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review 2020-04-21 15:21
Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë

by Charlotte Bronte


I began reading Jane Eyre just to open my horizons on well-known historic authors a little and was immediately drawn in by the main character. As a child, Jane had a certain fire to her that I could respect and on the strength of that, I added several other Bronte sisters books to my Kindle with intent.


As the book progressed, I felt it slowed and Jane became far too complacent to hold my interest. However, I was too invested to stop so continued reading and occasionally found a trace of the spark from her childhood.


I didn't like Rochester much. He played games to manipulate Jane too much, though he gets a point for having the sense to see when he was being drawn into a convenience marriage for a gold-digger. I couldn't understand why Jane would love him or put up with his mind games, or exactly when her feelings for him developed.


My interest was revived about 65% in, when a twist I should have seen coming put Jane in a situation of personal conflict. I had a real struggle through this as I had to remember the morés of the times which conflict with my own natural inclinations of what I would do in the same situation.


Some of the choices she made I found both brave and foolish. That she had the strength of character to trust to her own resourcefulness over relying on the charity of others was part of what made her such an interesting character. In a time period when Lara Croft could not exist, she showed the resilience of a truly strong woman.


The one thing I found really awkward wad the unfinished place names. ----shire and other half words broke the flow occasionally. In the end I'm glad I've read the story now. I felt that Jane was too service oriented for me to really identify with her, but I did admire the spirit that she showed on occasion, particularly on the occasions when the path of least resistance would have led her to paths in her life that would not have made her happy, but she refused to be bullied when cornered.


I will mention, classic or no, that this book would have run into some problems if it was submitted to a publisher today. Apart from the place names already mentioned, the author occasionally broke the fourth wall rule, but too occasionally to call it writing style. She also changed from past tense to present tense in a couple of chapters. Some things I thought were far too drawn out and especially at the end when it's obvious how it will all come out, it was belaboured to an excruciating degree.


Still, it's a product of its time and I will be reading more of this sort of classic over time, including more Bronte sisters.

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review 2020-04-02 23:45
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë

I dodged this book in high school, choosing to study Wuthering Heights instead. I'm glad I did, because I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much as a teenager as I do now.

I loved Jane SO MUCH. She was smart and stubborn and exasperating and absolutely correct. I loved that she knew she was annoying, and that she couldn't help it. She knew her life would have been different if she could just be more mannerly and agreeable, but she couldn't make herself do it. She bristled not just at the idea of being shackled by marriage, but also of being shackled by social niceties. She wasn't a brute, but she could not form a fake smile if her life depended on it, and this was so endearing to me. She was open-minded, but morally strong. She was compassionate, and very aware of her own shortcomings. I could have spent so much more time with her!

It's wild that this book was published in 1847 under a male pseudonym. Did anyone really believe that this novel, which examines the interior life of an unconventional lower-class woman, was written by a man? I have a doubt.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-03-10 06:27
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Villette - Helen Cooper,Charlotte Brontë

TITLE:  Villette


AUTHOR:  Charlotte Bronte



"Villette is Charlotte Brontë's powerful autobiographical novel of one woman's search for true love, edited with an introduction by Helen M. Cooper in Penguin Classics.

With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls' boarding school in the small town of Villette. There, she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, the hostility of headmistress Madame Beck, and her own complex feelings - first for the school's English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor Paul Emanuel. Drawing on her own deeply unhappy experiences as a governess in Brussels, Charlotte Brontë's autobiographical novel, the last published during her lifetime, is a powerfully moving study of loneliness and isolation, and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances.

Helen M. Cooper's new introduction places the novel in the context of Brontë's life and career and argues for the importance of the novel as an exploration of imperialism.




This isn't the usual type of novel I read, but I enjoyed it anyway.  It was some what slow, but the language was delightful (except the French bits - they were annoying) and the characters intriguing.  This book doesn't have your typical romance ending.  The notes at the back of this Penguin edition were very helpful.

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review 2020-01-09 19:13
Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart (Harman)
Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart - Claire Harman

Other than Mrs. Gaskell, I had not read a full-length biography of Charlotte Bronte, so I do not know how this modern scholarly biography stands up to its competitors. However, it completely satisfied me, filling in the gaps, based on primary sources of evidence, and interpreting the whole with sympathy but not outright partisanship.


I'm actually glad I came to the Bronte biographies late. I think it would have interfered with my full enjoyment of the fiction to know how deeply rooted Charlotte's stories are in the incidents and personages of her own life, and to be distracted by the game of similarities and differences from the more straightforward enjoyment of fictional characters and plots. That said, reading this biography encourages that new game, and I may find myself at some point picking up Jane Eyre or The Professor again.


I made a few notes for myself of the more amusing interesting tidbits, and of course immediately lost those notes. I do, however, remember that many of the Jane Eyre names (including "Eyre" and "Rochester") can be found in a single churchyard that Bronte visited. Much of the understanding we have about her relationship with the Belgian employer she fell hopelessly in love with (Constantin Héger) appears to derive from letters that were preserved by his wife - a bit of an enigma there. Some of those letters were actually torn to bits and carefully reassembled (there is a photograph in the images section).


Harman also expands considerably on what Mrs. Gaskell had to say about the Brontes' relationship with their publishers, and about Charlotte's interactions with other writers. She was the only one of the sisters to become in any way part of the literary "scene" of the time, chiefly because she was the only one who lived long enough to do so.


If I were inclined to go far down the rabbit-hole of Bronte studies, Harman's book, with its extensive notes and bibliography, would be an excellent starting point.

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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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