Today is the 200th Anniversary
of Anne Brontë’s birth, January 17, 1820!
A very special day as
she is subject of my novel …
Above all, through the well-measured words of Denton, a young Anne emerges more and more. She frees from the web of religiosity with which she traditionally is painted, [and] tries to leave something good in the world through her measured but deliberately targeted writing. A different Anne at the beginning of the book, timidly in love; then resigned to accept her own death with dignity and fortitude. A meaningful homage to the memory of Anne Brontë.
Her story is told in the new novel, The Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel, by Georgie Blalock. Through the eyes of Vera Strathmore, the daughter of an impoverished aristocratic family, the viewer is swept into the world of Princess Margaret. At the beginning of the novel, Margaret is young, spoiled, passionate and tempestuous. Vera, still hurting from the death of fiance during World War II, is a writer who dreams of moving to New York.
A chance encounter with Margaret changes Vera’s life and her priorities. Drawn into Margaret’s inner circle, Vera watches as she falls madly in love with Peter Townsend. Peter works for the royal household, is older and married. Despite the criticism, Margaret is determined to have her man.
While Margaret is cordoned into royal responsibilities, Vera begins to wish to be untied from a life tied to the Princess. Soon another scandal envelopes Margaret and Vera must choose how she wants to spend the rest of her life.
This book is brilliant. There is a perception when it comes to royalty, that living that life is akin to a fairy tale. But the reality of that is life far from the fairy tale that it is perceived to be. In telling Princess Margaret’s story through the eyes of Vera, the viewer is taken to a world that is essentially a golden cage. It is a cage that when perceived from within, can be unappealing.
It is said that opposites attract. It can also be said that one can learn a lot about a person by knowing who and where they come from.
At first glance, the marriage between Maria Branwell, a gentlewoman from Penzance and Patrick Bronte, a fiery and poor clergyman from Ireland seemed like a mismatch. But if one were to look closer, one would see a marriage seemed almost ideal.
Sharon Wright’s new book, The Mother of the Brontes: When Maria Met Patrick, is the story of the marriage of Maria Branwell and Patrick Bronte. Maria was born in Penzance in 1783 to a prosperous family. Patrick was born in 1777 to a large and poor family in Ireland. Their courtship and marriage in 1812 to some might seem a bit impetuous. By the time she died in 1821, Maria brought six children into the world. Three daughters and a son, Branwell lived to adulthood. Her daughters, Charlotte, Anne, and Emily are revered today as some of the greatest writers of all time.
I loved this book. I loved it because it gave Maria the spotlight she rightly deserves. When we talk about the Brontes, their mother is often a footnote or a line or two. She is rarely given her due as a mother ought to receive. In bringing Maria’s story to life, the reader gains a greater perspective on her daughters and the literary worlds they created.
My only warning is that this book is not for the casual Bronte fan or the average reader looking for another book to read. It is for a reader who is well versed in the Brontes and their books.
On December 16th, 1775, a remarkable woman was born. Her name was Jane Austen.
In her time (and to a certain degree, still in ours), a woman’s path in life was clear. She was to receive an education that was considered to be appropriate for a woman. Upon reaching adulthood, she would marry, bear children (i.e. sons) and live the rest of her life in the quiet dignity that was expected for a woman.
Jane could have married. His name was Harris Bigg-Wither. He was the younger brother of her friends. By the accounts of the day and family members, he was not the most attractive of men. But he had one thing going for him: he was the heir of a wealthy and respected family. At that time, those facts were all that was needed to determine if someone was a good match.
He proposed when Jane and Cassandra were visitors to the Bigg-Wither home. On paper, they were a good match. She was in her late 20’s, nearly impoverished and without a marriage proposal in sight. Upon his father’s death, Harris would inherit a stately home and a comfortable fortune. He proposed in the evening. Jane said yes, but something was not right. In the morning, she took back her yes and changed the course of her life forever.
As a single and childless woman of a certain age, I look to Austen as a role model. She could have easily folded into the preordained path that was expected for a woman. But she didn’t. She chose her own path and in doing so, pave the way for future generations of women to do the same.
The new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, opened this weekend. Based on the 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod, Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a fictional version of the real-life writer. Sent by his editor to write a profile of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), Lloyd is cynical and jaded. On top of his latest article, Lloyd dealing with marriage, new fatherhood and his formerly absentee father, Jerry (Chris Cooper).
I really loved this movie. I loved it because it reminded me why generations of TV viewers loved Mister Rogers. It also introduced the audience to the human side of this icon. As Mister Rogers, Hanks was perfectly cast. And I loved that this film was directed by Marielle Heller, who directed one of my favorite films from last year, Can You Ever Forgive Me? The myth that women are unable to direct successful films went out the window with this movie.
I absolutely recommend it.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is presently in theaters.
It has been said that what defines us is not how we fall, but how we rise after a fall.
The late Carrie Fisher rose many times in her 60 years. Today would have been her 63rd birthday.
What she went through might have stopped some people in their tracks. But she found the will to survive, the courage to look her demons in the eye and the sense of humor to publicly laugh about them.
She was more than the lone female for most of the Star Wars film series. She was a daughter, a mother, a sister, one hec of a writer, a bad ass and a mental health warrior. She was not afraid to speak her mind and speak for those who could not speak for themselves. Though many might be shamed into silence by their addiction and mental health issues, Carrie spoke openly and honestly about her demons. In doing so, she allowed others to do the same.
Writing about your own life requires introspection, honesty and the ability to examine what you have or have not accomplished.
Claire Tomalin is known as the author of quite a few successful biographies. Her new book, A Life of My Own, is her autobiography. Born in 1933 to a French academic father and an English musician mother, Tomalin used books and reading as an escape hatch from her tumultuous and painful life. As a child, she watched as her parent’s marriage crumble.
In her adult years, her own marriage was far from picture perfect. Her late first husband was not exactly loyal to his wife or his vows. Her son was born disabled and she lost one of her daughters to suicide. But she was able to maintain a respected literary career and find love again, even after her disastrous first marriage.
I have to be honest. I love Ms. Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen. It is brilliant and as perfect as a biography can get. However, I found this book to be on the boring side. I should have been inspired by how she overcame what stood in her way. But I wasn’t.
Kate Bolick compares her own infatuation with status and physical beauty to Meg’s feelings while attending the Moffatt ball. Jenny Zhang remembers disliking Jo for her lack of femininity as a girl, afraid of being identified as un-ladylike. Carmen Maria Machado shines a light on Lizzie Alcott, the youngest Alcott daughter (and inspiration for Beth) and how important it is for a young girl to control her own story. Finally, Jane Smiley turns the image of Amy March on it’s head. Instead of presenting Amy as spoiled and materialistic, Smiley presents Amy as a feminist who has as much to contribute to the movement as her older sister.
As a Little Women fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Each writers puts on her own spin on the character she is writing about. In the process of comparing their lives and experiences to that of the characters, the reader is reminded why this book continues to be loved and cherished.
When one thinks of the bedroom of the average teenager, they think of a room covered with posters of a favorite performer. In the late 1980’s, Sarfraz Manzoor (the author of the memoir Greetings from Bury Park) was like any other teenager with one exception: his love of Bruce Springsteen‘s music was more of an obsession than the typical teenage fan.
His story is told in the new movie,Blinded by the Light. The late 1980’s was not an easy time to live in the UK. Economic and social unrest was the news of the day. The late Margaret Thatcher was running for another term as Prime Minister. In Luton, 16 year old Javed (Viveik Kalra) is your average teenage boy. He wants to write, but his strict Pakistani immigrant father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) has other ideas about his son’s future.
Then Javed is introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen and his world changed forever. But he is caught between the expectations of his family and his own idea of what his future will look like. It takes his teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) to convince Javed to go for his dream, but at what cost?
I really love this film. I love that it speaks to all of us, regardless of age. The expectation of what everyone else expects of you vs following your own heart is a story that has been told time and again. But in the context of this film, this basic narrative with added layers of race, relationships and music, it becomes a story that is both personal and universal.
*This post contains spoilers about this season of Grantchester. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the entire season.
Women have been experiencing sexual assault and sexual harassment since the beginning of time. It is only in the past few years that the #Metoo movement has forced the hand of lawmakers and leaders to stop and/or prevent such acts.
This season of Grantchester tackled the issue as only this show can.
After having her children and spending quite a few years at home, Cathy Keating (Kacey Ainsworth) is ready to go back to work. It’s supposed to bring in additional income and give her something to do outside of the traditional roles of marriage and motherhood.
But like many women across the centuries, Cathy has more than the standard workload on her hands. Her lecherous colleague, Anthony Hobbs (Christian McKay) has wandering hands and the idea that his female colleagues are there for his sexual pleasure. The preview of the scene starts at :11.
There are two ways to resolve a story line of this manner: the easy way and the hard way. The easy way would have been that upon finding out about Mr. Hobbs, Cathy’s husband, Geordie (Robson Green) would have jumped into the car, driven to the store where his wife works and give Mr. Hobbs a beating he will never forget.
The hard way is for the women to stand up and use their brains to stop this man. Cathy enlists Mrs. Chapman (Tessa Peake-Jones) to help her get rid of Mr. Hobbs without relying on on her husband.
I won’t give away the ending of this narrative thread, but I will say that it felt satisfying, despite the frustration of Mr. Hobbs not being exposed for the predator that he is.
Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a little creativity to ensure that these men are treated as the criminals that they are. Especially when too many women still experience sexual harassment and sexual assault on a daily basis.