Less than Eyre-ing

July 9th, 2012

The title of this post is a very bad pun, attempting to indicate that the film version of Jane Eyre I watched last night was surprisingly pleasant, i.e. less than erring. I know, I know. You’re groaning.

Poster for Jane Eyre

But seriously, I really did enjoy Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. Lush cinematography more than compensated for the occasionally wooden acting and stylized costumes. And although it’s been a few years since I last read the book, the film seemed to cover every important point while still coming in under two hours. Well done!

I also recall enjoying the 2006 Masterpiece Theatre miniseries of Jane Eyre, in particular for its detailed attention to the book. It was also refreshing to see actors who were genuinely off beat in their appearances — not to say that the stars were unpleasant to look at, but neither were they the usual “beautiful people” attempting to look plain for the roles.

Like many productions from that era, the 1983 miniseries of Jane Eyre was completely unwatchable. If you ask me. Which no one did.

And while I will always have a great fondness for the 1943 film, I’m the first to admit it bears little resemblance to the novel. And, as was his wont, Orson Welles grudgingly plays Rochester for the first half of the film only. By the end, he’s all Welles.

Orson Welles as Rochester

My one complaint with every adaptation to date (pending review of the 2011 version, which I just put on hold at the library) is that none of them approaches what I took to be the central theme of the book: a debate between Charlotte’s Calvinist father and the burgeoning Romantic period in literature with its emphasis on love as the universal redeemer. As always, the Calvinists are swept under the rug.

A Tale of Two Covers

April 9th, 2012

In the course of unpacking — a slow and reflective process in our house — I have come across a number of books I forgot I had. Some are mementos of childhood, my own and others’; some have been carefully saved up in hopes I’d eventually find time to read them. But my favorites by far are those old friends whose scarred spines and tattered covers, the results of being carried around in pockets and bags to be enjoyed in odd moments, bespeak many happy re-readings.

Some in fact are so battered as to be unfit for further use. The pair of paperbacks pictured here were in such terrible condition that keeping them at all seemed futile. But still I couldn’t quite bear to part with them completely. So I removed the crumbling pages and kept their covers (I do so love pulp cover art).

Book Covers

The Night of the Hunter, published in 1953, is perhaps even better known as a film — the only one Sir Charles Laughton ever directed — starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and the divine Lillian Gish. This copy belonged to my husband, who also used to own the soundtrack record.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is in a different class altogether (sorry Mr. Grubb). It was banned in the US for many years on grounds of obscenity. Ha! Today Connie’s exploits would be considered tame by comparison with your average family-oriented television sit-com script. But at the time it was shocking.

Barney Rosset’s Grove Press, crusader against literary censorship, eventually won the right to publish Lawrence’s 1928 novel in its original form. This gorgeous edition was a gift from my husband before we were even engaged. I drove my mother crazy by carrying it around in my purse and reading it conspicuously in public. I’ve always been something of a literary exhibitionist…

Me & Emily

November 18th, 2011

Last year, someone pointed out that I bear a passing resemblance to the great American poetess, Emily Dickinson.

me & emily

What do you think? Could I play her in the biopic? I think my mouth is too wide and my face is differently shaped…but I can definitely see some similarities as well. Of course, given the choice, I’d rather be able to write like Emily Dickinson than look a little bit like her, but I will take what I can get.

“Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me.”

Rare Disappointment from BBC

October 30th, 2011

Yes, I’ll own it publicly. I am, like many women interested in historic fashion, generally a sucker for BBC literary miniseries. I loved North and South, Bleak House, and Daniel Deronda. And I even went so far as to purchase my own copy of Pride and Prejudice. So you can imagine my excitement when the DVD of Barchester Chronicles arrived last week. Filmed in the 1980s, it’s chock-a-block with BBC stock players, exquisite (and mostly accurate) costumes, and more lace curtains than you can shake a stick at. Alan Rickman steals the show as Rev. Slope, revealing many of the mannerisms that he would later use for the slightly-less-slimy Professor Snape of Harry Potter fame.

Barchester Chronicles

But for all that, I couldn’t seem to enjoy the film. Perhaps it was too long (nearly five hours). Or perhaps it was the script. I shall never understand why modern writers feel the need to revise dialogue written by literary masters. It just dripped along, without any of the clever sparkle that enlivened the books — particularly Barchester Towers, which made me laugh out loud.

And while I’m at it, I have one last quibble. The books were written in the late 1850s, early 1860s. But for some reason, the film’s costumers chose to include a number of dresses that were so obviously early 1850s. It’s almost as though they had left-overs from a Dickens production, which, come to think of it, they probably did.

The Bridesmaid

October 23rd, 2011

O Bridesmaid, ere the happy knot was tied,
Thine eyes so wept that they could hardly see;
Thy sister smiled and said, “No tears for me!
A happy bridesmaid makes a happy bride.”
And then, the couple standing side by side,
Love lighted down between them full of glee,
And over his left shoulder laugh’d at thee,
“O happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride.”
And all at once a pleasant truth I learn’d,
For while the tender service made thee weep,
I loved thee for the tear thou couldst not hide,
And prest thy hand, and knew the press return’d,
And thought, “My life is sick of single sleep:
O happy bridesmaid, make a happy bride!”

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Just two days ago, I was proud to stand among the lovely bridesmaids while my oldest friend (in duration, not age) exchanged vows with the love of her life. She was breathtaking in a beaded white gown, blushing beneath the bridal veil her mother once wore. Here’s to the happy couple! May their union endure and blossom through the years.

Having one’s picture taken repeatedly, sobbing through a wedding ceremony, toasting, and dancing can really wear a bridesmaid out. By the end of the evening, I was ready to collapse into a handy chair. (I wasn’t quite as tired as I look — my eyeliner ran a bit when I teared up.)

The Bridesmaid

Isn’t that the prettiest bridesmaid dress you’ve ever seen? I’m very lucky to have a friend who likes purple as much as I do. And there was something Madame X (or at least Gigi does Madame X) about the neckline too…which I admit I accentuated on purpose by nipping in the waist when I altered the dress.

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