Charlotte Bronte

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On squirrel crossings.

Published October 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

The other day, when I was driving home from Sussex, I saw a squirrel dash across the Garden State Parkway – across five lanes of speeding traffic – to the other side.  He scurried amongst leaves and shrubs safely and smile spread across my face.  I wish I had that kind of daring and tenacity.

Sometimes, in the morning when I am driving to the high school, I scan through the radio stations.  Inevitably, the dial lands on Bible Thumper radio, which features men who sound impossibly old, who gasp out sermons of fire and brimstone, demanding that we all repent.  I like to leave the station on for a minute or two because I like the eeriness that fills the front of my car.  The streets are usually deserted, my dying, dim headlights lighting on nothing but pavement and painted white lines.  The change that lies discarded in one of two cup holders and clangs irritatingly around in the space as I drive is the only other sound.  It is not comforting; it is unsettling, but I enjoy it all the time.  I suppose that makes me weird.

More and more, I am realizing that the more things change, the more they truly do stay the same.  My belief – or faith? – in a common human thread is affirmed on a daily basis.  Human beings may age physically; hair may grey, joints may weaken, and lines may form, but emotionally, they can be as childish and as whimsical and romantic at seventeen as they can be at ninety-seven.  That knowledge, that possibility, gives me hope and makes me smile time and time again.

Lately, I am becoming more and more obsessed with romance.   I worry that this could be dangerous; dangerous to myself, to those around me, and to my writing endeavors.  To make this obsession more of a contagious disease, enjoy the following passages from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Also, please note that I have booked a hotel room for Salem, Massachusetts.  At least I make good on some promises.

 

“’Because,’ he said, ‘I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.  And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.  As for you—you’d forget me.’”

 

“’I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion.  ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal—as we are!”

On literary snobbery and sex.

Published July 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

Call me a literary snob.

Call me uptight.

Call me prude.

Call me what you will, but upon reading the following linked news article, I became indignant and nearly filled with rage; http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/18/bronte-bondage-classic-literature-gets-fifty-shades-of-grey-treatment/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+time%2Fentertainment+%28TIME%3A+Entertainment%29&utm_content=Google+Reader.

I understand that the current trend in Hollywood dictates that what will be successful will not be new; instead, it will be a reincarnation of what was successful in the past, and more often than not, it will be a crude and diluted version.  What happened to artistic integrity?  It is more than a little disheartening to see millions being made as literary classics – stories already told and stories against which all others are measured – are warped and twisted to fit the fleeting interests of the American public.

I admit I may be in a little hypocritical in my view because I said nothing when Pride and Prejudice because Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I suppose I may have been more forgiving then because that book did not take itself seriously; it did not claim to add to the character development or themes.  It truly added a supernatural element and left it at that.  Now, classic novels are being rewritten to include scenes they claim are “missing;” who can possibly make that claim but the author?  There is nothing “missing” from the relationships between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and between Heathcliff and Catherine.  These novels became classics because of the literary elements which are now deemed unsatisfactory and not entertaining.  They need sex, because everything in society has to be sexy to have value.  That is the message the public is sent through the media, and it has now inevitably trickled into literature.  I would not mind half as much if original stories were more sexualized – I would discount it as a sign of changing times and just more evidence of society’s ever-changing interests.  However, that is not what is happening.

I do not think that anyone who reads Fifty Shades of Grey is a sex-starved, literary simpleton.  Far from it; I completely understand that tastes differ.  Hell, I’m thinking about reading the Fifty Shades trilogy myself.  I think it important to note, however, that two women who have read both the first and the second books in the series complained there was too much sexual interaction between the characters, and not enough character development.  I wonder, then, how introducing sex scenes into literary classics could possibly enhance character development.

Indeed, a large aspect of the sex appeal of literary characters like Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff is that they are mysterious, secretive, allusive, wounded and brooding.  To introduce a physical and intense sex scene robs the characters of that mystery and debases them.  The inclusion of such racy relationships is anachronistic more than anything else; the scenes are not “missing,” as is arrogantly stated in the article.  How presumptuous it is.

