Home Resources Livejournal Feed Wordpress

Friday, December 30, 2005

Too Bronte, not Bronte enough!

What [sweet] madness is this? This year has been ridiculous for reviews criticising films and plays for being too Bronte or not Bronte enough, when in fact the Brontes have nothing at all to do with it.

Jasper Fforde has a unique explaination for where Heathcliff acquired his fortune: he made in starring in Hollywood films. Somehow, I don't think this is what he meant. Yes, this time, King Kong has been Bronteised... I don't mean the film, I mean the giant gorrilla. Apparently he gives off a faux air of Heathcliff. I haven't seen the movie but, I... this is just silly! (surely? ...)

Much ado was made over the excess of 'Bronte' in the recent film of Pride and Prejudice. I would like to say that it isn't Bronte- it's Romanticism. And yes, Romanticism and Jane Austen ne'er should mix. I did see this film, and I was at least pleased that Mr Darcy didn't propose to Elizabeth under one of the elms- which I feared would happen. That said, I really did just write 'Heathcliff' instead of 'Mr Darcy' so perhaps it was subliminal Bronte after all! To those who say he's just Mr Rochester is disguise, I ask you when you've ever seen Mr Rochester walking around outside without a cravat, hm? Shameless...

(for much and more raillery besides, drop by Austenblog).

The list goes on and on... Previously on Bronteana I responded to claims that Memoirs of a Geisha was like Jane Eyre, and now the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical 'Woman in White' has been railled against for not being Bronte enough.

I would like to think I know something about the Brontes, and yet, I have no idea what is meant by a film being 'too Bronte' or 'not Bronte enough'. Do they mean Romantic, or Gothic? Why not just say 'Gothic'? I suppose that 'Romantic' is too much associated with 'romantic' to be of any use. Is Bronte, then, a modern short-hand for Romantic? (I've never heard someone say a work is 'too Wordsworth!'

13 comments:

mysticgypsy said...

Hi Bronteana
Yeah..I've heard such claims as well..especially when a bunch of people I know discussed the recent Pride and Prejudice movie. Basically they (my friends)thought it was Bronte-ish because of the scenery (Yorkshire ?!), and the fact that the film seemed "dark"-as in not glossed over like the BBC Austen movies. I guess people tend to associate rebellious women along with a dark setting as being typically Bronte-esque. That said, I think the context is critical. Even amongst those I know, some just refer to Bronte when they really mean something is "gothic" while other just look at the tempestous nature of the characters/relationships in a story and think this is typically Bronte-ish. Then again, even others misunderstand the term "Romantic", and make loose connections with their own definition and that of the works by the Brontes.

As for the Wordsworth-ish claim, I actually have heard it. One of my profs used to say it quite a bit. I took this 18th century Lit class and this term came up quite a bit (esp. when referring to the poem "A Nocturnal Reverie" by Anne Finch).

Brontëana said...

Well said. I vaguely recall that one of the houses credited with inspiring Thornfield hall was in Derbyshire, which is certainly fitting! No one I know has refered to something as 'Bronte'. When I use the term I mean that it looks like something specific has been lifted or more precisely grafted in- like the rainstorm in this film, but really that doesn't have to be the case. You don't need to read JE to get the idea.

I stand corrected! I've never heard that before. I did have a prof who just threw 'ish' into everything he said- at the end of statements, almost as a way of saying 'are you with me?' ;)

frankengirl said...

King Kong as Heathcliff - Egads!

Yes, yes, I wrote a P&P '05 review as well ;) and got caught in the fire at AustenBlog. This too-Bronte lingo is definitely an oversimplification! A kind of short-hand, as you say, for Gothic, Romanticism, Passionate Melodrama.

But I do understand this compare/contrast (since I often do it myself): Rochester/Heathcliff vs. Darcy/Knightley. The wild, passionate hero (who must be tamed or die tragically) vs. the staid, snobbish man (who must be softened/stirred or live without true love/intimacy).

