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Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

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Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Amira Tair » Oct 13, 2009 11:29 pm

The Brontë family is one of the most fascinating families in literature history. The three sisters wrote some of the greatest novels of English literature: Charlotte (1816-1855) is author of Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette, The Professor; Emily (1818-1848) wrote Wuthering Heights, probably the most renowned; and Anne (1820-1849), wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall.

Their personal life is as interesting as their work. They started writing about imaginary kingdoms in childhood, together with their only brother, Branwell (1817-1848) who was a painter and a poet too; they had a hard childhood, with the early death of their mother and two eldest sisters and suffered abuse at school- mirrored in Jane Eyre; they lived in relative solitude in a wild landscape quite similar to the one Emily portrayed in WH, and they died tragically young. This helped to create the romantic aura that surrounds their personalities.
So, have you read any of their novels? What is your favourite one? And what about the many film and TV adaptations? Let's comment! :)
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Oct 14, 2009 5:19 am

I have been looking forward to this SF for some time now :D. I knew it was going to be opened soon, so last night I started a reread of Jane Eyre in honor of it.

Oh. My. Goodness!

I remember liking the book a great deal when I read it years ago. I remember that the characters were very strong and Jane's narrative voice extremely well written. But I did not remember the spell this book can cast. I am utterly, completely, totally enthralled. I want to call off work to finish it. I considered staying up all night to get through it. Yes, it's that good.

I can't wait to write my review when I finish it, though I'm sure I can't do it justice.

So now I want to watch an adaptation of it; what are the good ones? I've heard both good and bad things about the 2006 miniseries (the one that has Georgie Henley as the young Jane, I think). Does anyone have any recommendations?

I'll be back to rant my love for Wuthering Heights later. Right now, I'm just too in love with Jane Eyre to think of much else. It is without question one of my top ten books of all time — probably one of my top five. I'm so glad to be rediscovering it!
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Silvertongue » Oct 14, 2009 6:13 am

I've only ever read "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights" by the Bronte sisters, and I didn't like "Jane Eyre" while I LOVED "Wuthering Heights". Drives my sister nuts, as she cannot understand why I would love "Wuthering Heights" and dislike "Jane Eyre"...but I do! And it's hard to explain...the only way I can put it is: in "Jane Eyre", I loathe Mr. Rochestor and I'm SUPPOSED to like him. In "Wuthering Heights", you're supposed to dislike Heathecliffe, and I do! ;) Also, the characters were much more fascinating in "Wuthering Heights" I thought.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby ForeverFan » Oct 14, 2009 6:30 am

I personally preferred Wuthering Heights over Jane Eyre myself, although I can't say why. While I never loved loved Wuthering Heights, I did find it was an interesting story- and liked it enough to be ticked by the hostess of Masterpiece Classic this past year when she said some wrong things about the book, just to make it sound more...shocking. I wasn't too impressed with that. Especially since the "shocking" things didn't even occur in the book! :-o *ahem* Composes one self. Anyways. I've only read the two I've mentioned above, so, eh, I suppose I don't know much about them. (Other then reading once that Charlotte Bronte felt that Jane Austen had no passion in her work....I actually prefer Austen's "passion-less" work to the Bronte sisters' "passionate"...it more suits my style I guess.)
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Kate » Oct 14, 2009 9:37 am

I was given Jane Eyre towards the beginning of my foray into classic literature with the promise of "you won't be able to put it down." Boy, were they right. The book quickly became one of my favorite books of all time. Charlotte is such a masterful storyteller. The gothic setting, compelling romance, characters, and conflict all make Jane Eyre one of the most unlikely yet enthralling books I've ever read.

Because I loved JE so much, I thought I'd try something else by CB, so I picked up Villette. It was terrible. It was extremely lengthy, had few interesting characters, was annoyingly sentimental, and spent large quantities of time telling the story of two characters who I cared little for and who cared little for...the protagonist, whose name I have forgotten. Lucy Snowe! I remembered. And it doesn't have a happy ending!

I also read Wuthering Heights, but I didn't like it. I had no idea what I was reading other than that it was famous. I expected a Jane Eyre-type book. I didn't expect to hate all the characters and to wish a great portion of them dead. If I had expected a Tristan and Isolde type romance, I probably would have liked it better.

I've seen the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre and I liked it, but I can see how some elements would turn people off. I just sort of tried to look past the ouija board and some of the interactions between Jane and Edward. The cast was quite good. I also watched the recent Wuthering Heights that showed on Masterpiece Theatre, but I wasn't very struck by it. It was pretty forgettable.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby lysander » Oct 14, 2009 12:23 pm

The only Brontë book I've read is Jane Eyre, and I didn't particularly enjoy my first reading of it, but I'm determined to try again. Indeed, I'm not sure if I will reread that first or read Wuthering Heights. Decisions, decisions ... why must life be so difficult?

Kate wrote:I've seen the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre and I liked it, but I can see how some elements would turn people off.... The cast was quite good.

I suppose so. I liked Ruth Wilson as Jane quite a bit, but I don't get the hoopla over Stephens as Rochester. In my mind he neither looks nor acts the character. And his fangirls drive me bonkers. %-(
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby daughter of the King » Oct 14, 2009 7:02 pm

Unfortunately, the only one I've read is Jane Eyre. I liked it, but I didn't fall in love with it. That was when I was fifteen though, I should probably pick it up again..............
Is the 2006 version the one with Georgie Henely as young Jane? If so, I saw it, and the bits with her were the only parts I really liked. I did not like the ending at all! I remember liking the first half better than I liked the second overall. Even though I found it on the creepy side(and I don't handle creepy well!).
Wuthering Heights has been on my "read before I'm twenty" list for awhile, I should read that one too.................
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Deadman » Oct 14, 2009 8:15 pm

One of my favourite quotes comes from the Preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre:
Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.
These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is—I repeat
it—a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.
The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth—to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who dares to scrutinise and expose—to rase
[sic] the gilding, and show base metal under it—to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted
to him.

(21 December 1847)

Her preface raised further troubles for Brontê because she dedicated the second edition to Thackeray—he who dared to scrutinise and to expose—, who also had a mad wife*, wherefore many people erroneously identified him with Mr. Rochester.
In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontê eloquently attacks conventionality and self-righteousness (inter alia), and, apart from its other excellencies, the novel is well worth reading, I reckon, for her righteous censure alone.

* We may speculate that Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke have read Jane Eyre: in the Magician’s Nephew, (Chapter I), Polly posits an explanation for the strange behaviour of Digory’s Uncle Andrew:

“Perhaps he keeps a mad wife up there?”
“Yes, I’ve thought of that.”
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Kate » Oct 15, 2009 2:24 am

Ly: I had never seen Toby Stephens in anything else, so I was able to accept him as the Vulcan Rochester. I've since seen him in other things and I can see how it would be hard to see him as Rochester after his other roles.

Deadman: That's very interesting about Polly and Diggory!
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Oct 15, 2009 12:34 pm

I finished Jane Eyre last night (staying up way past my bedtime to do so!). What an incredible book. I knew that I liked it, but something really clicked this time for me. Maybe it's a book to which you have to bring a certain amount of life experience for it to really resonate with you? Here are my rambling, adoring thoughts on it. *sighs with happiness*

I remember you didn't like Villette, Kate, which makes me sad because I am almost tempted to jump right into it now that I've finished JE. I wonder if my edition (Oxford) has the French parts translated?

But maybe I'll like it after all; you and I have very different opinions on Wuthering Heights, which I love (but not as much as I do JE).

Deadman, I couldn't agree more about the part you quoted from the preface. I reread that a couple times when I started JE the other night; she had such a strong, clear way of putting things. I applaud both what she is saying and how eloquently she says it :ymapplause:

From recommendations on LT, I've put the 1983 JE miniseries on hold at the library. It stars Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke. I'm also going to try the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version soon, I hope. It sounds like none of the adaptations really approach the quality of the book though. I'll probably be avoiding the 2006 BBC adaptation; I've heard awful things about the screenwriting :-s
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Amira Tair » Oct 18, 2009 2:04 am

Jane Eyre is one of my top books, one of those you read when you are quite young and shape your world's view. I always admired Jane's character, and especially her will to do what is right and not what is easy to do. Wisewoman, I heartily agree with what you said in your review, I have very much the same opinions. I used to think the same as you as regards St. John, and then, on more recent rereadings, changed my mind in the same way you did. I also liked Rochester more in later readings than in the first one, but I was between ten and twelve when I first read it, so I think it's logical. :)
Of all the adaptations I've seen, I'd recommend the one with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine - it's not so faithful, for instance, the Rivers don't appear - but it is delightful to see, the actors are really spot on. I also saw the 2006 adaptation and I quite liked it. Ruth Wilson is an excellent choice for Jane, and althought at first I didn't like the actor for Rochester, I thought he was too young and handsome for the role, he did a good performance, in my opinion. There is another film version, by Ranco Zeffirelli I think, with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg, from the 90s. It's OK, but I found it too cold. I don't remember much, but I think my favourite part was how it portrayed the life at Lowood and Helen Burns.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Oct 19, 2009 11:03 am

I wonder why it is that Rochester grows on you? I never disliked him, but now I actively like his character, flawed as he is. In some ways he seems like a combination of Darcy and Heathcliff...