It especially bothers me that nothing appears to be sacred anymore.  In this respect, I understand I am not as “progressive” as others and may be deemed old-fashioned, but what happened to keep secret desires, passions and fantasies just that – a secret?  Part of the charm and brilliance of reading is that the reader must use his or her imagination.  Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are incredibly romantic and passionate; the material is all there and it is up to the reader to find it, embrace it and further it as he or she wishes.  It is more effective, in this writer’s humble opinion, to allow the reader to infer.  When Mr. Rochester simply stares at Jane with an impassive countenance, it is enough to imagine what he is thinking.  The unspoken sexual tension that is subtly laced throughout is not only a masterful skill of the craft of writing, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of the stories.

Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic novel; something some would argue is akin to porn.  Whether or not porn is an art form is not the argument I am trying to present.  I am only upset that artistic integrity is being traded in for commercial success.  It is a shame.  Even Fifty Shades of Grey was inspired by another idea; it started out as fanfiction of the Twilight series.  At least E.L. James did not try rewriting the series; she created a world and characters of her own.

PROMPT: A man ducks into a dress shop to escape a sudden downpour and finds himself in the middle of a heated debate between the employees.

PIECE: Tom hadn’t expected the sudden and furious onslaught of rain, and neither had anyone else, judging by the mass exodus of people from the sidewalks and pavements into nearby stores and under any awning.  It was the summer, and sweeping rains were not uncommon, but remained an annoyance.  Holding his toned arms crossed above his carefully gelled-hair atop his intelligent head, Tom ducked into a women’s dress shop on the right side of the street.  The bell dinged from above as he entered, but no one else seemed to acknowledge his arrival.  Matter of fact, the shop seemed relatively deserted.  It was dimly lit, which Tom figured was supposed to give the boutique-ish store some ambience, but it only made him squint (like doing so would help him to see better) and give him a headache.

There was some soft jazz-sounding music emitting softly from the speakers overhead, but the speakers were in need of repair and the sound crackled and went silent every now and again.  Tom gave a glance out the windows, saw the rain pounding against everything in its path and sighed heavily, assuming he’d be in the store for a while.  He began making his way toward the sales counter.  Tom really wasn’t sure why he chose that path, and chalked it up to being more instinct than anything else.  Then again, maybe he was just bored and looking for some human interaction.  Either way, what else was he supposed to do?

Tom was greeted at the counter by screaming, shrill and distinctly feminine voices.  Two women, both young and red in the face, were shouting at each other.  Their arms waved to and fro in wild gesticulations, clearly indicating to Tom that both women were clearly passionate about the subject which was the topic of conversation, or rather, the argument.  Smiling to himself, proud of his chauvinistic cleverness, Tom assumed it would be about the different membership advantages of Team Edward versus Team Jacob.  He moved forward, ready with a clever and discreetly insulting remark about such a discussion, certain that while catching the ladies off guard, it would impress them with his intelligence and thereby make him immediately irresistible.  Tom opened his mouth to proclaim his witty retort, but was suddenly silenced when he actually stopped and listened to what was being said.

“But there are two different kinds of government spending, Melinda,” the young woman on the right explained.  “And both kinds need to be cut, both direct spending and discretionary spending, to get our economy back on its feet!”

Melinda rolled her eyes.  She said, “But, Crystal, what you really want to do is cut direct spending and completely reform needed and beneficial programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  People depend on those programs.”

Crystal looked tired.  “Reform is not the same as negating or cutting.  Surely you realize that!”

Tom cleared his throat and both women turned their heads toward him quickly.  Their impassioned expressions smoothed and they thoughtlessly resumed the role of clerk, of liaison to the masses.  To Tom, they looked prettier this way; eager to serve, aiming to please and ignorant of economics and its accompanying buzzwords.

“You ladies read Twilight?” he offered lamely.

On storms and stories.

Published July 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Currently, I am anxiously awating the arrival of what is supposed to be one hell of a summer storm. I can hear thunder rumbling low in the distance, like the growl of a frightened dog that begins back in its throat as it backs up and straightens the hair on its haunches to stand at attention. The skies are gray, but the dying sunlight is somehow still managing to poke through here and there so that above looks more like a worn, thin sheet with a bald light bulb shining behind it, like the side of a child’s hand-crafted fort. The oppressive heat that plagued us yesterday and for the vast majority of today has finally started to abate and I am considering taking Jane Eyre out onto the back porch so I can simultaneously read one of my favorite books of all time, and have a front row seat for the storm.

Normally, I like to read one book at a time, but there is so little time and so much to be read, that I’ve decided I can manage two books at a time. I read a chapter a day from Glenn Beck’s Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure and as much as I want from Jane Eyre. This way, I can broaden my literary repetoire and still adhere to my beloved favorites. A major benefit will be feeling inspired – reading other creative work to fuel the dying fire of my own.

Let’s hope it works and I can break free of my slump.

PROMPT: “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

PIECE: Jacob bounced the quarter against the laminate countertop of the bar which jutted out from the wall, but despite all his athleticism and silent prayers, the coin did not go into the shot glass.  Instead, it bounced wildly away from him, rolled off the other side and just beneath the humming fridge.  The fridge was surrounded by a crowd of partygoers who seemed to quite enjoy their prime location – near the drinking games and the fun times while having liquor and beer close at hand and easily accessible.  It could take Jacob quite some time to maneuver through the bodies to the coin, and then return and get the quarter into the glass.  During that retrieval time, his adversary across the bar could easily get his quarter into the shot glass and play would continue on, and Jacob’s team would lose and it would be all his fault.  He would have to endure friendly teasing that would, in time, become annoying and he’d be forced to chug beers as a consequence and normally he wouldn’t mind one bit, but at the present moment, he was already quite intoxicated and vomiting was a possibility.  He couldn’t puke, not tonight, not when Rebecca was standing by the window, making idle chatter with a female companion who seemed utterly bored and boring.  Trying to think quick but the alcohol did slow him down some, Jacob called out, “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

The two teams broke out into riotous laughter, but seemed to acquiesce to Jacob’s request.  The metallic dings of the coins against the counter were silenced and the volume level of conversation increased.  Pleased with himself and smiling, Jacob scrambled over to the fridge and dropped down to his hands and knees.  He turned his head to peer underneath the fridge and his coin should have been right there at the end, bisected by the fridge, half concealed and half revealed.  It was not there, however, and Jacob was baffled.  Where could it have gone?  Did some tightwad, some poor college student, pick it up, not realizing it was a vital component for the intense and competitive game underway?  Jacob rose to kneeling and rested on his heels.  He looked around again, but found neither coin nor culprit.  Sighing heavily, Jacob called out, “Does anyone have a quarter?”

“I do,” called Rebecca from the window.  Mouth agape, Jacob slowly turned his head, so slowly he was sure those around him could hear it creaking.  He turned his head as if he were in a horror movie, turning slowly to try and comprehend the illogical and all too real monster behind him, waiting and ready to pounce.  That’s not what Rebecca was; she was a dream, a beauty, an intellect, a vision.  Hurriedly, he rose to his feet and did his best to walk over to her without weaving and swerving, and thereby revealing just how intoxicated he really was.  Jacob assumed he pulled it off because Rebecca’s smile did not fade as he neared.

“Hey Rebecca, thanks, “ Jacob said as he took the quarter from her outstretched hand and halted to stand beside her.  “Why don’t you come on over and join in the fun?”

“Jake, have you seen these lights?” Rebecca asked, sounding distracted and far away.

Moving closer to the window, Jacob paused a moment to gaze out of the window and into the night sky.  He saw few stars, their brilliance muted by the city lights, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Then suddenly, there was a giant orange flash across the middle of the sky.  It happened again shortly thereafter, and Jacob was near breathless when he said, “I saw that just now.  That’s crazy; how long has that been going on?”

“Since I got here,” Rebecca answered.  “I think they’re getting closer.”

Together, Jacob and Rebecca watched open-mouthed.  The lights were indeed getting closer.  They did not speak, but only stared.

In the morning, both were dead.

P.S. – That storm I was waiting on never arrived; such is life.

On wine and whine.

Published June 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

 

Having lunch with two beautiful, engaged young woman does not appear to be an arduous task.  It does, however, become difficult for the “third wheel,” the young woman not engaged or even dating, the young woman with no romantic prospects whatsoever.  It becomes increasingly difficult to keep the smile radiant and the eyes dry as the conversation continues and the loneliness creeps closer, like some kind of pickpocket on a packed, commuter train.

I suppose that’s all melodramatic, isn’t it?  Sorry – occupational hazard.  Then again, maybe it has nothing to do with my emotional state as a writer; maybe I’ve had too much wine, or maybe I’m so pensive and lonely because I’m currently experiencing “womanly issues” (don’t want to offend or alienate any male readers – you’re welcome).  Or maybe it’s because I was watching the recent film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre.  I’m fairly certain I’ve sung the praises of this film in another blog entry, but I have no qualms about doing so again because it is fantastic.  I was sobbing as Mr. Rochester raised Jane in his strong arms at the foot of the stairs, spinning around and kissing her mouth in sheer joy as a result of their upcoming nuptials.  We should all be so lucky, no?  Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald wrote, “… youth does not need friends – it needs only crowds ….”  Is it more important to be loved, or to have people know that you’re loved, especially considering the digital age in which we are living?

Where’s the romance, the drama?  “Expectations are such a drag,” says Ida Maria in her song “We’re All Going to Hell.”  I couldn’t agree more; life is hard – way harder than I ever thought or expected it could be.  To quote Rob Thomas, “I barely started and now I’m falling apart.”  I’ll be twenty-four in September and that number scares the living hell out of me because I feel as if I have nothing to show for it.  We all feel that way at times, don’t we?  When does it get better?  Mumford and Sons seem to answer this quandry: “You’re not as brave as you were at the start.”

Maybe I should stop listening to sad songs.

On a sad note, R.I.P. Nora Ephron: thank you and damn you for providing me with unrealistic expectations and fantastical notions about romance. You will be missed.

PROMPT: “He’s the cutest little boy.  Makes it that much sadder, doesn’t it?”

PIECE:

“He’s the cutest little boy.  Makes it that much sadder, doesn’t it?”

Jane, standing beside her mother and studying the same flyer, nodded soundlessly in agreement.  The soft-looking brown hair that fell shamelessly across his brow was more likely than not lovingly tousled by a doting father, from whom the little boy had inherited his sharp chin.  The dimple in the center of it, though – Jane surmised that came from the mother who had given her son everything she had and then some, only to be repaid for a momentary lapse in supervision with an incredibly harsh and severe punishment.  With a horrifying kind of sadness that ached and pulsed, Jane could see the mother kneeling before her son, smiling sweetly.  The mother had just praised her son for good behavior – or maybe she had stooped to kiss and heal a boo-boo.  Regardless, the mother most certainly would have ended the encounter by planting a simple kiss upon her pointer finger and then transplanting it on the dimple of her son’s strong chin.  It would have been a gestured she performed thoughtlessly time and time again, and which she would have contributed no special significance to save for the fact that she may never be able to do it again.  The boy’s bright eyes made of paper though they currently were, twinkled with a contradictory air of innocent mischief.  His mouth was open and laughing in the picture scanned for the flyer and it was grainy, but did not diminish the vibrancy and the life of the adorable little boy.  Someone else had done that, whoever it was that stole him from the comfort and safety from his family.  That was Jane’s assumption, that someone had seen the little boy and snatched him up.  It happened all the time.  Monsters were real and they looked just like everyone else; it was getting harder and harder to stay safe and to stay human.  Luckily for Jane, the tears pricking at the backs of her eyes as she surveyed the poster of the missing boy reminded her of her empathy and humanness.  It made her sick that it came at the expense of a missing child.