They are such iconic heroes in our cultural consciousness, symbolizing different desires, different lifestyles (yet we can love them all -;) and so some may be uncomfortable when the lines between them blur too much (although, in reality, no one is all one thing or another). And these (alas, fictional) heroes should be allowed to breathe; be more than mere symbols.

Brontëana said...

If anything I would have thought Tarzan/Jane Eyre (me Rochester, you Jane) or something but no. ;) What would a giant gorrilla live on on the Yorkshire moors, anyway, I wonder...

I really enjoyed your post on P&P. The discussion of JE DVD covers was amusing too. It is so true- the 1983 one especially ;)

I think also, I am bothered by the lack of more of the 2nd kind of heroes you mentioned. I feel I am being patronised when I go to the movies, sometimes. This is why I dislike the A&E version of JE so much- it takes out all of the poetry, and moral debate replacing it with lots of panting and drool. Some loose clothes, drool, heavy breathing do not passion make- and they don't make a good story and are not 'Bronte' ;) Jane describes Mr Rochester to Bessy as being gentlemanlike, everyone confirms him as having good manners etc. But he's unconventional and 'peculiar.' That's part of the attraction on my part. But you cannot really 'bank' on that nowadays, can you?

mysticgypsy said...

hahaah I agree Brontena! The drool, heavy breathing definitly takes out the passionate aspect, like in the A$E version EWWWW.

About Rochester..though Jane did think him "gentleman-like", was he "unconventional and peculiar" only to those closest to him? Or was that part of the whole package? Mrs. Fairfax called him peculiar as well but she was his housekeeper. Maybe he looked contained and very "proper" on the outside? I suppose Blanche did not (or didn't care to) know about the unconventional side of him? I have often wondered what a modern day Rochester look like :P Its so intriguing!!

Brontëana said...

It is intriguing!

Mrs Fairfax says it is 'nothing striking', and Jane's observations seem to confirm that the ladies at least don't seem to read him as she does (she observes them not reacting to certain looks he gives them that she would not have been able to take as cooly. She concludes that he is 'not of their kind'). Mrs. Fairfax really does have a superficial impression of him. But my point is that this shows he isn't a brute, shouting and grimacing all of the time. If he were, Jane would be told that she should understand that he's like that but it's his way etc... Instead she is told that he has the manners and tastes of a gentleman but that there's something odd about him and that he's clever. I think part ofthe 'peculiarity' lies in his wit. Jane doesn't even understand what he says at times, although she- unlike Mrs Fairfax, understands the 'innermost beginnings' of what he says. He's a puzzle. Shame he is always simplified down to man who is just angry at the world. :-/

I think he was peculiar to everyone. Mrs Fairfax, despite her simplistic view of him does notice that strangers might think he is 'changeful and abrupt' but that she doesn't notice it. I suppose, then, his moody temperment is not his peculiarity because those nearest to him don't seem to notice his moodiness. The changes of mood, at least from Jane's POV, are also not his natural temperment. She believes early on that they arise from 'former faults and associates'.

I don't believe that by 'gentlemanly' mrs Fairfax meant 'contained'. He is 'a good master', sociable when he isn't brooding on his 'error'. But he is unconventional, unafraid of doing or saying the unexpected.

I think he is unconventional because he recognises that convention is un-natural. He is the naturally good man (nearly) ruined by convention- and of this he is keenly aware himself.

We could talk for months about him- there are so many layers to his character. I have maxed out the comment quota on blogs before... several times, while talking about him! :) I have rambled too much here I fear but scowling, stomping Rochesters are something of a pet peeve of mine.

frankengirl said...

Ah, yes! If the characters are blown-up into balloons and the "moral debate" deflated, JE makes little sense to me.

The romance alone may be dramatic, amusing, moving, but what of JE's spiritual journey? Her longing to do right by God, but her disgust of hard-hearted, greedy institutional religious figures (the likes of Brocklehurst) and self-important martyrs (St. John). The fascinating way she shapes and reshapes her spirituality - not to justify her own actions, but because the other choices offered her are so inferior. Even as she grows critical (even cynical) toward worldly interpretations of faith, she never loses her trust in God. Yet, so many versions (IMHO) entirely gloss over the "religion vs. spirituality" debate.

