Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Bronte’
April 29, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Bill Clinton is widely credited with having turned the cigar into an erotic emblem, but Charlotte Brontë got there first, in Villette: “Her heroine, a plain-faced and seemingly colorless 23-year-old school teacher named Lucy Snowe finds herself falling in love with her choleric Belgian colleague. Unsurprisingly, Paul Emanuel is a dark-haired, blue-eyed cigar smoker … One evening, Lucy steals softly into a deserted classroom to discover Emanuel immersed in her desk. ‘His olive hand held my desk open, his nose was lost to view amongst my papers.’ The reader is startled at the brazen snooping, but Lucy is unperturbed. She has known all along ‘that that hand of M. Emanuel’s was on the most intimate terms with my desk; that it raised and lowered the lid, ransacked and arranged the contents, almost as familiarly as my own … they smelt of cigars.’ ”
- Today in cattle rustling: it’s still a thing. Matt Wolfe knows. He went to Texas and rode along with the cow police: “Lawmen and rustlers now find themselves reenacting a centuries-old drama, one central to the creation myth of the American frontier. If the cowboy was the great American folk hero, the cattle rustler was his villainous twin … In Texas, when a cow or bull is reported stolen, the case is assigned to one of twenty-seven men, the employees of a trade group called the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association … ‘These days, we got more rustlers than you can say grace over,’ [Ranger Wayne] Goodman told me. ‘It used to be you didn’t catch a rustler that didn’t know cattle, or at least have some kind of agriculture in their background. Now, what with the drought, it doesn’t take much skill. Cows are so thirsty you can lead them into a trailer with just a bucket of water.’ ”
- A collection of smutty engravings from the late eighteenth century reveals that people fornicated then in much the same way they do now. Sad. You’d think we’d have made some minor advancements since then. In fact, these engravings are based on engravings from the fourteenth century, so we’ve been in a rut for even longer. At least the book has a good long title: L’Arétin d’Augustin Carrache ou Recueil de Postures Érotiques, d’Après les Gravures à l’Eau-Forte par cet Artiste Célèbre, Avec le Texte Explicatif des Sujets (The ‘Aretino’ of Agostino Carracci, or a collection of erotic poses, after Carracci’s engravings, by this famous artist, with the explicit texts on the subject).
- There’s not much to look forward to in this life, but we can take solace, at least, in the mini-golf courses of tomorrow. Coming soon to Trafalgar Square: “As part of the London Design Festival, which runs September 17 through 25, a number of international designers and architects have submitted plans for a nine-hole mini-golf course … London-based architecture practice Ordinary Architecture have designed a large cross-section of a pigeon that reveals its anatomy to illustrate how the bird’s digestive system works; players aim golf balls through its mouth and watch as they roll through its guts before popping out through its butt. The rendering by Hat Projects and Tim Hunkin is also pretty fun: envisioned as a high-rise building under construction (the future will include no sky!), the towering course will deposit poorly aimed balls into containers with labels such as ‘Affordable Housing,’ ‘Bankruptcy,’ and ‘Abandoned Dreams.’ On the other hand, if your aim is true, a contraption will pour you a glass of whiskey.”
- While we’re in London: it’s a great place to walk around at night. “In the darkness,” Matthew Beaumont writes, “above all perhaps in familiar or routine places, everything acquires a subtly different form or volume. Even the ground beneath one’s feet feels slightly different. Ford Madox Ford lamented in The Soul of London (1905) that, ‘little by little, the Londoner comes to forget that his London is built upon real earth: he forgets that under the pavements there are hills, forgotten water courses, springs, and marshlands’. It is not the same in the dead of night. At two A.M., in the empty streets, no longer fighting against the traffic of cars and commuters, the solitary pedestrian’s feet begin to recall the ‘real earth’ … The nighttime self, moreover, is another self. In ‘Street Haunting’ (1930), Virginia Woolf quietly celebrated ‘the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow’. ‘We are no longer quite ourselves’, she observed.”
