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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

'You Must Try Now to Forget...'


I realise that I have never posted these letters by Charlotte Bronte before. This is a shame because they are among my favourites. Her letters make wonderfull reading, especially when she's angry and being a snark. Here she wonders what it would be like to see an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and then her reaction to a review of one of the first adaptations (if I remember correctly the first adaptation appeared only months after the novel's publication).


TO W. S. WILLIAMS

‘February 5th, 1848.

‘Dear Sir,—A representation of Jane Eyre at a minor theatre would no doubt be a rather afflicting spectacle to the author of that work. I suppose all would be wofully exaggerated and painfully vulgarised by the actors and actresses on such a stage. What, I cannot help asking myself, would they make of Mr. Rochester? And the picture my fancy conjures up by way of reply is a somewhat humiliating one. What would they make of Jane Eyre? I see something very pert and very affected as an answer to that query.

‘Still, were it in my power, I should certainly make a point of being myself a witness of the exhibition. Could I go quietly and alone, I undoubtedly should go; I should endeavour to endure both rant and whine, strut and grimace, for the sake of the useful observations to be collected in such a scene.

‘As to whether I wish you to go, that is another question. I am afraid I have hardly fortitude enough really to wish it. One can endure being disgusted with one’s own work, but that a friend should share the repugnance is unpleasant. Still, I know it would interest me to hear both your account of the exhibition and any ideas which the effect of the various parts on the spectators might suggest to you. In short, I should like to know what you would think, and to hear what you would say on the subject. But you must not go merely to satisfy my curiosity; you must do as you think proper. Whatever you decide on will content me: if you do not go, you will be spared a vulgarising impression of the book; if you do go, I shall perhaps gain a little information—either alternative has its advantage.'

He did go to the performance. His report does not survive, but this is Charlotte's response to his review:

TO W. S. WILLIAMS

‘February 15th, 1848.

‘Dear Sir,—Your letter, as you may fancy, has given me something to think about. It has presented to my mind a curious picture, for the description you give is so vivid, I seem to realise it all. I wanted information and I have got it. You have raised the veil from a corner of your great world—your London—and have shown me a glimpse of what I might call loathsome, but which I prefer calling strange. Such, then, is a sample of what amuses the metropolitan populace! Such is a view of one of their haunts!

‘Did I not say that I would have gone to this theatre and witnessed this exhibition if it had been in my power? What absurdities people utter when they speak of they know not what!

‘You must try now to forget entirely what you saw.'

10 comments:

siansaksa said...

He!He! She seems rather critical in her views of adaptations; I am wondering if any of them (made since then) would have satisfied her "fastidious judgement".

I am also wondering with whom of her main characters she would have identified herself mostly.

Brontëana said...

She was right for the most part! Most of the adaptations do exaggerate everything, include a lot of 'rant, whine, strut, and grimace.' Ciaran Hinds comes to mind. I don't thinks she would have been impressed! And also they do tend to vulgarise (meaning, make appealing to everyone in the sense of 'dumbing down' not necessarily making it disgusting or offensive although they have done that too...).

That's a good question! It strikes me that she mentions her fears for Mr Rochester first.

mysticgypsy said...

"It strikes me that she mentions her fears for Mr Rochester first."

That's what struck me too. It seems like she is quite defensive regarding him. I wonder why she wonders more about him than Jane herself?

Brontëana said...

She does seem concerned for both equally but it is odd that she mentions him first since Jane is of course the main character of the book. The simple answer might be that she recieved more criticism about him than about Jane. The people who criticised Jane were so obviously misreading the book that it hardly seems worth it to contradict them (Miss Rigby thinking that Jane was smoking Mr Rochester's cigar and therefor perhaps doing more with the master than she ought just because Jane knows what it smells like- or that Jane really must be a liar and a horrible person because she has no friends). Mr Rochester on the other hand has some moments were he his morals are questionable. We know how often he is made out to be a brute, or a rake. Jane only really is made weak and passive but not often completely twisted.

ChrisV said...

I am fascinated by this. Could you recommend a particular edition of her published letters?

Liz said...

Haha! I know exactly how she feels sometimes. I, too, like to watch these kind of things completely on my own for fear of others' reaction. You can imagine how disturbing (and illuminating) it was to watch the Polly Teale Jane Eyre in a theatre full of 16-year-old boys.

Personally, Jayston is the only Rochester that doesn't ever set me on edge, so I'm sure he would be her favourite, too.

Brontëana said...

to chrisv:

I have Clement Shorter's Charlotte Bronte and Her Circle. It came out in the late 1800s when some of Charlotte's friends and relatives were still living so the commentary sometimes seems addressed to them (in the case of her husband, consoling him for all of the abuse he had to suffer after her death). It includes letters from Anne, Emily, Branwell, even Patrick... a lot of others... One of my favourites is from Charlotte but quoting a letter from her father.

So often they paint him as a cruel and harsh man... But he wrote this adorable letter in the character of one of the family dogs. The dog addresses his 'dear mistress, Miss Bronte' and cautions her to be careful when dealing with 'men and dogs'. I think 'the dog' also implies he is not getting enough walks or treats as formerly. Something like that :D

There is a link to an etext of the whole book on the sidebar.

Brontëana said...

to liz:

I think you still haven't sent me your comprehensive review (or given permission for me to repost what you wrote at the time). *hint*

;)

Anonymous said...

This may be a silly question, but is it the photo of Charlotte? It doesn't look like her.

Brontëana said...

to anonymous:

This is a photograph of Charlotte Bronte. If you're comparing it with the famous Richmond sketch portrait it makes sense that it wouldn't look right. Most people who knew her said the drawing was inaccurate (and Charlotte actually cried when she saw it and said that it looked like Anne). Generally, her friends said the artist used different angles to make her look less plain.