Among the great writers of the 19th century, the Bronte sisters stand tall. Lionized as proto-feminists and adored in the literary community for their contribution to the world of literature, fans sometimes have to ask themselves where fact ends and fiction begins.
In 2001, Lucasta Miller published The Bronte Myth. The book starts with the brief lives of the Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte and follows their posthumous celebrity as their image is shaped to fit the needs of the biographer. In the book, Ms. Miller delves deeply into the facts and the myths of the Brontes and how both have been used to tell the story of the legendary sisters.
When I heard about The Bronte Myth, the concept sounded interesting. I am sorry to report that the concept I had in my head did not meet reality.
The book is not for the casual or virgin Bronte fan. It borders on academic and is probably better suited for a reader who is well versed in the story of the Bronte sisters, their brother Branwell and father Patrick. But my main issue is that Ms. Miller spent most of the book talking about Charlotte. Granted, Charlotte lived the longest of her siblings, but the book is not entitled The Charlotte Bronte Myth. She spends about 60% of the book talking about Charlotte, 20% talking about Emily. The other 20% are given to Anne, Branwell and Patrick. I think I would have liked this book more if all of the Bronte siblings and their father were given equal attention.
Between 1850 and 1930, millions immigrated to America, looking for a better life and a brighter future.
Clara Kelley was one of them. She is the heroine in Marie Benedict’s 2018 book, Carnegie’s Maid. In her native Ireland, Clara knows nothing but poverty and hunger via the great potato famine. The daughter of farming family, she has nothing to lose when she emigrates to America. But she has everything to lose when she takes the identity of another woman with the same name who died on the voyage to America. The job she has taken is that of lady’s maid to the imperious mother of steel magnate and future philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Mrs. Carnegie knows what she wants in a lady’s maid and makes no bones about firing girls who do not meet her exacting standards.
Intelligent and very capable, Clara becomes friends with her mistress’s son. As they become closer and their friendship becomes something more, the harder it becomes for Clara’s secret to stay a secret. Will her true identity ever be revealed and will the consequences of that revelation be?
I loved this book. Ms. Benedict has a way of immediately drawing her readers in and telling the stories of women whose stories would normally not be told. Though the narrative has a Jane Eyre-ish undercurrent, it does not end the way I would have expected the narrative to end.
When it comes to creating well written fanfiction, a good writer knows how to balance their narrative and their voice with the narrative and voice of the original work.
Christina Boyd’s new Jane Austen inspired anthology, Rational Creatures, was published back in October. Containing 16 new stories from well-respected JAFF (Jane Austen Fanfiction) writers, the focus of the stories of Austen’s female characters. The question that each story asks is if the heroines are the standard romantic heroines or strong, capable women who are able stand on their two feet in spite of the era that they live in?
I’ve been a fan of Ms. Boyd for the last few years, I enjoyed her previous anthologies, The Darcy Monologues and Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues. This book is well written and an easy read. I would caution, however, that this book is not for the newbie Jane Austen fan. It requires a level of knowledge that comes with multiple readings of Austen’s work and a deep knowledge of the fictional worlds that she created.
We all know that sex sells. The question is, when enveloped in a story, especially a classic novel, does the sex help or hurt the narrative?
In 2012, Jane Eyre Laid Bare: The Classic Novel with an Erotic Twist was released. Written by Eve Sinclair with original text by Charlotte Bronte, this book more or less follows the narrative and characters from the original novel. Jane Eyre is an orphaned young woman who takes a job as a governess for the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Jane is plain, poor and outspoken, hardly the ideal women for the Victorian era. As Jane begins to fall her for employer, the mystery intensifies until everything is revealed in a twist that no one saw coming,
I was intrigued by this book because I love Jane Eyre and it’s always interesting to see how modern writers bring out the sexual tension that is just below the surface. However, Ms. Sinclair made several narrative choices that I disagree with. Without giving too much away, I will say that I am really disappointed in this book. It makes promises that ultimately fall through, leaving me as a reader angry and frustrated.
