, the bad are invariably revolting; you will never wish to read them over twice. Omit the comedies of Shakspeare, and the Don Juan, perhaps the Cain, of Byron, though the latter is a magnificent poem, and read the rest fearlessly; that must indeed be a depraved mind which can gather evil from Henry VIII., from Richard III., from Macbeth, and Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. Scott's sweet, wild, romantic poetry can do you no harm. Nor can Wordsworth's, nor Campbell's, nor Southey's--the greatest part at least of his; some is certainly objectionable. For history, read Hume, Rollin, and the Universal History, if you can; I never did. For fiction, read Scott alone; all novels after his are worthless. For biography, read Johnson's Lives of the Poets, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Southey's Life of Nelson, Lockhart's Life of Burns, Moore's Life of Sheridan, Moore's Life of Byron, Wolfe's Remains. For natural history, read Bewick and Audubon, and Goldsmith and White's history of Selborne. For divinity, your brother will advise you there. I can only say, adhere to standard authors, and avoid novelty."

 

(The casual admission that she didn't bother with reading history made me smile).

 

And here, although no doubt quoted to death in the critical literature, are her thoughts on Austen:

 

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would have rather written "Pride and Prejudice,' or 'Tom Jones,' than any of the 'Waverley Novels'? I had not seen 'Pride and Prejudice' till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.

 

The liking for Scott appears to be genuine: on her one trip north to Scotland, she made a point of spending time in Scott country & at Abbotsford, and she also mentions elsewhere the Scott monument as one of the highlights of Edinburgh.

 

Gaskell leaves us with a rather sad portrait of a highly intelligent woman, bedevilled by lack of self-esteem and recurrent depression, and trapped by circumstance (unhealthy surroundings and susceptibility to an infectious disease). It's amazing, in fact, that she produced three high-quality novels before her untimely death (four, if you count the first-written but only posthumously published The Professor), although it's less amazing that the first-published, Jane Eyre, which propelled her to a most uncomfortable celebrity status, is still generally acknowledged to be the best.

 

Inevitably, a biography of Charlotte will by default also be a primary source on her siblings. Some of the details about Emily, especially one violent incident with her dog, remain uncomfortably in the memory. One can sense that Mrs. Gaskell has to exert herself to temper what was probably a fairly common reaction to the most unsociable of the Brontës - sheer dislike. Here is her summary of the relationship between the sisters, as she saw it:

 

Emily was impervious to influence; she never came in contact with public opinion, and her own decision of what was right and fitting was a law for her conduct and appearance, with which she allowed no one to interfere. Her love was poured out on Anne, as Charlotte's was on her. But the affection among all the three was stronger than either death or life.

 

Mrs. Gaskell was a better contemporary biographer than Charlotte Bronte would have had reason to expect: she consulted widely instead of just making the work a memoir of her own association with Bronte, and as another woman writer, she had a particular sensitivity to the motives and circumstances under which Bronte wrote, or didn't write. Different though they were, in personality and in politics, Mrs. Gaskell had strong grounds for understanding and sympathizing with her subject, and she shapes her narrative well. If a modern reader grinds her teeth at one of the sympathetic motives of that narrative - to defend Charlotte Bronte against contemporary accusations that she was coarse, vulgar, unfeminine, etc, accusations that we now see as absurd - still, there was enough detail and enough intelligent analysis brought to the shaping of that argument that after all these years, we can still see this biography as a primary source on a very interesting writer.

 

As with all contemporary sources, too, reading this book was a motivation for me to seek out a more recent biography, with all the promise of perspective and (possibly) wider-ranging sources that such a work will have. In particular, I look forward to exploring the one obviously gaping hole in this biography, the nature of Bronte's relationship with her teacher/employer Constantin Héger, in Belgium, who leaves his mark so heavily on her novels.

