Flashback Friday: Jane Eyre (1997)

*Spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk if you are a newbie to the novel or its various screen reboots.

There is a reason that Jane Eyre has been given the label of a “classic novel”. Charlotte Bronte‘s story of a young woman who defies all odds and creates her own happiness is a tale that we can all learn from.

The 1997 TV movie stars Samantha Morton as the title character and Ciaran Hinds as Edward Rochester, Jane’s mysterious employer, and love interest. As in the novel, Jane is an orphaned young woman who must make her own way in the world. Employed by Rochester as the governess to his ward, their attraction is electric. But he has a past that she knows nothing of. If it is revealed, the truth could endanger their future together.

Presently, Morton is electric in The Serpent Queen. Hinds was perfectly cast as Captain Wentworth in the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion. The problem is that these two actors in these roles do not get my blood pumping and my heart pounding as other pairings in the same roles have.

There is one scene that rubs me the wrong way. After it is revealed that Rochester is married, he tries to convince Jane to stay. Hinds is a little too physically rough on Jane as the character for me.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

P.S. Rupert Penry Jones plays St. John Rivers. Elizabeth Garvie plays his sister, Diana. Garvie played Elizabeth Bennet in the 1980 Pride and Prejudice. Gemma Jones (Mrs. Fairfax in this film) was Mrs. Dashwood in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility. The Austen force is strong with this one. It is ironic, given that Bronte highly disliked Austen’s wrong.

Advertisement

Reluctant Immortals Book Review

As much as many of us love our classic novels, there are often problematic elements that were not considered to be problematic at the time of publishing. It is only in hindsight (and modern eyes) that we can see that these elements require a second look.

Reluctant Immortals, by Gwendolyn Kiste, was published in August. It is set in the late 1960s in California. The gist of the novel is that Bertha Mason of Jane Eyre and Lucy Westenra of Dracula are undead immortals trying to get away from their respective tormentors. Both Edward Rochester and Dracula would love nothing more than to get back at their former paramours.

I enjoyed this book. Kiste takes two characters who have been written off by most readers and have given them the voice that they were initially denied. Granted, the original texts were written in the 19th century, when women lived more restricted lives than they do today.

What sold it for me was that Bertha and Lucy are more the victims that they were made out to be. Kiste has given them agency, and the will to survive when their individual trauma could have easily destroyed them.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Reluctant Immortals is available wherever books are sold.

The Wife Upstairs: A Novel Book Review

We all have secrets and we all have parts of our past that we would prefer to forget. That does not mean, however that life will allow us to.

The Wife Upstairs: A Novel, by Rachel Hawkins was published at the end of last year. Orphaned at an early age and raised in the foster care system, Jane Bell learned early that survival is the top priority. Now in her early twenties, she has recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and earns her living by walking the dogs of the super-wealthy. She also adds to her pocketbook by pocketing trinkets and other small pieces that none of her employers will miss.

Things change for Jane when she meets Eddie Rochester, a thirty-something widower. Surrounding Eddie is the mysterious death of his late wife, Bea, and her best friend. After running into each other, he asks Jane to go out with him. She says yes. Within the blink of an eye, she has moved into his house and they are engaged.

But things are not what they seem. Jane’s past seems to be catching up to her. Though Bea is physically gone, she is ever-present. Will they have their happily ever after or will their mutual literal ghosts come back to haunt them?

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The logline is Jane Eyre meets Rebecca in modern-day Alabama. It is delicious, it is thrilling, romantic, sexy, and an absolute must-read.

Do I recommend it? Without a doubt.

The Wife Upstairs: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination Book Review

Over the centuries, women have been portrayed as many things: the innocent victim who is in need of rescue, the slut, the man-hater, the marriage-minded miss, etc. The problem with these images is that they are 2-D and without room to grow beyond the boxed-in perception. The only way to smash these stereotypes is to allow us to tell our own stories from our perspective.

The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (published in 1979), this classic 1970’s second-wave nonfiction book examines how female characters are portrayed in 19th-century novels. Authors Susan Gubar and Sandra M. Gilbert compare the images of women created by male writers as opposed to the images created by female writers. Using the analogy of Bertha Mason (the literal madwoman in the attic) from the Charlotte Bronte novel, Jane Eyre, they dive into the fiction of authors such as Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, etc.

This book is a classic for a reason. Forty-plus years after its initial publication, it is as relevant today as it was back then. Their theory that women writers have a greater insight and ability to create 3D fully human characters as opposed to the typecast idea of females that some male writers have can still be seen today on both the page and the screen.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Thinking Writers Block GIF by moodman - Find & Share on GIPHY

Charlotte & Arthur Book Review

A honeymoon is more than the first time that the newlyweds can have sexual relations without the naysayers putting their two cents in. It is a vacation that gives them the opportunity to break from the stress of the wedding, life, and the daily annoyances that are too easy to complain about.

Charlotte and Arthur is the 2021 novel by Pauline Clooney that tells the story of the honeymoon of Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls. Their courtship was an unexpected one. Arthur was in love with Charlotte long before he proposed. When he finally did, her father, Patrick Bronte, was not pleased with the prospect of his last living child marrying his curate, who came from poor Irish stock.

Nevertheless, they did go ahead with their nuptials, which was then followed by a month long trip traveling through Ireland and meeting Arthur’s family. What starts out as a gamble for Charlotte, who by then was in her late 30’s and was convinced that she would never marry, turns into an unexpected love for her new husband.

Honeymoon GIF by You Are Main - Find & Share on GIPHY

As a Bronte devotee, I loved this book. The details are fantastic. It was as if I was there with them. Clooney takes us into a part of Charlotte’s story that is often glossed over or not given the spotlight that it should. I will warn that this story is not for the Bronte neophyte. The ideal reader is someone who has an encyclopedia-like knowledge of these women, their lives, and writing.