So we watched our first JE adaptation yesterday, the 1983 miniseries starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke. (I say "first" because I know this will not be our last ;)) .) I really liked how faithful it was to the book (though I missed certain parts, like Rochester's amazing speech at the end). I liked Zelah Clarke as Jane though I agree with the criticism that she was too reserved. Timothy Dalton did a good job with the fiery and impetuous Rochester, but he was a bit too handsome for the part. Is there ever a Rochester with the broad, broad chest and shoulders of the book's character?

The adaptation suffered a little from looking dated, especially the somewhat stagey cinematography. But I was watching it for the story and characters, not the camera angles, and both of those elements were strong enough to even captivate my husband, who had never read the novel and whose tolerance for stagey TV adaptations is far less than my own. He ended up enjoying the whole thing with me.

Young Jane was a decent actress, but attacked her part with too much vim. She did look a LOT like Clarke, though!

They didn't really show enough of Bertha. The book's description of her is absolutely bloodcurdling. She seemed almost tame at the end of the attic scene with Mason and Jane and the parson.

They also didn't show enough of the drawing room scenes with Miss Blanche Ingram and the constant belittling that Jane had to undergo.

It seems there are a lot of fans of the 2006 miniseries. I've heard bad things about it, that purists should stay away because they took some liberties with the story (especially with adding racy bits and replacing all the dialogue). I've heard enough from both sides to make me very curious, and I'll probably watch it eventually. For now, I have the Welles/Fontaine version on hold at the library. My husband is going to be sick of this story ;))
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby lysander » Oct 19, 2009 1:07 pm

My problem with the '06 Rochester isn't just his youth and appearance. He also plays the role very lightly compared to other actors. Welles is still my favorite; I think you'll find his physiognomy and build well-suited to the character, ww. I do hope that I haven't talked this one up too much for you, and that it won't suffer overmuch from being viewed directly after a very faithful miniseries adaptation. :ymblushing:

Has anyone here read books about the Brontës? Today I found The Brontë Story by Margaret Lane for $.25 at a thrift store, and was wondering if someone might have an opinion of it. It is billed as "A Reconsideration of Mrs Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë" on the title page, and some of the blurbs make it sound like a modernized, spoon-fed version of Gaskell's book. Hmmph. Well, at least it has pretty woodcuts.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Oct 19, 2009 1:53 pm

I will try to make allowances, lys ;))

I haven't read much about the Brontes. That book you found sounds like it could have possibilities, at least. Has anyone here ever heard the literary conspiracy theory that the female Brontes couldn't possibly have written such powerful books (with their limited experience, so the rationale runs, though I think it's also a bit misogynistic in motivation), and that they kept their highly talented brother too drunk to know that they were stealing HIS work and passing it off as their own? I forget where I read this, but I was very much surprised by it! They can't just be smart/talented enough to write on their own; those novels HAVE to have been the product of a male mind 8-|
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Kate » Oct 19, 2009 2:34 pm

ww: I felt much the same way as you. After reading Jane Eyre, I was desperate to read something else by Charlotte and grabbed Villette. I could not have been more disappointed. If you do read it, I'd be very glad to hear your opinion on it. Sometimes I think my expectations of books shape my opinion far too greatly. I should start reading every book with the expectation that it will be terrible...

Interesting theories ww. Clearly the people who believe that also believe that someone else wrote all of Emily Dickenson's poetry.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Amira Tair » Oct 20, 2009 6:33 am

My favourite Rochester is Welles, too. I think he is the one who comes nearer to the character, although I'd like to see Timothy Dalton, that must be an interesting take in the character, too.
I've read Mrs. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë, and more bibliography - especially book introductions - about them, and I have to say that this family fascinates me. They seem to have had such a natural talent since childhood. I've always wondered what great writers were lost with the early death of Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest daughters. Maria, especially, was supposed to be a very intelligent child. Did you know that she was the inspiration for Helen Burns?
Changing subject - or rather, sister ;) , I also like Wuthering Heights a lot, although not as much as Jane Eyre. The story is gripping, the writing wild and passionate, as the landscape, but I don't find the main characters so relatable, and their story does not move me as JE.
Has anyone read anything about Anne Brontë? She seems to be quite forgotten, and she is not a bad writer. I think her problem is that she is not as good as her sisters, and therefore receives less attention, whereas had she been another, she would have been more remembered. I read both her novels, and liked them, especially The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall. It deals with somewhat difficult themes, not usually present in 19th century literature. I'd like to see what you think of it. Agnes Grey is more conventional, though, but worth reading, too.
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