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review 2019-11-04 15:35
Highly recommended to Brontës fans and to early XIX century historians
The Mother of the Brontës: When Maria Met Patrick - Sharon Wright

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

Despite being a fan of the Brontës, having visited Haworth, and read about them (although I’m no expert), on seeing this book I realised I didn’t know much about their mother, other than she had died when they were very young. The author explains quite well why that is the case, as there seems to be very little trace of her, other than some letters she wrote to her then husband-to-be, Patrick, and a religious tract she wrote. There are also comments and memories collected by others, mostly by those writing the biographies of her famous daughters, but little dedicated solely to her. I am grateful to the author for putting that to rights. She has done a great job, digging factual information about Maria Branwell, compiling written records (be it newspaper cuttings, diaries written by neighbours or social connections, correspondence and accounts by others), introducing and interpreting the few writings we have by Maria herself, and pulling together information about the era and the places where the family lived to help readers place the family as actors and social beings in the period and the locations where they lived.  The level of detail is just right, as well. Wright explains how dangerous and dreary the trip from Penzance to Yorkshire would have been in the early XIX century, the unrest in Yorkshire due to the Industrial Revolution and the machines replacing workers (the Luddites had much to say about that, although their actions didn’t have any long-term impact), and the differences in the social settings of Penzance and Thornton, for example, but these explanations never detract from the story. Rather the opposite; they make it all the more compelling.

I don’t want to go into too much detail and spoil the enjoyment of the many interested readers, but I thought I’d share some of the things I noted as I went along. I’ve already mentioned that Maria was from Penzance, but it seems that her father and the rest of the family were likely involved in smuggling (that, to be fair, seems to have been an almost universal occupation in the area). Hers was a large family, and to illustrate just how hard life was at the time, although they were fairly well off, five of her siblings died before they got to adulthood. Religion played an important part in her life, and it’s only fitting that she would end up marrying a priest. She knew Humphry Davy (later Sir Humphry Davy) when she was young, her life was quite full and she was well-connected in Penzance, so we get a sense of how much she must have loved her husband to sacrifice all that to follow him in his career moves, and also what a change in her circumstances she must have experienced. She was a keen reader, and their love of books was one of the things likely to bring her and Patrick together, and it is clear from her letters that she was a good (and even passionate at times) writer, with a sense of humour. She was a woman of her time, and although she had the confidence of those around her, she wished for a life-long companion to support her and guide her in accordance to the norms of the time and as we can see from her own religious tract, her ideas (or at least those she expressed in writing for the public) were pretty conventional. I was gripped by the difficulties Patrick had to face to get the post as priest in Haworth. It seems they were not fond of being told what to do or who to choose there, and he renounced twice to his position before everybody was finally in agreement with his nomination.

I was fascinated by the comments of the author about women’s diarists and their importance to get to understand what everyday life was like at the time. Men of the period wrote the official history, but they hardly ever took the time to note the little details, those we are truly interested in, that help us bring to life a particular era. I am particularly fond of the entries from the diary of Elizabeth Firth, one of the Brontës’ neighbours. My favourite must be: “We sat up expecting the Radicals.” For your peace of mind I’ll let you know that it seems they never came. Wright also defends the importance of the local press, as again they are the ones that keep records of those things that are not considered notice-worthy by big publications, but help make a community what it is. She laments the demise of many of those papers, and I could not agree more.

The book includes two appendixes with the full text of Maria’s letters and also her religious article titled “The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns.” There is also an index with all the texts the author has consulted when writing this book, and I am sure people interested in learning more about the Brontës will find plenty of material there. There are also a number of illustrations, mostly photographs from the houses and locations mentioned in the book, some portraits and illustration, and also a recreation of what Patrick and Maria might have looked like on their wedding day (that I loved).

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the Brontës, in the history of Haworth and Thornton, and in the history of the early XIX century England, especially those who, like me, enjoy getting transported to the era and having a sense of what life was really like then. A deserved homage to a woman whose heritage was so important and so little acknowledged.

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review 2019-09-30 05:24
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë

Not the long-winded, soppy love story I was expecting!  Though there were a few very convenient coincidences and occurences which made me raise my eyebrows.

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text 2019-08-08 19:07
Halloween Bingo Pre-Party: Favorite Past Halloween Bingo Squares
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman,Elaine Hedges
It - Stephen King
A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness
A Murder Is Announced - Agatha Christie

Well I can't really say that I have a favorite square. I never care what square I get for the Halloween bingo.


That said, here are five of the squares that I liked seeing other people play during past Halloween bingos.

 

 

 

I have to say that I love a good Gothic novel. Us playing Halloween bingo got me immersed in the works of Victoria Holt and other writers. You can also read books such as "Rebecca," "Jane Eyre", and "The Haunting of Hill House."

 

 

So many authors that fit this square! I have to say finding out about authors like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Shirley Jackson, Octavia E. Butler, heck even Nora Roberts has tapped into romantic suspense books which would fit this square. 

 

 

 

So many good horror books fit this square! I have to say that for me horror books taking place in a small town seem to throw out their own aura, you remember the town and the rest of the characters if the author does a great job with building up their fictional world. Some books that would fit would be "Carrie", "Salem's Lot", "Harvest Home", "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and "It." "It" would be good to read for the new "Film at 11" square.

 

 

I like witches. That's all I got. Some books for this square would be "A Discovery of Witches", "The Witches Daughter", "A Secret History of Witches", and a book that I may try to read someday soon, "Wicked Salem: Exploring Lingering Lore and Legends." 

 

 

I usually just read an Agatha Christie book for this one. I love Miss Marple! You have so many books that fit this one for her, some of my favorites are: "Murder at the Vicarage", 
"The Body in the Library", and "A Murder is Announced."

 

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review 2019-08-08 06:22
Manga Classics: Jane Eyre (OEL manga) by Charlotte Brontë, story adaptation by Crystal S. Chan, art by SunNeko Lee
Manga Classics: Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë,Crystal Chan,SunNeko Lee

This is my first Manga Classics read. I chose it specifically because I've read the work on which it's based, although it's been a few years. Also, while I didn't love the original Jane Eyre, I didn't hate it either, which is more than I can say for some of the other works adapted for the Manga Classics series.

This seemed to be a pretty faithful adaptation. It began with Jane's childhood - first her aunt's mistreatment of her, and then her life at a school for poor and orphaned children - and then continued on to her time as a governess at the Rochester household and everything that happened after that point.

I'll be blunt: I don't actually like Rochester. I didn't when I originally read the novel (I'd already long since learned his big secret via cultural osmosis), and I didn't when I read this adaptation. He and Jane had some nice moments, and Chan and Lee did a great job, but it didn't erase my fundamental dislike of the character. He's a selfish man who tried to maneuver a much younger woman, his employee, into a position he knew would horrify her if she knew the full truth. And he didn't plan on telling her one bit of what was actually going on until well after it was too late.

I remembered really enjoying the portion of the original novel set during Jane's childhood. That part seemed a little weaker in this adaptation, although I'm not sure why. Still, it was nice seeing Jane all small, angry, and cute.

All in all, this adaptation was well done. The story was easy to follow, and the use of certain manga visual conventions (such as the sweat drop when Rochester tried to explain away some of the strange things Jane witnessed and experienced) was very nice. The artwork was attractive, and if there were times when Jane seemed awfully young-looking compared to Rochester, well, she was quite a bit younger than him.

I'd like to take a look at more entries in the Manga Classics series, but at the moment the series looks like a good potential starting point for building a more purposeful library graphic novel collection (as opposed to my library's current method of relying mostly on random gifts) that would probably be considered acceptable by staff members who are more leery of graphic novels as a format. The one concern I've heard was from a coworker who worried that students would use them as a way to avoid reading the original novels. We don't collect Cliff's Notes for this reason. However, I'd argue that, if this was such a big concern, we wouldn't collect movie versions of the books either, and we certainly have those. This manga adaptation isn't going to tell a student anything about Brontë's style or use of language, or every little change Chan made to the story to adapt it to a new format - they'll still have to consult the original for that.

I own the Manga Classics version of The Scarlet Letter, so I might try that one next.

Extras:

  • 2-page comic-style afterword by SunNeko Lee
  • 4 pages of notes from Crystal S. Chan, discussing the work she did to adapt Jane Eyre to manga format, including some slight changes she made to improve the flow of the story in this format, the limitations of the novel's original first person narration, the advantages that manga gave her over other formats like film and TV, and info about some of the decisions she and SunNeko Lee made for the artwork.
  • 2 pages of background notes written by Stacy King - info about Charlotte Brontë, the novel, and life as a governess.
  • 2 pages of character design sketches

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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