And I think this debate makes JE very modern, very pertinent today. I believe JE (or CB) would have much to say as America breaches the separation of church and state. ;)

So many feminists today long for spirituality (just as JE) but have difficulty finding a place for themselves in churches which deny the equality of women (in some form or another).

Ah ... I do go on and on... Well, if you didn't write such *great* posts, I wouldn't be tempted - see, I'm blaming you (hee, hee) :P

btw, as for Rochester being played solely as morose, aaaaaaaaagh! Why do adaptations overlook the gypsy scene (among others)! How could a "morose man" play such a delightfully deceitful role! Rochester is moody, yes, but also: a terrific (and overbearing) flirt!

Also, I think he feels more free to be "unconventional" (aka "himself") with Jane and show his many sides to her, whilst he plays the "gentleman" for others. Thus, he's his true self with his true love.

Brontëana said...

You're absolutely right about the glossing over the religious aspect. Much of this is the result, I think, of thinking of the entire St.John episode as 'a mistake' that has nothing to do with the story- or so the writers of the Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles version thought. The A&E one again surpasses the others in this particular. Helen is less a model of Christian piety than she is a believer in karma. I thinks she says something about how the bad will get theirs and the good will be rewarded. Brocklehurst I don't recall, but Mr Rochester is now thoroughly a-religious instead of a back-slid 'common place sinner' of a Christian. What clinches it, though, is when he says she would not do something that was wrong. Of course, in the novel Jane's stance is definately that she likes to obey him 'in all that is right'. In this version she interrupts him and says "well, it depends". Depends on what?! Her refusal to stay, which is otherwise played very well, loses its power when it becomes a cliche... Without the moral objections she claims it is to keep their 'love from twising into something ugly.' I cannot recall if she brings up how it would be a betrayal of her own identity or no...

Readings of JE that ignore the religious aspect also tend to be confused. This leads to thinking the ending is flawed, the middle is flawed. Anything not about privation or romance is flawed!

It depresses me how much we have not learned from this book. I still know far too many women who's ideal is to have any man at all marry them. I can think of only handfuls who would be content and happy alone if they could not find someone right for them- who loved them rather than just appreciating their body. Or how convention in moral matters is more important than the substance. Maybe the tendency to think of the book as just a work to divert and titilate has left its messages drifting. I can't say.

Mr Rochester is a minx ;) A lot of the productions I've heard make him quite minxy indeed (doing Celine impersonations, for instance).Just one more thing which is overlooked is the humor of the book! It's so funny at times.

I think you may be on to something about Feminism as well. I am a Christian but I came to it outside of a church setting and in a family where I was forbidden, in fact, to go to church (my father is Muslim). I have experienced first hand not only the divide between the Christian and the Secular but the divides between conventions from one denomination to the next. I go on alone until I can find one that does not ask me to believe what I don't believe is true. In the meantime, many are happy to criticse me for not following convention as though it implied I was also not a good Christian. As Charlotte said, 'conventionality is not morality' but they have not learned that yet. (maybe they should read Jane Eyre ;). So, for me there is no conflict between my feminism and my Christianity- and I'll let the others rant all they like. Emily was right too- my faith is between me and God.

btw, I love reading such comments. This is a blog for 'discussion' after all! :)

frankengirl said...

Okay, here's a comment for the land of lost comments! :D

<"I still know far too many women who's ideal is to have any man at all marry them. I can think of only handfuls who would be content and happy alone if they could not find someone right for them- who loved them rather than just appreciating their body.">

Yes! Well, it seems like the "Cinderella Myth" is so pervasive in society and deeply seeded into young girls. So Jane's story (among others) gets compressed and starts to resemble Cinderella's. (I've got nothing against Cinderella, personally. I'm sure there's much more to her than was ever written ;).

But it's a myth that a man is a "prize" promising "happily ever after." Men and women are flawed and complicated. So I agree! It's sad when a woman's journey seems only to be the attainment of a man rather than the attainment of one's self-worth and identity. CB is so clearly writing the latter! JE becomes her own woman before she returns to Rochester (free, self-sufficient, etc). She has choice, and it's her choice in the end, not Rochester's, to live with him.

Yet, as you say, many strong women seem to choose the loneliness of a loveless relationship rather than love of self. We seem to forget there are so many kinds of love to fill a life (and romantic love is only one kind). In college, I wanted to start a "Spinster Society of America" (no, it didn't catch on ;) because I hoped to make the word "spinster" as attractive as the word "bachelor."

As for religion - it's so bizarre that film versions of JE omit St. John Rivers - when he's so pivotal to Jane's decision - her internal debate between convention and morality, religion and spirituality - her ultimate "choice." As you say, the story becomes confused without this piece of her journey.

Religion can be a touchy subject, but CB goes at it - straight on. And it strikes me that JE would be applauding you on your own journey (and stepping alongside you). It takes courage to brave and pave your own way on your spiritual path. :)

Brontëana said...

I am thankful that my mother always said to us "You don't need a man to be happy" but it seems like everywhere I turn- especially whenever I leave the university ;) I see the opposite being cried out from every direction. I don't feel influenced by it, but it shocks me- especially when I can see the lesson so clearly spelled out in JE, more than a hundred years ago.

JE criticism seems to be obsessed with several things and one of them is the notion that the St.John sections are not relevant to the story as a whole and are just there to provide contrast to Rochester a la the Gothic genre's convention of having two men- one dark and ultimately vilainous and the other fair and virtuous. Bah, I say. I intend to post an article I came across last week that provoked me on this and other grounds. Then we'll have a lot of discuss, I'm sure! :)

Maybe you have not met the right spinsters ;) Two friends of mine (in the US) started a group for themselves called B.O.Y.S, A.K.A "The Brigade of Young Spinsters" and it has been quite popular! We have about half a dozen members, not counting fictional characters. (Miss Havisham is the president of our sister organisation: B.O.S.S: the "Brigade of Senior Spinsters." And among my friends there is quite a spinster culture, if one can call it that!

Come to think of it, I must have read JE for the first time somewhere around when I became a Christian. I think it was shortly afterwards. The story then was not a romance for me at all (maybe I was too young- the romance was very much secondary!). It was definately about Jane's strength of character. I also don't think that there's much in the way of reasonable religious treatment in films today. Most of the time you get some kind of caricature of religion- usually a negative one. The Musical is nice in that it has a balance. Brocklehurst is suitable despicable, but Helen and Jane's faith never seems 'preachy' or unreal. It is very much a faith that's put to use in their lives. St.John, on the other hand... unfortunately was watered down by the time it reached Bdway. Initially he was spot on- repulsive in how he will use Jane's faith against her.

frankengirl said...

Ah, it can be *very* shocking - coming out of college. I recall everyone wanting to "fix me up." Ugh. Your mum is a wise woman. I'm so glad to hear of this "spinster culture!" And I suppose (seeing that I'm wed to Wolfboy) that I consider spinsterhood more than a lifestyle choice, but also, a state of mind. ;)

I'm impressed by the Musical's references to God and spirituality that are often missing from the films. Pity St. John got watered down. But you've said it so well - about St. John being misunderstood as no more than the "other man." Bah, I second you. And look forward to your post! Until then... all the best, FG

Brontëana said...

The Wichita recording has the most stern St.John of all- I heartily approve ;) His unreasonable (and prideful!) determinations are also nicely contrasted with Jane's simple reply. At one point he cries out that "travelling together without the ties of marriage would be sinful in the eyes of Man and God!" (nonsense!). Jane calmly replies "St.John, it would never do."

If you betray your lord
at your dying breath
you'll burn in ever-lasting torment-
die a second death!

Perfectly horrid. ;)

Crazy Slots said...

I do not trust you