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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Eyre’

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

September 2, 2016 | by

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago.

Admiralty House, Bermuda.

Drawing of a house in the West Indies.

In the summer of 1986, I finished secondary school, and that autumn I enrolled in a secretarial course in Cork City. It was a course of a kind that I suspect no longer exists, with bookkeeping exercises involving sheets of carbon paper, classes in shorthand, typing learned on manual typewriters. I have a hazy recollection of being instructed in how to walk properly, and of someone who ran a modeling agency coming to talk to us. The talk was of little interest to me, perhaps because my modeling prospects were precisely zero. My secretarial prospects, unfortunately, were not much better, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the tiny, fierce woman tasked with teaching us. Still, I remember fondly the sweeps and curves and wriggles of Gregg shorthand as we practiced giving shape to language. Words like get or racket with their piglet-style tails, or yell and yam and Yale with their resemblance to mutant tadpoles. We took words apart and mined them for sound, converted that sound into something close to art. Read More »

The Greatest Literary Impostor, and Other News

December 8, 2015 | by

From the cover of Emile Ajar’s La Vie Devant Soi.

  • 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.”

Plus Ça Change

April 21, 2015 | by


A portrait of Charlotte Brontë from The Brontë Sisters, by Patrick Branwell Brontë, ca. 1834.

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 »


May 5, 2014 | by

jane eyre

Today on HuffPo books, Jay Crownover discusses the different subcategories of the “literary bad boy,” which include “The Unattainable” (Sherlock Holmes), “The Nonconformist” (Holden Caulfield, of course), “The Alpha” (Achilles), “The Lothario” (Bond), “The Misunderstood” (Ponyboy from The Outsiders), and, in a bold move, “The Anti-Hero,” as represented by Hannibal Lecter.

It is hard not to wrestle, increasingly, with the listicle-ization of lit, the too-easy shorthand of Virginia Woolf finger-puppets, cheeky pro-book tote bags, Dickens bibs, and twee-pop-Brontë mashups. There is reading, and then there is reading as signifier, in which we don’t lose ourselves in books themselves so much as turn them into easy, quotable advertisements for ourselves. Sexy librarians? Sure. “Keep Calm and Read On”? Okay. “What Would Jane Austen Do”? How about live two hundred years ago in an unrecognizable world with a completely different set of mores? How much less scary when Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not a cultural battleground but just a vintage cover on a T-shirt. Read More »

What We’re Loving: Good Friday Riffs, Your New White Hair

April 18, 2014 | by

Samuel Johnson’s portrait by James Barry

Samuel Johnson’s portrait by James Barry.

It took me twenty-five years to read Jane Eyre. The first twenty-four and three quarters were tough going—I almost never made it past the death of the annoying Christian schoolmate. Rochester drove me up the wall; so did passive-aggressive Jane. Then a couple of months ago a friend gave me a beat-up old pocketbook edition. This time it took. When I realized a couple of pages were missing, I read them on my phone. When the paperback got lost in the coatroom at Café Loup, I started taking my iPad to bed (a reluctant first). When the same friend presented me with a Folio edition giveaway, weighing sixteen pounds (with regrettable illustrations), I took it everywhere, in case I had half an hour alone. I was warned that things go downhill after you-know-who appears in the night and tears Jane’s you-know-what. Not for me. The weirder the subplot, the more Jane tightened her grip. What had changed? Maybe certain writers—Norman Rush, Defoe, Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne—or maybe just reading in general had taught me that dialogue can come in weird shapes, not just tit-for-tat, and that soliloquies can happen on the page. Maybe I’ve just gotten to know more women, like Jane, who live at war with themselves, and maybe the freakiness of wanting and hating to be bossed around makes more sense to me now. The whole time, I kept thinking, So many girls read this when they’re kids—and get it. How could it take so long to catch up? —Lorin Stein

Reading a László Krasznahorkai novel is a major commitment, and the kind I’m willing to make, but I haven’t had the time lately to devote myself to it. I’ve made do with the London Review of Books’ recent story “There Goes Valzer.” A man named Róbert Valzer who likes walking (“not that I have anything do to with the famous Robert Walser”) takes an aimless stroll on the Day of the Dead in his La Sportiva boots, through cemeteries and out to the edge of town. Because of its brevity and relatively short sentences, the story offers an opportunity to better appreciate Krasznahorkai’s sly humor, often camouflaged by his melancholic themes. Not that there isn’t disillusionment here, but it’s tempered by a ready absurdity: “I hate Michaelmas daisies and, I must confess, I am not too keen on people either, in fact you might say I hate people too, or, better still, that I hate people as much as I hate Michaelmas daisies and that is simply because every time I see Michaelmas daisies they remind me of people rather than of Michaelmas daisies, and every time I see people I always think of Michaelmas daisies not of people.” (Yes, that is a short sentence—for Krasznahorkai.) —Nicole Rudick

This unending winter—and the moods that have come with it—has reminded many Americans, brutally, of the effect the environment has on our psyches. It’s a theme I haven't encountered in a work of American fiction in recent memory, though I wonder, with our rapidly changing earth, if we’ll begin to see it reflected more in our country's creative output. The seasons and their regularities, their whims have figured prominently in Japanese art for many centuries, though, and Takashi Hiraide's The Guest Cat, recently translated by Eric Selland, is a new cornerstone in this tradition. A short novel about little more than the comings and goings of a neighborhood cat around the grounds and home of a childless couple, the swells and lags in the emotional narrative of the book are propelled by a rising temperature, a blooming flower, a drooping tree. It’s reassuring to feel that perhaps a close tie between one's mental state and the weather may be, in fact, quite natural. —Clare Fentress

Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson is a bit like Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries: there’s an entry for almost every season, holiday, or time of the year. Reading Boswell’s Life, it’s hard not to think of it at times as a practical joke; Boswell’s silliness is the great enigma of this book. Just to see what he would say, Boswell would ask Johnson questions like “What would you do if you were locked in a tower with a newborn baby?” The entry for Good Friday, 1778, contains so much: a discussion of literary aestheticism and didacticism, of the usefulness that literature can have to society, of the etiquette of making small talk. And it’s full of the usual yuks from the Boswell-Johnson buddy act:

Johnson: “Sir, it would have been better that I had been of a profession. I ought to have been a lawyer.”

Boswell: “I do not think, Sir, it would have been better, for we should not have had the English dictionary.”

Johnson: “But you would have had reports.” —Anna Heyward Read More »


Nudity Defended, and Other News

January 23, 2014 | by


Giovanni Giacometti, Theodora, 1914, oil on canvas.