Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jane Awake

The opals hiding your lids
as you sleep, as you ride ponies
mysteriously, spring to bloom
like the blue flowers of autumn

each nine o'clock. And curls
tumble languorously towards
the yawning rubber band, tan,
your hand pressing all that

riotous black sleep into
the quiet form of daylight
and its sunny disregard for
the luminous volutions, oh!

and the budding waltzes
we swoop through in nights.
Before dawn you roar with
your eyes shut, unsmiling,

your volcanic flesh hides
everything from the watchman,
and the tendrils of dreams
strangle policemen running by

too slowly to escape you,
the racing vertiginous waves
of your murmuring need. But
he is day's guardian saint

that policeman, and leaning
from your open window you ask
him what to dress to wear and
to comb your hair modestly,

for that is now your mode.
Only by chance tripping on stairs
do you repeat the dance, and
then, in the perfect variety of

subdued, impeccably disguised,
white black pink blue saffron
and golden ambiance, do we find
the nightly savage, in a trance.

--Frank O'Hara

Monday, August 28, 2006

My life has been rather topsy-turvy for the last couple of days. Besides having to make a lot of important decisions, I've had to approach that daunting task of apartment hunting entirely on my own. I can no longer fall back on the college as a safety net, just as much as I had rather not importune my parents any further on my account.

Though draining, the act of having to make inquiries, introductions, and visits to apartments is not without its share of amusements. Some apartment-for-sale ads asked one to introduce one's self in quirky ways. Others had descriptions about the future roommates that looked to me as if I was reading about prospective partners in something like marriage classified ads sections of the newspaper. The initial interviews weren't easy either, for even on the phone, many tenents wished to know about your tastes and opinions. Just when I thought that interviewing for jobs was one of the most tedious things I've done, interviewing for roommates and finding a suitable apartment couldn't be any worse.

I didn't look for too many, thankfully, because I was simply appalled at the condition of the few that I did see. Young people are dreadfully messy and I know I could not live with a smelly room, dusty furniture, cluttered kitchen, noisy surroundings, and I-desperately-wannabe-cool adults. That meant that almost every shared apartment I visited was incompatible with my needs: either the place or the people turned me off it at once.

Again, in my typical fashion, I had a mishap when I was in town. I missed the train once again, but since it was quite late in the night, I didn't know what to do but call up a friend in town and ask to crash in with her for the night. She consented to let me do so at once and there I was, walking for miles and miles, traversing highways, and oogling for paranormal objects (which turned out to be humans) in the pitch-black night, just to get shelter.

I was so exhausted the next day as a result of the previous day's highlights and sleeping poorly in my friend's rather uncomfortable room, but just as my face was contorting into a frown, I saw something that made me smile. There, scribbled on the seat cover in front of me were the words, "I am happy you exist".

This line was one of the most touching I've ever read and whoever wrote it definitly made my day.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The embers of Firelight

Having been intrigued ever since reading the post on the Bronteblog a while ago, I finally managed to watch Firelight (starring Sophie Marcaeu and Stephen Dillane) after getting a hold of it from the local library.
Here are some observations:

Outwardly, Firelight resembles Jane Eyre. There’s the governess (Miss Elizabeth Lorier), the master of the house with a past (Charles Godwin), a little girl (Louisa), and a housekeeper (Constance). The interior of the house is dark and drab, resembling Thornfield in many productions of Jane Eyre. A secret that connects all of them is at the heart of this story. However, there are significant differences. Unlike the plain Jane Eyre, Elizabeth is ravishingly beautiful, as evidenced by the household’s reaction to her appearance. She manages to attract the elderly Mr. Godwin as well as Charles’ American friend. As opposed to the morally pure union of Jane and Rochester, Charles and Elizabeth consent to an illicit act with the understanding that their actions will contribute toward the greater good, for their main concern is helping their fathers. Instead of the discovery of Rochester’s previous marriage, the ‘secret’ in Firelight is represented by Louisa, who is Charles and Elizabeth’s daughter. While we don’t learn about Bertha till the first half of Bronte’s novel, we are aware of the existence of Charles’ wife from the very first. Mrs. Godwin, presiding as a comatose invalid entombed in a dark chamber, is not a mystery in the manner of Bertha in Jane Eyre. Elizabeth is aware of her existence from the beginning and Louisa is told that she is not her real mother. Charles also brings Elizabeth to visit his wife soon after the former arrives at his house. The governess falls in love with the master of the house despite her awareness of the obstacle to their union, unlike Jane in Bronte’s novel. While half of Jane Eyre takes place outside Thornfield, the bulk of Firelight takes place within Godwin’s estate.

In contrast to Jane Eyre, who unites with Rochester only after going through a pilgrimage of sorts, including finding strength and integrity within herself, Elizabeth’s happiness is largely dependent on others, namely Charles and Louisa. Though it is evident that Elizabeth is trapped at the beginning of the story (her reaction to the waves and the water changes through the course of the movie, thus symbolizing freedom and release. While she starts of with barely a voluble sound, she manages to contrive a scream by the end), we are not sure if the entrapment is a result of an external or internal conflict. Even though she seeks to release her father from prison, we don’t know if this is the one factor that troubles her before she meets Charles. The film does not show us Elizabeth’s inner world. Furthermore, though the film strives to show Charles and Elizabeth falling in love with each other, I was not really convinced on that score. I would have wanted more character development, a glimpse at a reparetee between the two, an intimacy beyond just the physical. The same can be said of Charles, for we are not sure if he is eager to make love to Elizabeth because he is starved for sex on account of being deprived of it due to his wife’s condition, or because he genuinely loves her. Thus, the inclusion of an intellectual connection is necessary so as to clarify the nature of this relationship in the minds of the viewers.

Even though Jane Eyre arrives in Thornfield with excess emotional baggage, her main purpose is to find something for herself (“I care for myself”, she claims). She strives to work for herself and earn a living. She longs to be independent. When she leaves Rochester, one could argue that she did so for fear of being trapped into an imprudent union with him as he had concealed the existence of his wife from her. Jane finds herself destitute and weary at the price of purchasing her independence. Even by the end of the novel, Bronte’s purpose is to show that Jane can only return to Rochester after she has lived amongst other people, worked for herself, and procured a fortune (even if this fortune is bequeathed to her by someone else). Jane’s succeeds at the price of Rochester’s loss of power, for the latter loses his house and is maimed by the end of the novel. Jane’s journey is one of power, control, and independence primarily for herself.

While hints of women’s freedom are present in Firelight, Elizabeth does not seem to practice what she preaches. Though she implores Louisa to learn her lessons because education is one thing no one can take away from a woman, claiming that women are imprisoned by men and Society, Elizabeth’s liberation at the end of the movie is ambiguous. Her means of procuring happiness, quite frankly, lies in winning Louisa’s love, being a mother to her, and being intimate with Charles. Elizabeth came to teach Louisa not because she wanted to exercise her own mind, but rather, to find and teach her child. We don’t know if Elizabeth’s intellectual development was sharpened by any conversations with Charles that dealt with subjects other than Louisa, his wife, and their love. While Elizabeth is a passionate woman, I am not sure if this passion is directed at anything else besides intimacy with a man and mothering a child. I wonder if such a life is what she wanted for Louisa when she told the latter to learn her lessons. How much use would all Louisa’s learning in the schoolroom be if all she does at the end is marry a man of standing and exercises her motherly instincts by watching her child grow? Elizabeth’s identity as a woman is tied to her duty as a wife (or passionate lover rather) and loving mother, and if this what she wants for Louisa as well, then where is the scope for the reform she suggested when she implored Louisa to ‘learn’?

Although it bursts out in flames intermittently, the fire is easily quenched in Firelight. While it does not shy away from exploration of sexual desire, Firelight lacks depth in its character development. This movie had a lot of potential but fell short of reaching them and I believe this is the result of a poor script. All the actors performed their roles very well, including the little girl (Dominique Belcourt) who played little Louisa. Though Elizabeth is the antidote to the unhappiness of the father and loneliness of the child, she is herself a troubled character. With a wealth of rich elements at hand, Firelight only needed a closer working on the writing to turn it into incandescence.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Book Meme!

Bronteana has tagged me for a Book meme! Thank you Bronteana! :)

1. One book that changed your life:

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I read it for my Victorian Literature class two years ago, and the book affected me in many ways afterward. I was very moved by Tess's plight, her will to survive despite any obstacle, and the forces (both of the self and Nature) that can tear lives apart. Hardy's descripion of landscape, its tendency to regenerate as well as its cruelty to annihilate, seemed to me a metaphor that extends beyond the precincts of the novel into the depths of human consciousness. I watched the movie (the BBC version starring Justine Waddell) over and over again and people wondered how I could bear to watch something that was, in their opinion, so "depressing". Watching the film showed me that the film (and the novel), wasn't entirely about Tess, or her plight. It was about writing, dialogue, and Art. Somehow Tess's fate didn't seem so gloomy because the novel made her triumph in a strange fashion, in the words between the lines. I was then drawn to Jude the Obscure, although I had been warned that it was "the saddest book in the world". The perserverance of Tess and Sue, their struggle against the obstacles imposed upon them, resonated with me very strongly. It was at this point that I gained more interest in Feminist Literature. Tess of the d'Urbervilles allowed me to ask questions of Jane Eyre, and see it in a different light than what I had been used to previously. This different reading of Jane Eyre lead to reading (and rereading) other works of the Brontes, as their works combined rich landscapes, Nature (both interior and exterior), and acute study of women's inner (and outer) lives. I then wished to pursue Bronte studies.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:

Several. Most recently, Possession by A.S. Byatt.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:

Jane Eyre, obviously! :)

4. One book that made you laugh:

About a Boy by Nick Hornby.

5. One book that made you cry:

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

6. One book that you wish had been written.

I wish Charlotte Bronte had finished Emma, for I too found the opening chapters very intriguing. I also wish I could have read Emily's second novel.

7. One book that you wish had never been written.

I think there is a lot to be learnt from any book, so I'd be in support of books being written always, one must read good and bad literature to discern the differences between them.
However, if I had to choose, I'd wish that Claire Boylan had not tried to finish Charlotte Bronte's Emma. I did not like Boylan's re-writing. I believe that perhaps she had rather left Emma alone, for it is indeed possible for a book to be complete in its state of incompletion.

8. One book you’re currently reading:

I generally end up reading several at once. Currently, I capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Sugar and other stories by A.S. Byatt, and The Arabian Nights.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:

Juliet Barker's biography of the Brontes, and I hope to get started on this once I am settled.

10. Now tag five people: I tag Mandy, Cristina, Sophia, Holly, and Frankengirl.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Question:
Are we meant to be in support of Jane's relationship with Mr. Rochester or against it?

Does Bronte mean to sympathize with Mr. Rochester, or are her feelings quite the reverse?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A delightful correspondence

Dear Ms. A__
Thank you so much for your lovely note! It was also a pleasure seeing the Wuthering Heights stamp (it is not every day that one gets so delightful a gift in the mail!).
Lunch at the C__ sounds wonderful! I am available this week and the next. I can also bring along some Bronte art work that I've made, which I am sure you'll find amusing.

My favorite author vacillates between Charlotte and Emily, although there are moments in which I am drawn to Anne. I like all three of them depending on my mood and current situation. I love Emily's poetry the best, however, and she does have a way with words. Her poem "To Imagination" speaks volumes to me, particularly. Charlotte's works resonated with me strongly when I was a student and have had to make my way in the world. Anne's (or Agnes Grey's) patience and fortitude lifts up my spirts too.

I am delighted at the prospect of meeting and talking to you!

_ _

The above is an exerpt from my correspondence with a fellow Bronte-enthusiast in the area. I can't wait to meet her! This will definitly help satiate the Bronte-hunger I've been feeling increasingly since I've graduated. Ah, there is so much fun in anticipation!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Catherine the Angel?

A picture of these bears, titled Wuthering Heights, appeared in the Bronteblog this morning. Being a huge fan of stuffed (as in the toy kind), animals and furry friends, I was intially drawn to these well-crafted bears with their pointed snouts, piercing eyes, and furry feel.

I assume that the bears represent Heatchliff (left) and Catherine (right). Heathcliff is considerbly darker, wearing a purple coat, and a hat (or cape) that appears wafted in the wind, almost like purple smoke. The purple, against his brown body, could stand for the heather in the moors. All of these features strive to give the impression of Heathcliff as an exotic gypsy, given to scampering in the moors. He also looks rather cross (no doubt in an attempt to imitate Heathcffian sentiments).

The depiction of Catherine is what I found to be slightly unsettling, however. Catherine appears richhly dressed, with a bodice lined (or smocked) with gold thread. The defining point is that she is white, which contrasts sharply with Heathcliff's brown skin and his darker purple coat. Furthermore, the innocence of her eyes, combined with her white skin and dress, suggests that she is angelic.

But I ask, Is Catherine the elder angelic?

Does this bear represent someone other than Catherine the elder? Do these two bears represent Hareton and Catherine the younger? If so, the latter couldn't be called angelic either.

By portraying Catherine is an angel, is the artist conveying her belief in Catherine's virtue? That perhaps Catherine's fiery temper, her passion, her resistance, must be valued in a society that is otherwise insipid, stale, and not willing to change?. Perhaps this suggests that Catherine's traits are necessary for Reform, when there is not other outlet to procure the latter.

Or does the angelization (if that is a term) of Catherine mean that artists (and many readers alike) would like to tame the real Catherine, that they would accept her only as an angel and not otherwise? Perhaps this means that readers would rather be blinded in their perception of her than admit that she is indecorous, tainted.

If the view of Catherine the elder is changed significantly from the book, if she is made into an angel, how come the same is not done to Heathcliff? How come he manages to retain his gypsy garb, his dark skin, and brooding, cross expression?

Why is it the female who is transformed into an Angel in the House?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Remnants of colonialism?

The Bronteblog has a recent post regarding an interview with Andrea Galer, who spearheads the Power of Hands Project.
A previous post from the same source states that:

Andrea Galer the woman behind the Power of hands Project has always actively sought to include the work of craftspeople from across the world. As a film and television costume designer her long-held passion for traditional crafts has already taken her to India to work with handloom weavers. In the aftermath of the tsunami she determined to help the Sri Lankan lacemakers whose lives had been devastated. Andrea's collections and film costumes provide ongoing links to the lace, she has used the lace made by tsunami suvivors in her current production 'Jane Eyre' the BBCs big drama this autumn. The lace is also featured in her current bridal collection and she is currently designing the Limited Signature Editions profiling the lace from Galle.

I really think that it's great that she is employing the talents of impoverished women in Tsunami-devasted areas such as Sri Lanka, and giveing them an outlet as well as a means of income. In addition, she is striving to preserve the craft of lace-making, and that is commendable.

However, when considered in light of the production of Jane Eyre, this matter raises a different set of questions. We cannot ignore the fact that Bronte's novel was indeed written in the 19th century, when British Imperialism dominated South Asia, including Sri Lanka. And poor craftswomen making laces for those in the aristocracy would have been the norm back then. This situation seems to be strangely repeated if we think that the poor women in Sri Lanka are making laces for the likes of Blanche Ingram (although she is fictional, she is relatively wealthy and haughty). In some sense, through merging fact and fiction, it seems to me as if history is repeated, as if times havent' changed at all.

Monday, August 07, 2006

On Mrs. Rochester

"Yet, whatever Charlotte's original conception of the character may have been, some men clearly still feel threatened by Bertha. In 1999, the distinguished politician Roy Jenkins described Margaret Thatcher as the 'great incubus of John Major's premiership, comparable with Mr Rochester's mad wife in Jane Eyre.' The first Mrs. Rochester, it seems, has resonance today as an emblem of power"

--Lucasta Miller, The Bronte Myth

Lucasta Miller's assertion about Bertha is intriguing.
I too confess to having varied reactions toward Bertha. When I was really young, I would be intimidated by the vision of her as an unsympathetic secret that threatens to destroy any peace the heroine (Jane) might harbor. Somehow, this impression of Bertha has changed little over the years, although I've definitely grown to sympathize with her character. She is not really evil. How can she be if she is mentally unstable? How can she be accountable for her actions if is not aware of them? Rochester claims that Bertha was unchaste from the first and this frustrates him greatly. But how can one continue to blame her if she progresses into madness? However unacceptable her habits might have been in the past, she deserves pity after her state of mental collapse. This is not to say that Rochester did not treat her well. He did not throw her out on the streets, and neither did he banish her to an asylum. He chose to look after her by means of employing a servent,Grace Poole.

However, the most important question is, How mad is Bertha?

Though she might be "mad", she still intimidates everyone around her, specifically Jane and Rochester. Is it Bertha's madness or her presence that threatens others? There is enough evidence to support both. Bertha's madness is striking because it also means that she is a danger to those around her, in case she commits a hasty action she has no knowledge of.

However, Bertha's presence is also intimidating because besides being Rochester's wife, she is also a foreigner, one with the potential of
charming [the] English gold from [the] British breeches' pocket". Thus she threaten's Jane desire of uniting with Rochester. She also challenges Victorian ideals of conjugal bliss, in that she raises questions about domestic harmony, equality of the spouses, divorce and property laws, and the "woman question".

In this sense, the powerless become powerful, because the others around them are faced with how to deal with them. The powerless challenge established norms and, through their inability, help open up much needed paths of Reform in Society.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

"Miss Austen and Thackeray have admirers; Charlotte Bronte has worshippers"
--a statement found in a newspaper from the latter half the nineteeth century. Quoted in Lucasta Miller's The Bronte Myth.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But, listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul.
Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me.
There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny,
or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog
nine days unburied.
When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks-when you hear that unmistakable pounding-when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming-then row, row for your life toward it.

-Mary Oliver from West Wind

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Today was quite eventful, and I am suprised I am awake at this time to write it. It was HOT, HOT, did I say, HOT today! The worst I've ever experienced. And on top of that, I had an interview to go to, for which, in my typical fashion, I got lost again, having misunderstood the directions (or misinformed, rather). And there I was, walking in the wrong path again, this time lugging my heavy interview bag containing those dreaded interview shoes, wearing a suit that made me feel like boiled mashed potato, and my hair having bloated up to into a mushroom of frizz, literally glued all over my face. And all of this in such a weather!! I even feared I might drop any moment (and I think would have prefered it secretly) because I thought I felt the blood pounding in my veins and my head threatening to drive me dizzy with spinning.

Thankfully, that did not happen and I found the place, although I was about 15 minutes late. However, unlike that fussy, uptight law firm, this place proved more forgiving. In fact, I wonder if they noticed my delay at all. The interview was long but I think it went well and I feel like I heard optimistic vibes from the other party. However, the Director wanted me to start one of his programs this week, and in utter confusion, I mumbled an affirmative answer. Only five minutes after I left the building did I realize the implications of my hasty decision. I ran back into the building, inquired after the director, and told him that I had had some time to think over his propostion and that I would like to request more time to make a decision before I commit to anything. He looked at me with an extremely vexed look on his face and asked me, hesitatingly, if anything had happened in those 5 minutes to make me react this way. I replied politely that my agreeing so hastily at first was only a blunder and I would be wise to take time to comprehend the matter further. I think his quizzical stare might have sprung from another source, however. In the heat of the moment (no pun intended), not only had I stripped myself of my blazer, leaving me with a shirt with hints of dampness, but I also realized I was shamefully caught red-handed (or footed, if I maybe allowed the expression) wearing my comfy (red rimmed) flip-flops, instead of those formal shoes, which I am ever eager to dispose of instant I step out of a building where I had interviewed.

The faux-pas didn't bother me so much. Very little would have disconcerted me in that sweltering heat, except the HEAT itself. I decided to cool myself with an iced-latte, an indulgence I permit myself to partake in ocassionally. Afterward, I hung around in town for a while, having been tempted to pacify myself through a bout of shopping. Really, I was angry at the weather. I was fuming (literally, no doubt). I returned to my little abode safely in one piece and I had some time to actually relax and write this without panicking about how fast the time flew today. The train ride was relatively quiet, undisturbed by odd gentlemen, or wailing children and their mollycoddling parents.

I shall now attempt to not dwell on the myriad things I have to do (including whether I should go to another interview later this week), and instead focus on getting some much needed rest.