April 21, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today is Charlotte Brontë’s two-hundredth birthday, and no two-hundredth birthday is complete without a new biography. Claire Harman has furnished one for the occasion, the first new biography in twenty years: Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart. “The main thrust of Harman’s biography,” writes Daphne Merkin, “endeavors to show how this most self-doubting yet obdurate of young women turned her emotional vulnerability and anxieties about her place in society as a fiercely passionate but plain Jane into a new kind of literature, one that forged a candid and poignant female voice of unaccountable power, telling of childhood loneliness and adult longing … There is a wonderfully poignant scene in London when the appearance-conscious Charlotte goes to a fashionable painter for the first of a series of sittings to have her portrait done and is asked to remove ‘a wad of brown merino wool that had stayed on top of her head when she took her bonnet off’—which proves to be a hairpiece. The experience leaves her ‘mortified (to the point of tears).’ ”
- I wear underwear all the time, mainly because my peer group frowns upon diapers. But there are other, deeper reasons, and it’s these that Tom Rachman explores in a trip to a new London exhibition, “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear”: “The motives for covering up, it turns out, include avoiding chafing, keeping outerwear unsoiled (vital in the days when a person’s outfits were handmade and few), restricting the jiggles of less well-moored body parts, and advertising the sexual organs to better advantage … Women’s wear constitutes the bulk of the exhibition, probably because male undergarments have tended to be staid and uniform, concerned primarily with comfort, in sharp contrast to the female garments concocted to suppress or accentuate the body … The hypocrisy of sexual repression is blatant in historic underwear, which at once prudishly hid the female body while exaggerating its sexual traits: breasts hiked up, hips widened, butt enlarged. A few underwear fads have diminished the sex traits, notably the androgynous looks of the nineteen-twenties and the nineteen-seventies; intriguingly, both were times of comparative sexual liberation.”
- Meanwhile, a traveling show called Famous Deaths lets you experience, in rich multisensory detail, the last four minutes of a famous person’s life. Simply slide on in to a metal mortuary drawer and you, too, can know the smells and sounds of JFK at Dealey Plaza, Whitney Houston in that Beverly Hills tub, Princess Diana in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Allison Meier chose the JFK option: “The intense smell of grass and the sound of an approaching crowd filled the small space … I’ve seen the footage, even visited the grassy knoll in Dallas, and some mixture of the saturated 1960s video and the Texas streets merged in my mind with the scents and sounds. I picked out the strong smell of coffee, which [cocreator Marcel] van Brakel later explained was from the crowd, and something leathery that suggested a car interior … When the bullet came, it wasn’t the blaring noise I’d feared, but a whistling shot followed by a flowery fragrance.” (That’s Jackie’s perfume.)
- Emmanuel Carrère reports from Calais, where the Jungle, the largest shantytown in Europe, has attracted a wealth of journalists and documentarians, all eager “to bear witness to the migrants’ misfortune.” But what about the rest of the town? Carrère receives an anonymous eight-page letter: “We’re fed up with the glitterati—pardon the term—coming to feed off Calais’ misfortunes and treating the people stuck within its walls like lab rats … I wonder: which traps will you fall into? What story are you looking for? One thing I know for sure: your venture will be a failure.” So he looks, literally, in other direction, talking not to the migrants but to the locals. “I met people, lots of people, not just the bourgeois in their bubble, as you put it—even if I found it reassuring that they still exist in Calais … ”
- Did you know? Queen Elizabeth II is ninety. It’s a terrifying time to be in Britain. “As with Diana’s death, and the traipsing pageant of sprogs, weddings, and jubilees, the birthday’s another of those moments when the country morphs into a twee version of North Korea. The Beeb goes into auto-drool; ITV is even worse. Mugshots of the supreme leader stare glassily out as bands blare and brass hats prink. She’s taking on the holographic aura of her mother, whose last decades plied the pale between chiffon and outright inexistence. One of the better portraits of the queen, Chris Levine’s Equanimity, actually is a hologram … The queen adheres to the throne as stubbornly as a seagull-splat baked to a sunshine roof. Commentators trot out the palace line that she sticks at it from a pitiless sense of duty. But everyone knows she knows that every extra day her reign grinds on is one less for that of Charles III. No one, maybe not even the dauphin himself, is clamoring to see the crown teeter atop those jug ears. Perhaps a corgi could be made regent till death or dementia claims him.”
January 18, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Orson Welles and Hemingway had a vexed friendship, if friendship is even the word—their first encounter came to blows, after all. In interviews, Welles tended to speak respectfully, if not kindly, of the writer. But now, a 1973 screenplay by Welles, Crazy Weather, has come to light. Set in Spain, the story features a Hemingway-esque tourist with a macho, ersatz approach to the Spanish culture: “The protagonist in the script, Jim Foster, is travelling to a bullfight with his Spanish wife, Amparo, when they encounter a nameless youth who taunts Foster about his misogyny, flirts with Amparo and later sabotages their car tires. Despite having a Spanish wife and spending years living in Spain, Foster speaks the language only in ‘limited and rather stilted’ form, and is continually mocked for his cliched idea of Spain.”
- What do women want in a mate? And what do men want? For years, I’ve looked to late-night phone-sex ads and flimsy self-help books to answer these timeless questions; Adelle Waldman looked to literature instead. “The ideal mate, for Jane Austen’s heroines, for Charlotte Brontë’s, for George Eliot’s, is someone intelligent enough to appreciate fully and respond deeply to their own intelligence, a partner for whom they feel not only desire but a sense of kinship, of intellectual and moral equality,” she writes. “Straight male authors devote far less energy to considering the intelligence of their heroes’ female love interests; instead, they tend to emphasize visceral attraction and feelings. From Tolstoy, whose psychological acuity helped to redefine what the novel is capable of, to unabashed chroniclers of sex like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth to contemporary, stroller-pushing, egalitarian dad Karl Ove Knausgaard, men have been, in a sense, the real romantics: they are far more likely than women to portray love as something mysterious and irrational, impervious to explanation, tied more to physical qualities and broad personal appeal than to a belief—or hope—in having found an intellectual peer.”
- Elena Ferrante’s English translator Ann Goldstein talks about her process and being haunted by Ferrante’s work: “With The Days of Abandonment, partly because it was the first one and partly because it is so haunting, and it’s so concentrated, I was very upset by it. There were things in it that I think everyone recognizes. Like the scene with the key where she thinks she’s locked herself in—I have trouble with keys. And with something like that, she’s writing your nightmare. Those things really did upset me and haunt me. I identified with the narrator—one naturally identifies to some extent with an ‘I’ female narrator going through something that you recognize whether you’ve gone through it or not … When I started translating the first Neapolitan novel, My Brilliant Friend, I had not read the other ones, of course, because they weren’t written yet. So it wasn’t until I got to the end of the last one that I knew the whole story. That was a strange experience: to be reading something, or translating something, that I didn’t really know the end of.”
- Camille Henrot’s latest exhibition featured a series of hotline phones, all designed to show the vagaries and confusions of language. “I picked up and heard a male voice,” Michael Barron writes, “who, friendly enough and definitely assertive, had me run a gamut of bizarre questions, such as ‘If your dad has fathered more than nine children, press 0 / If your father has eaten any of his children, press 1.” “I always felt like language was a way to dominate people,” Henrot told him in reference to the hotlines. “You want to go to the end of the options. That’s the way we—me and the poet Jacob Bromberg—wrote and structured them. The first one we wrote, ‘Hello & Thank You’—the one that was presented at the Lyon Biennial—was so massive, with a maze of multiple choices. Navigating the whole thing from beginning to end would’ve taken over four hours.”
- Attention, shoppers: have you been feeling guilty about buying used books? Probably not. But if you have been, stop.
December 8, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Sam Sacks opens his review of our anthology The Unprofessionals with a litany of all that’s been co-opted by careerism in literature: “Consider the extraliterary responsibilities expected of authors who have had their novels accepted for publication: Develop an active presence on Facebook and Twitter (and, for the truly motivated, on Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest); create an accompanying web site, video trailer, and soundtrack; go on a book tour, naturally, but also participate in a variety of reading series in anticipation of and well after the publication date; take part in panels and signings at book expos; give interviews to blogs and podcasts and write personal essays about your background, your development as a writer, and your process of creation; not only review other books but join the great merry-go-round of blurbing … ” (He also calls The Unprofessionals “a showcase for serious literature.”)
- The tropes and psychology of anorexia have always been embedded in literature, Katy Waldman tells us: “Anorexia mirabilis—the saintly loss of appetite—signaled an embrace of Christ-like abnegation and suffering … And guess what? The archetype of the fasting mystic had a daughter. Equally lovely, equally slender—in her the delicacy of spirit won out once more over the coarseness of tissue. She rebelled against her mother by applying her native rigor not to prayer, but to an artistic sort of femininity. Think Jane Eyre, ‘delicate and aerial,’ or Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth, ‘little’ and ‘beautiful lithe.’ Consider Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch, her ‘hand and wrist … so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters.’ That Mary reference is not coincidental—like her mom, the new anorexic was pure and asexual. Yet she was also a creator, driven and intense … The economic and social realities of nineteenth-century England conspired to idealize female slenderness.”
- Not unrelatedly: Upon first publication, the Brontë sisters’ novels were reviewed variously as “vulgar,” “brutalizing,” “pernicious,” “godless,” and “venial”—probably because critics believed the authors were men. For Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, as they chose to be known, male pseudonyms meant freedom: “It allowed their imaginations to trespass in the darkest crevices of the psyche and return with tormented monsters like Heathcliff, the Ahab of the moors, and dynamos like Miss Eyre. Their pseudonyms strengthened their moral resolve, emboldening them to speak truth to that most tyrannical seat of power: ordinary society.” For Charlotte, the revelation of her true identity came at a steep cost, and she did her best to forestall it: “Charlotte insisted on the charade of separating Currer Bell from Charlotte Brontë in public, as Thackeray found out to his cost. He hosted a party for her at his house, and as he was leading her to dinner on his arm (she came up to his elbow), he addressed her as Currer Bell. ‘I believe there are books being published by a person named Currer Bell,’ she snapped back, ‘but the person you address is Miss Brontë—and I see no connection between the two.’ After dinner she sat in a corner and refused to mingle; Thackeray fled to his club.”
- From the annals of good old-fashioned fraudulence: In 1974, a little-known writer named Émile Ajar won the Prix Goncourt. Ajar was actually “the Lithuanian-born Free French aviator, onetime French consul general in Los Angeles, and award-winning novelist Romain Gary … Gary’s novels are autobiographical, and much of what he claims to be memoir is made up, complicating any attempt at unraveling the true from the false … In France, which celebrated the centennial of Gary’s birth last year with conferences, exhibits, and the publication of his last interview, Le sens de ma vie, none of his thirty-plus novels, memoirs, and essays have ever gone out of print. In the United States, few of them still are … He was far more successful as a storyteller than as a stylist. But his propensities make it difficult to find a place for him in French literary history, where he does not fit into that story that others have told.”
- Tired of bookstores where only some of the books are recommended by the staff? Head to Aaron Hicklin’s shop, One Grand, in Narrowsburg, New York, where everything comes with institutional approval. “His concept was to present collections of volumes handpicked by various creatives—including Tilda Swinton, Michael Stipe, Lena Dunham, and Edmund White—in response to the question, ‘If you were stranded on a desert island, which ten books could you not do without?’ … Hicklin aims to make bookselling more selective and personal—in other words, everything that Amazon is not—by attaching familiar names to titles and having them explain why those books have shaped them.”
