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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Oh How True!

The Guardian publishes today an interesting article about portraiture in the arts. Specically, how authors seems to give readers mere 'corner of the eye glances' when describing characters. Few authors go through the trouble of expending lengthy description on faces. There seems to be a practical reason behind this:

You can see why so few authors choose to make the attempt. Listing every feature will not only fatally hold up the narrative, but may antagonise the poor confused reader who can't remember what "aquiline" means and thinks that an "almond" eye must be brown and nutty. Besides, what purpose will it serve to expend 500 words on the tilt of this particular nose and the set of this particular jaw? No, indeed. Facial detail is rarely kept in mind at all by a reader. A devotee of Jane Eyre tends to remember that, say, Mr Rochester is a dark sort of man, and that Jane is a short sort of woman, and this is quite enough to go on - especially when one's attention keeps being caught by such things as cackles from the attic and beds catching fire.

This amuses me somewhat in light of how often I hear of how handsome Mr Rochester is. Oh, there are dozens of reasons why he is not ugly, believe me. Charlotte didn't really know that her character was handsome all along, or that she is just showing that Jane really didn't know what real love was until later and then he sort of prettifies. Or that she doesn't actually describe him as ugly at all ("He was rather an ugly man"), or... Nevermind the long sections of the novel concerned with how worthless is valuing people based on their appearance.

Mr Rochester is a darkish man, and Jane is kinda short. I can live with this.

2 comments:

vaire said...

Interesting.

I've also heard so many people try to render Jane a beauty — she only *thought* she was plain because she had such a low self-esteem. :p

Brontëana said...

Another favourite! Yes, despite all the talk in the novel about how irrelevant physical beauty is, we learn that Rochester and Jane were among the most beautiful people of their time. In fact, their beauty was so irridescent that Charlotte Bronte felt it either could not be captured in illustration, or that it would burn the retinae of her readers, and so forbade illustration. It was only a nasty rumor that she had explained her decision by saying they were too ugly.