My only complaint is that the figurative editorial red pen appeared far too much for my taste. When I am reading for pleasure, I don’t want to be thinking about what I would fix, if I was the author.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Throwback Thursday: In Search of the Brontës (2003)

A good biopic does more than lay out the basic facts about the life and work of the subject(s). It brings that story and the subject(s) to life, creating a connection between the audience and the characters.

In Search of the Brontës (2003) is a one-hour TV movie that told the story of the Bronte sisters, their work, and their family. Starring as the sisters are Victoria Hamilton (Charlotte Bronte), Elizabeth Hurran (Emily Bronte), and Alexandra Milman (Anne Bronte). Behind them is Patrick Malahide as their widower father Patrick and Jonathan McGuiness as their only brother, Branwell.

I thoroughly enjoyed this hour of television. It is a fascinating and deeply moving tale of three of the most beloved writers in literary history. The acting is fantastic and the actors are perfectly cast, giving the viewer the opportunity to get to know the characters outside of the dry historical facts that we know all too well.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

There’s Something About Darcy: The curious appeal of Jane Austen’s bewitching hero Book Review

There are certain cultural shorthands that we all know, even if we are unaware of the deeper context of the specific reference. When we talk about Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, he is symbolic of a romantic ideal that many aspire to, even if that aspiration is far from reality.

Paramount Network Disbelief GIF by Heathers - Find & Share on GIPHY

There’s Something About Darcy: The curious appeal of Jane Austen’s bewitching hero, by Gabrielle Malcolm, was published last year. In the book, Malcolm examines the origins of Austen‘s most famous leading man, how he has inspired other romantic male leads, and how he has evolved over time. Creating the connection between the characters in her time, Dr. Malcolm explains how later male characters such as Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, and even Dracula can trace their origins to Fitzwilliam Darcy. She then looks into how Jane Austen fanfiction has taken the character in new directions and new narratives that her creator could not have even imagined.

I loved this book. The author creates a nice balance of academic authority and adoring fandom without veering too heavily in either direction. It was a fascinating deep dive into this man who has become both a romantic icon and a character type for many a romantic male lead since 1813.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Madwoman Upstairs Book Review

When Patrick Bronte died in 1861, he was the last surviving member of his immediate family. Outliving his wife and all six of his children, his legacy would have faded into history if not for the extraordinary books of his three youngest daughters.

Though history tells us that Patrick died without any descendants, author Catherine Lowell asks what if someone living today could claim otherwise. In her 2016 book, The Madwoman Upstairs, Samantha Whipple is an American woman raised in Boston who can make this kind of statement. Raised by her late unconventional father after her parent’s divorce, many believe that she has access to a treasure trove of previously unseen materials created by her ancestors. But Samantha has no knowledge of these artifacts and believes them to be fiction. When she enrolls at Oxford University, clues begin to confirm that what Samantha believes to myth is fact. Working with a handsome professor who she gets along with like oil and water, the mystery of her birthright starts to reveal itself.

I loved the first half of the book. There are plenty of Easter eggs to please the most ardent of Bronte fans. I will warn that the reader should go into the novel with at least some knowledge of their life and work. Otherwise many of the details of the plot will go over their heads. The problem is the second half. The unraveling of the truth is not as exciting as it could be. Neither is “romance” between Samantha and her professor. The sisters are known for heart pounding, blood pumping sexuality (Charlotte and Emily to be specific. Anne‘s novels are not as highly charged in that manner). There is no chemistry between the characters, nor do I believe that in their happily ever after.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

The Cook of Castamar Review

Cross-class romantic relationships are one of the basic narratives with the romance genre. The key for success is for the narrative to stand out from the pack.

The Cook of Castamar premiered recently on Netflix. Based on the book of the same name by Fernando Muñez, it is the story of unlikely love. In the early 18th century, Diego de Castamar, Duke of Castamar (Roberto Enriquez) is a widowed aristocrat who lost his pregnant wife when her horse threw her over. Spending nearly two years grieving her unexpected death, he is brought back to life by the exquisite meals of his new cook, who he starts to fall for. Clara Belmonte (Michelle Jenner) has a talent for creating food that memories are made of. She is also agoraphobic and still reeling from her father’s execution. It is an attraction that neither saw coming.

The concept this series was impossible to ignore. I loved the idea of court intrigue, sex used as a tool to gain or maintain power, and a blossoming love that is not exactly welcomed. I also appreciated that the extra narrative layer created by the female lead’s mental illness. It is rarely seen in this genre. Unfortunately, it did not live up to it’s promise. I was waiting for a Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester spark which never materialized. After watching a few episodes, I gave up. The slow burn was too slow for me.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

The Cook of Castamar is available for streaming on Netflix.

Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives Inspiration and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers Book Review

It takes a brave or naïve person (or both) to step out of the boundaries that the world around them has created. This person knows that when they start to think for themselves, there is a potential firestorm of naysayers and finger pointing. But they do it anyway.

Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives Inspiration and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers, was published in April. Written by Lauren Burke and Hannah K Chapman (hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, Bonnets at Dawn) with artwork by Kaley Bales, the book tells the story of some of the greatest women writers of the 19th and 20 centuries. In additional to listing their most well known works and providing a brief biography, the book also highlights how these women paved the way for future generations to succeed as both women and writers. The list includes Jane Austen, Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, etc.

I loved this book. The artwork is beautiful, the description of the subjects are beautifully written. It made we want to learn more about these women and continue to work towards the day when my writing will be as good and inspiring as theirs.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

%d bloggers like this: