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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Emma Brown and the morality of editing.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I brought up a Brontë adaptation, Emma Brown, in a course I am taking on editing practices. We had just finished collating two volumes of poetry by an obscure Canadian poet. The first edition of his works had been seriously tampered with. The editor chose to delete lines from the poems, and--worst of all-- add an entire stanza. She didn't bother mentioning that she had 'improved' these poems and the edition stood as the canonical text for about 50 years as I understand! Most of us were outraged, a few took the view that writing is a 'transition' and had no problem with it. To lead us on in the discussion, our teacher put forward the scenario of finishing a novel. Would it be right for someone to finish a novel? I suppose, in a sense, this is what 'Emma Brown' is supposed to be.

Emma Brown is a novel by Clare Boyland. It begins with the two chapter fragment 'Emma' written by Charlotte Brontë. I have no read anything about the author's purpose or plan for writing 'Emma Brown' and have looked at it in different ways. In short, and what I told my classmates, was that I find the idea of 'finishing' a novel interesting provided that the novel is seen as a new work (It might seem silly, but the editor of the Canadian poems clearly did not put these poems forward as new pieces). At home I have an antique volume which includes the Emma fragment and I also have 'Emma Brown'. I can read the fragment as Charlotte's work, and Emma Brown as Boyland's, and this is only fair.

Most of the reviews--if not all the reviews... okay ALL the reviews of Emma Brown comment on how 'like' a 'Brontë novel' it is, or is not. I am unsure how I feel about this. For one, it is uncharitable to Boyland that her work succeeds or fails only when matched with one of the greatest authors in English literature. Also, this is not a Brontë novel. However, in choosing to make use of Charlotte's fragment Boyland has to take responsibility for it in some way. It seems that she has tried to do so. The novel includes some underpinnings which include quotes from Charlotte's letters, and backstories culled from her juvenilia.

Is it right for someone to 'complete' Charlotte's 'Emma'? I believe it is. I think there could be a dozen attempts to work with it, and they could all be as individual as the author's writing them but they should not be so tightly bound to Charlotte's name and reputation. Of 'Emma Brown' itself, I will say that I found it to be a page-turner and a good mystery but found little statisfying in it beyond this.


Cristina said...

Great blog you have here!! :D

You left a comment at BrontëBlog - of course you can link it. I'll link you too - it's not everyday that one finds a blog devoted to the Brontës, is it?

I'm glad you found us too! :) See you!!

Cristina from BrontëBlog.

rinabeana said...

This is an interesting question. As a Brontë enthusiast (esp. Charlotte), my immediate response was, "The nerve to try to 'finish' Charlotte's novel!" Upon some reflection, though, I can appreciate what you're saying about viewing the work separately. I do think, though, that if you have to build on someone else's idea, it's hard not to compare. I can't help but feel that if you want something to be evaluated independent of the work of others, you should be as original as possible.

I have to say that I've read some "sequels" written by different authors than the original works, and been nearly traumatized. It's impossible for me not to compare, and they never seem to measure up. I've not read the Emma fragment or Emma Brown, and I'm not sure if I want to add the novel to my reading list or not.

Brontëana said...

to Cristina:

The amount of news on your blog is amazing! I'm glad you decided to publish online or else I probably would never have heard about some of these things.

Brontëana said...

to Rinabeana:

It is very hard not to compare, and I do have an entirely different opinion of the book as 'a bronte novel' which is how it is advertised, sadly. As a 'Bronte novel' I think it fails miserably. The prose annoyed me on its own and then the attempts to tie in Charlotte's letters came across as being tacky. The characters she tried to base on Brontë prototypes were uninteresting and mostly unrealistic while her original characters were very well drawn. She would have done better to write more in her own voice, I think.

I did feel 'traumatised' after I read Emma Brown, but I often feel like that when I read those sequels, just as you say. Adele was particularly awful in that respect. And while Wide Sargasso Sea did't effect me much at all, I was annoyed by critics claiming that I MUST change everything.

I think I'd only recomend Emma Brown as a good page-turning mystery but not as a continuation or adaptation of Charlotte's work.

e_spanou said...

I just wanted to say that thanks to you I've finally read the beggining of Emma and I was trully touched. I had read that Charlotte Bronte's husband tried to dissuade her from writing and had told her that as the story of "Emma" is about a girl in a school she would be accused of repeating "Jane Eyre". I'm glad to find this would not be the case as this is a true different story, which also contradicts some rewiers who said that she had wrote pretty much about everything she could, inssinuating that her careee was over as she was also in no longer good terms with her editors. It's such a shame she died without finishing it. Her writing has pulse, rythm and with few words she introduces fairly clearly her first heroes. She also seemed to be sure about what she had written. I never thought Emma would be a full text of two chapters. I always thought it would be a delineation of the main theme. Something like a sketch.