November 13, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Flogging! Embezzling! The public humiliation of a churchman named John Winterbottom! These and more await you in an unpublished story by Charlotte Brontë, discovered in the “much-treasured” pages of the family copy of Robert Southey’s The Remains of Henry Kirke White. There’s a new poem, too: “The pieces have been dated to 1833, when Charlotte would have been around seventeen … Historian Juliet Barker, author of the biography The Brontës, said that ‘the book alone is a valuable acquisition because of its rare associations with Mrs Brontë ’ … According to the Brontë Society, the Southey title is one of Maria’s ‘rare surviving possessions,’ after a box containing all her property was shipwrecked off the Devon coast shortly before she married Patrick Brontë in 1812. It also features Patrick’s Latin inscription, reading that it was ‘the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved.’ ”
- Today in national parks and the macabre: “For years, I’ve been an avid reader of what I call the Death in … books. It’s not quite an actual series—there are four so far, from three different publishers—but the Death in … books all do the same thing: They chronicle accidents, murders and mishaps in several of America’s most treasured national parks, giving us Death in Yellowstone, Death in Yosemite, Death in the Grand Canyon, and Death in Big Bend. The Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon books purport to chronicle every single death (excluding illness and car accidents) from the mid-nineteenth century onward, sorted into chapters by type: flash floods, bear maulings, murder, falls, poison gas and so on … The Death in ... books are morbid documents, and their authors’ defensiveness about that only proves the point. But what’s so wrong with being morbid?”
- “One thinks, usually, of drizzle being the opposite of thick, and of being lazy and gentle rather than sudden and sweeping. Still, an admirable deployment of the gerund.” That’s Christian Lorentzen, dismantling one of seventeen opening lines from new books. (In this case, the line is from Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies: “A thick drizzle from the sky, like a curtain’s sudden sweeping.”) Look away, children.
- Sixty-five years after its publication, the childbirth scene from Barbara Comyns’s Our Spoons Came from Woolworths still has everyone talking—and it resonates with contemporary literature: “Winding up in a public hospital, Sophia [Spoons’s heroine] is prodded, rebuked, and shamed for her body’s involuntary actions. It’s a setting in which women giving birth are seen either as docilely on track, or deviant … [This] brings to mind Maggie Nelson’s query in … The Argonauts, about the process of childbirth: ‘How can an experience so profoundly strange and wild and transformative also symbolize or enact the ultimate conformity?’ … Ferrante, for one, has said that her heroines don’t suffer so much as struggle. Comyns enacts the opposite: arguably, her characters suffer. Sophia exits each chapter of her life and enters a new one clearly exhausted, clearly in pain, and yet we don’t see her thrashing much. Her narration is triumphant proof that she has made it through, but the way out is seeded with resignation.”
- A note to the bagpipers: listen, let’s not beat around the bush. There are times when ordinary, run-of-the-mill bagpiping will suffice, and there are times when life calls for extreme bagpiping. Those are the times I want to hear about. I’m talking about bagpiping on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day. I’m talking about bagpiping in Antarctica with a penguin beside you. I’m talking about bagpiping on the International fucking Space Station.
April 21, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From Charlotte Brontë’s letter to her friend Ellen Nussey, April 2, 1845. Brontë and Nussey exchanged hundreds of letters; this one, written about two weeks before Brontë turned twenty-nine and two years before the publication of Jane Eyre, finds her in a laudably bitter frame of mind, inveighing against marriage and men.
I see plainly it is proved to us that there is scarcely a draught of unmingled happiness to be had in this world. ——’s illness comes with ——’s marriage. Mary T. finds herself free, and on that path to adventure and exertion to which she has so long been seeking admission. Sickness, hardship, danger are her fellow-travellers—her inseparable companions … Yet these real, material dangers, when once past, leave in the mind the satisfaction of having struggled with difficulty, and overcome it. Strength, courage, and experience are their invariable results; whereas, I doubt whether suffering purely mental has any good result, unless it be to make us by comparison less sensitive to physical suffering … Read More »