This is a poor imitation of Jane Eyre, not even the sex scenes between Jane and Mr. Rochester can make up for that. When it comes to my favorite classic novels, I am not one of those fans who believe that it is the novel in its purest form or nothing at all. I appreciate a well written reboot or fanfiction. However, this book is neither.
In Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet is the classic middle child. She is neither beautiful like Jane, witty like Lizzie or outrageous like Kitty and Lydia. Like her sisters, she knows that she must marry well to survive, but without looks or fortune, she knows that the chances of marrying well, if at all are slim to none.
This is the premise of the new novel, Mary B: A Novel: An untold story of Pride and Prejudice.Written by Katherine J. Chen, the book tells Mary’s story before, during and after the events in Pride and Prejudice. As she watches three of her sisters marry, Mary knows that she will forever be the spinster sister dependent on others for her needs. Her only solace is her books and the story in her head that she begins to write.
Then life begins to imitate art and Mary’s voice as a smart and independent woman begins to shine through.
I had high expectations for this book. In terms of Pride and Prejudice characters, Mary is often given the short shrift. It was nice to hear her perspective on the world. However, I had two points of contention that I have no choice but to bring up. The first is that there was language and certain phrasing that was too modern for Georgian England. The second was Colonel Fitzwilliam. Without giving away the plot, I felt like his narrative and specific character arc did not ring true when compared to how he was portrayed in the original novel. In Pride and Prejudice, Colonel Fitzwilliam is outgoing and jovial. His cousin, Mr. Darcy, is perceived in a good chunk of the novel as surely and anti-social. In this book, Colonel Fitzwilliam is closer to Mr. Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility or Mr. Churchill in Emma than he is to how Jane Austen introduced us to in Pride and Prejudice.
There is an old inside joke about Jews: For every two Jews, there are three opinions. From my perspective. is the backbone of Unorthodox. Created by Tablet Magazine, the podcast is hosted by Mark Oppenheimer, Stephanie Butnick and Liel Leibovitz. Every week they talk about news relating to the Jewish world and have two guests: one Jewish and one not Jewish. What I appreciate about this podcast is that Mark, Liel and Stephanie not only mesh well together, but their unique world views allow all three to stand out in their own way. I’ve been listening for a couple of years; it’s a pleasure to wake up on Thursday morning knowing that the week’s episode is waiting for me.
Can I Just Say
Pop culture podcasts can sometimes get a little dull. Either they can veer too much into the fan boy or fan girl lane or they are just a tad too intellectual.
Thankfully, Can I Just Say is the perfect pop culture podcast. Hosted by Daphne Olive and Elizabeth Stevens, the ladies have unique and stimulating conversations about everything from Star Wars (their newest podcast about The Last Jedi was very interesting) to novels and their various adaptations (their comments about Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility got me thinking) to a hand-picked selection of Baz Lurhmann films opened my eyes to his abilities as a filmmaker. They also host a podcast entitled Fathoms Deep: A Black Sails Podcast, an equally interesting podcast about the television series Black Sails.
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.
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.
When rewriting a classic novel for the modern age, it takes more than merely transplanting the narratives and characters from one era to another. It is the writer’s job to ensure that the emotions of both the characters and the reader is equally transplanted.
In the Sense and Sensibility reboot, Jane if Austin: A Novel, by Hillary Manton Lodge, the Woodward sisters Jane, Celia and Margot have dealt with quite a few upheavals in their lives. First their mother dies in a car accident. Then their father is accused of a business scandal. Jane and Celia must take care of themselves and Margot, who is a few years behind her elder sisters. A few years after they have rebuilt their lives, the upheaval happens again. When the rent is raised on their tea shop in San Francisco, the sisters find a new home in Austin.
While temporarily living with a cousin, the sisters have their fair share of issues with their love lives. Celia’s relationship with Teddy ended just before she and her sisters left for Austin. Jane is infatuated with Sean Willis, an up and coming musician. Meanwhile Captain Callum Beckett, a retired Marine is watching Jane from afar while dealing with his own past.
In terms of Jane Austen fanfiction, this one is well done and extremely enjoyable. While it was still Sense and Sensibility, I felt like the author was able to weave her own voice in the story as well.