For those who lived in her era, Charlotte Bronte was an unassuming person.
She was the oldest child of the widowed Patrick Bronte, a man of the cloth who some might have considered an odd duck. She lived in a dirty, poverty-stricken middle of nowhere town in Yorkshire, England. Her mother, Mariah and elder sisters, Mariah and Elizabeth died young, elevating Charlotte to the title of oldest Bronte child. Like her most famous heroine, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte was without the standard bearers of her day that would have made her a catch in the marriage market: beauty, status and/or money.
Today is her birthday.
In our own time, we celebrate her genius and the genius of her sisters, Anne and Emily. Jane Eyre, like her other novels, is a respected classic that is beloved by readers the world over, is part of the syllabus in many a classroom and for better and/or worse has been adapted for the stage and the screen.
We remember her as a proto-feminist, a writer in an era when novel-writing belonged to men only and a woman who refused to quietly give in to the image of what a woman should be.
Happy Birthday, Charlotte Bronte.
Of all of the basic elements that make up a successful narrative, the most important one to my mind is the story question.
Today I started reading a book and by the beginning of the second chapter, I felt like I couldn’t go on. The writer had yet to ask the story question.
In a nutshell, the story question grinds down the narrative down to a sentence or two.
- Star Wars: Can a small band of rebels destroy an evil empire?
- Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet must marry because she has a small inheritance and no brother to inherit directly from her father. But she will give into the pressure to marry or will she marry for love?
- Jane Eyre: Can an orphaned young woman remain true to herself and not change to please others?
But, even with a great story question, the key is to ask the story very question early in the story.
- Star Wars: The opening scene is that of the Empire’s warship closing on a ship they believe belongs to the rebellion.
- Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet is the second oldest of five daughters in a family that is without a direct male heir. Her mother is crowing about their new neighbor, a young man who is single and reputed to be wealthy.
- Jane Eyre: Jane Eyre is an orphan, living with relations who abuse her. She is reading a book and trying to hide from her cousins who frequently mock and bully her.
In creating my own fiction and critiquing fiction by other writers, I have learned that the story question is the most important question that is not only asked by the writer, but by the reader. In my experience, if the question is not asked properly and early on, it is likely to be lost in the narrative. If it is lost in the narrative, the reader or audience may never find it and walk away.
That is the last thing any writer wants.
Sometimes, when we make the decision to walk the path that is not walked by everyone else, we make history, even if we don’t know it at the time.
Anne Bronte was born on this day in 1820. The youngest of Patrick and Maria Bronte’s six children, she died at the young age of 29. In her lifetime, she completed two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall.
While she is often not given the respect and name recognition that goes to her elder sisters, Charlotte and Emily, her writing is on par with her sisters. Writing about every day life in Victorian England, her writing stands out because she spoke of the truth of what it was to be a woman in the period. In Agnes Grey, she wrote about a woman whose respectable career choices were severely limited and must work as a governess to support herself and her family. Agnes’s charges are spoiled and their parents are apathetic to their children’s behavior. In Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, a woman arrives in a small rural town, presenting herself as a widow with a young son. The truth about her identity made a small, but important dent in the worldwide women’s movement that is still being felt today.
As a writer and a proto-feminist, Anne Bronte, along with her sisters, helped to pave the way for women and women writers that continues to be felt a century and a half after her untimely passing.
Wherever you are, Anne Bronte, happy birthday.
2017 was a good year for the publishing industry, at least from my perspective. Below are top ten books for 2017.
- The Genius Of Jane Austen: Jane Austen was a genius, this book explains why.
- Growing Up Fisher: Joely Fisher’s unconventional autobiography is a look into her very unique Hollywood family.
- What Happened: Hillary Clinton’s brutally honest reminiscence of the 2016 Presidential Election is one for the ages.
- Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman: This must read book examines how female celebrities are questioning what is acceptable for a woman.
- The Making Of Jane Austen: Jane Austen was not born a writer, she made herself into one.
- Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Leia, Princess of Alderaan: The book tells the story of Princess Leia two years before the events of A New Hope.
- Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening: Saudi Arabia is known the world over for its oppressive laws against its women. Manal Al-Sharif is fighting to change that.
- Mr. Rochester: Written from the point of view of Edward Rochester, Charlotte Bronte’s most famous hero, the book is an eye-opening story on the man readers thought they knew.
- You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody): Alec Baldwin co wrote this hilarious book from the mind of you know who. Ridiculously funny.
- The Great Gasbag: An A-to-Z Study Guide to Surviving Trump World: Written by The View co-host Joy Behar, this novel is for anyone who needs a laugh, especially considering what has come out of D.C. this year.
This will be my last blog post for 2017. Wherever you are, have a safe and happy new year. See you in 2018.
Filed under Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Feminism, History, Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, Movies, Star Wars, Television, Writing
*The videos below contain spoilers. Read and watch at your own risk if you have not read the books or watched any of the dramatizations.
One of my favorite things about Jane Austen’s novels is that her narratives and characters are universal. Despite being set in a specific time and place, it doesn’t take much to grasp the worlds she created in her books.
One of the more unique examinations of classic literature is the video series Thug Notes. Their latest video is an examination of Emma.
The thing that I take away every time I see one of these videos is that I am reminded why certain books are still read and cherished. These videos are also very funny, illuminating and well worth watching.
P.S. if you liked the video above, you should check out their Jane Eyre and Pride And Prejudice videos.
It’s not uncommon that women and men are still judged differently. Men have friends, have pals. They have an easy comradery. There is no backstabbing, no “frenemies”, no one clamoring to steal their friend’s spotlight or significant other. Women on the other hand, have been accusing of backstabbing, of gossiping and basically tearing their so-called “friends” apart.
The new book, A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney is about four legendary female writers whose friendships with other female writers helped them to succeed in the world of literature. Jane Austen palled around with Anne Sharp, who was the governess in her wealthy brother’s house. One of Charlotte Bronte’s lifelong best friends was her schoolmate, Mary Taylor. George Eliot spoke of writing and life with fellow controversial Victorian novelist, Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of the then infamous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin). And finally, Virginia Woolf had a co-writer and friend in Katherine Mansfield.
I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it because not only did it remind me of the power of female friendship, it also reminded me of the power of female friendship when it comes to writing. I will warn, however, that to truly appreciate this novel, the reader needs to be aware of the life and work of the book’s subjects.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
Today I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
A prequel to Jane Eyre, it was published in the 1930’s. Taking place years before Jane Eyre meets Edward Rochester, the focus of the book is Antoinette Cosway, who is known to readers of Jane Eyre as Bertha Rochester, Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife. Antoinette Cosway and Edward Rochester are equally sold in the name of marriage. She is an heiress and he is a younger son in need of a wealthy wife.
What starts out as a story of young love turns into a story of vengeance, hate, mental illness and male power. If Bertha Rochester was Charlotte Bronte’s inner scream against the constraints that women were kept in during the 19th century, then Antoinette Cosway enlarges and opens up that inner scream.
I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea not only because today is National Book Lovers Day, but because the book publicly exposes the double standard that women have become the norm for women over the centuries.
Today I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea.
Among the three Bronte sisters, Emily, the second to youngest was the most introspective and private. Her social circle was limited to her family, her close friends and her animals. She rarely traveled outside of her hometown of Haworth, England. She was not concerned with being fashionable or climbing the social ladder. Her sole completed novel, Wuthering Heights is one of the most respected and admired novels in the English language.
Jane Eagland’s 2015 novel, The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë, takes place when Emily is a teenager. Her widowed father, Patrick is doing his best to raise his children with the help of his sister-in-law. The Bronte children have created stories over the years about vast and imaginative lands with colorful characters. But life is beginning to change, as it must.
Patrick gets sick and there is a concern about what will happen if he does not survive. The sisters realize that they must learn to fend for themselves. But the question is, how will they learn to fend themselves with no dowry, no connections, no income and limited professional opportunities that does not include marriage?
Among the Bronte sisters, Emily is the most fascinating. She was passionate, opinionated and fiery. And yet under the mask of the quiet Parson’s daughter, few knew who she really was. As a reader, a writer and a fan of the Brontes, it’s always interesting to learn what events and experiences shaped them into the women we know them to be today. The question is then, can a modern writer truly find their way into Emily’s life and psyche to write a novel about Emily Bronte before she became the giant of literature that we know her to be today?
On a scale of 1-10, 10 meaning the book was superb and 1 being that the book is horrible, I would give the book a rating of 5. It was ok, but it was a bit slow in the beginning and I struggled to stay focused on the story during parts of the narrative.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
Readers of Charlotte Bronte’s immortal book, Jane Eyre have been in love with her leading man, Edward Rochester for more a century. One moment he is brooding, Byronic and mysterious. The next moment he is vulnerable and open in his feelings about Jane. But Jane Eyre is told through Jane’s perspective and we only see Mr. Rochester through her eyes.
Sarah Shoemaker’s new novel, Mr. Rochester, is a first person account of the events in Jane Eyre as told from the perspective of Edward Rochester. The readers first meets Edward Rochester as an eight year old boy. His mother died in childbirth, his father is emotionally distant and his elder brother, Rowland is not above hitting or verbally abusing Edward. Sent to school and then to work in the office of a factory, he grows up, slowly becomes the man who Jane meets on that cold wintry night on the road to Thornfield.
I really liked this book. What I liked about it was that Ms. Shoemaker rose to the very daunting task of re-creating the world of Jane Eyre while putting her own spin on the cannon narrative of the novel. The challenge for any writer re-writing a beloved novel is to write the story that not only feels right to them, but also easily exists within the world of the original novel. While some writers try and unfortunately fail in this quest, Ms. Shoemaker succeeds.
I absolutely recommend it.
Jane Eyre is one of those books that does not need an introduction. Originally published in 1847, it has been revered, admired, criticized, reviewed, argued about and adapted/rebooted, for better or for worse since then.
The most recent literary reboot of Jane Eyre is Jane Steele, by Lynsday Faye. The overall narrative of Jane Steele closely resembles it’s predecessor. Jane is orphaned young, abused by the relations forced to take her in, sent away to be educated at a school where the headmaster is less than ideal and grows up to be a governess who falls in love with her employer.
When I saw the book originally, I was intrigued by the concept. While Jane Steele is not a straight up reboot of Jane Eyre (the main character has read Jane Eyre, there are striking similarities between the two characters), it has enough of the Bronte cannon to please fans who prefer the original text. While I appreciated the author’s attention to period details,the injection of the Sikh culture and the other changes made to shake up the familiar narrative, I just felt like I was forcing myself to finish the book.
Do I recommend it? As much as I would like to say that I did, I can’t say that. I don’t recommend it.