“I hope they find him,” Jane’s mother said, turning away from the poster.  She pushed the rattling, rusted shopping cart through the automatic sliding doors on their left.

Jane did not follow.  She remained where she stood, transfixed by the misery calmly and plainly emanating from the flyer.  This poor boy was missing and his family was begging, sobbing and pleading for information, for assistance.  No one else stood beside Jane to wonder and grieve.  Her own mother had walked inside, resuming her life as if there had been no disruption, as if everything was going according to some greater plan.  Jane couldn’t stand it.  It made her want to scream and tear her hair out by the roots.  Where was the sense of community?  Where was the fabled brotherhood of man?  Wasn’t everyone all in this together?

She stood crying silently and alone.

On bearing it.

Published May 8, 2012 by mandileighbean

“Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.”

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

On making progress.

Published April 30, 2012 by mandileighbean

I haven’t made it official by consulting my blog’s statistics, but I do believe that “On being worse than teenage poetry” is my most popular entry thus far! That being said, I am clearly going to revisit that topic and include similar posts in the future. I would like to take this opporunity to thank every single person who read it and enjoyed it, regardless of whether or not you commented. It means the world to me that my writing has the ability to help me connect with people I have never met. That, my friends, is what it is all about, and why I really became a writer – to connect, only connect, just like E.M. Forrester wrote in the beginning of Howard’s End (which is an AWESOME read, by the way).

And speaking of reading, have any of you gotten a chance to read Fifty Shades of Gray? I’ve been hearing mixed reviews, but am truly tempted to see what all the buzz is about. It was highly and adamantly recommended by a colleague, so I feel an obligation to check it out. Currently, I’m reading four books: Jane Eyre, Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, Broke and Elixir.  Operation Anaconda is the true account of a military operation during the war in Afghanistan and Broke is Glenn Beck’s take on the current economical crisis.  Jane Eyre is an old favorite and Elixir is Hilary Duff’s first novel, which was recommended and then lent to me by a student. I’m enjoying all of them, the first two because I feel I am broadening my interests and educating myself. What are you reading?

This weekend was hectic, but also productive. My gradebook is all caught up, and I’ve printed progress reports for my students. 🙂 The trick now is remembering to hand them out. Also, I spent a lot of time with my family, and it was enjoyable, incredible and remarkable. I highly recommend spending more time with those that matter most.

Okay. So, truth be told, I am NOT crazy about the prompt for tonight, but hey: it gets me writing and thinking, and that’s what matters most.

Enjoy.  🙂

PROMPT: Most of us set a New Year’s resolution that this was going to be the year we finished our manuscript. But once again, we neglected it. Write an apology letter to your manuscript explaining what happened and how you plan to make it up to the manuscript by December 31.

Dear Second Manuscript,

I am terribly sorry I have yet to get us off to a roaring start, let alone a stellar finish.  My first manuscript is settled and in the midst of the publishing process and yet, I feel unable to move on and leave the plot and characters behind.  Perhaps it is that reluctance that has prevented me from entering into what I am sure will be a whirlwind romance with you.  I imagine the ups and downs, and am enthralled.  Honestly, there is nothing I desire more than to start anew with you.  Every sinew, every pulse and every heart beat is screaming for something new, for an original passion that will make me feel less ordinary and less stagnant.

But where to begin?

Maybe you could help? Offer an idea, or intriguing phrase that will serve as the launching pad for the next great American novel?

Forever yours,

Mandi

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