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Imagine Classic Literary Characters living in the Modern World. Read Jane Eyre Gets Real, a Novel by Annabelle Troy, available on Amazon!

https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Eyre-Gets-Real-Annabelle-ebook/dp/B00FAS3I7O

That Ambitious Girl

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Polls show that Hillary Clinton has a problem with likeability. Part of this can be attributed to her formal persona in a world that craves intimacy, personal revelations, and “sharing.” Another factor is her gender: it is certainly true that social media depicts ambitious women in a bad light. This goes double for girls.

Alice in Wonderland, despite her airy persona, was a rebel. She goes down the rabbit hole in the first place, leading to her famous adventures, because she is energetic, curious and tired of making daisy chains. In Jane Eyre Gets Real, a novel by Annabelle Troy, Alice finds herself in contemporary NYC. She is at first confused, then dismayed, to find that girls aren’t really viewed that differently now. OK, they are allowed to be overtly sexual, promiscuous, badly behaved–but focused and organized??? That is still taboo.

The character of Rachel Berry, portrayed by Lea Michelle in the highly popular TV show Glee, is a case in point. Rachel knows from early days that she wants to be a Broadway star. She perfects her craft and lets nothing stand in her way (she never does anything evil to get what she wants, she simply pursues her goal with great determination). Through a series of twists and turns, Rachel does finally become a Broadway star–in a hit musical entitled Jane Austen Sings! Ironically–or not–the actress who plays Rachel has been accused of being stand-offish, egotistical, and all-business. It is said Lea Michelle doesn’t mingle enough with her fans and that she concentrates more on her career than on her co-stars or social life.

Inspiration for the Rachel Berry character was rumored to stem from the 1999 movie Election, starring Matthew Broderick and a very young Reese Witherspoon. A fresh and biting comedy, Election shows the politics behind a small town high school election. Reese plays Tracy Flick, Hillary before there was a Hillary, who has set her mind on being class president. Matthew Broderick is the mild-mannered teacher in opposition to her; mediocre himself, Tracy’s larger than life ambition frightens him. He fixes the election so that his own favorite student, a friendly, athletic but rather stupid boy, wins instead. Tracy, however, has the last triumph. Yes, there is something funny in Tracy’s passion: her mom writes to famous women, including Connie Chung, to get career advice for her daughter; Tracy gets up at 4 am to bake cupcakes iced with the words Pick Flick; and at one point in the film, enraged at having serious competition, she unfairly tears down her opponent’s campaign postures. Though talented and attractive, she has no real friends and is even called the c-word by one of the other (female) characters. A girl with no father, from a poor background, she earns everything she has and is bitterly disappointed when, at her dream school Georgetown, she finds not driven students, but spoiled rich kid stoners and slackers. Tracy is not perfect and she can be ridiculous at times–but aren’t we all? Why is Tracy singled out for hate-laced mocking by peers and faculty alike? Why are they so threatened by her?

Let’s recap: we have a privileged, wealthy, thoughtless male running for president and a goal-driven committed female. He shows up with a lot of rhetoric–and baseball caps–and garners a huge amount of support; she doesn’t curry favor, has proven experience but undisguised intelligence and a blunt manner. We are, of course, talking about the movie Election. Any semblance to any real election is purely coincidental!

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Very Victorian Problems

Brought to you by Jane Eyre. She’s a character in Annabelle Troy’s novel available on Amazon, Jane Eyre Gets Real. Oh, and Charlotte Bronte wrote about her too.

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You spill milk but have used all the rags curling your hair.

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Your doll’s wardrobe costs more than yours.

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You need three people to help you get dressed in the morning–and you don’t like two of them.

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You can only wear all black when someone dies.

 

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Your crinoline doubles as a birdcage.

 

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Your skirt WILL catch on fire. But you can use your cloak to put it out.

 

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Your friends are as beautiful as you are.

Sherlock Holmes & The Mystery of Ponyhenge

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On a grassy field in the town of Lincoln, Massachusetts rocking horses keep appearing. They started showing up on the field as early as 30 years ago, when kids used to run a lemonade stand there. The stand vanished but the horses stayed and their number has steadily grown, as if the wooden steeds are reproducing themselves. (Actually, not all the horses are wooden. There are also plastic models.) As of 9/2016, more than 30 hobby horses stand in Lincoln, arranged in a semi-circle. They have been given the name of “Ponyhenge.” At Christmas lights are draped around them. Sometimes they are rearranged to look like a static merry-go-round without music or motion. At other times, like the Kentucky Derby, they are put into “racing” positions. No one knows who originally placed them there or who moves them. For the locals it’s like a community art project, tinged with the allure of mystery. Nobody ever steals or damages the horses. Their population is always replenished, never decreased.

Sherlock Holmes, a character in Annabelle Troy’s novel Jane Eyre Gets Real, has spent hours mulling over Ponyhenge. He has ruled out bored housewives, drugged-out kids, former carnival owners, even space aliens. Just this morning he came up with a solution. Holmes knows precisely who is behind the hobby horse circle and their motive. So here it is–but wait! Sherlock has been known to keep secrets even from Dr. Watson and Queen Victoria. It has occurred to him that the lovely wooden and plastic horses so artlessly arranged, protected within their circle as if by magic, should stay a mystery. Alone, each horse is only a discarded piece of junk. But together they form a hopeful message of beauty, unity and delight. As only the greatest detectives know, some mysteries are better left unsolved.

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All Choked Up

Supposedly the choker trend which swept New York Fashion Week is a reflection of nostalgia for the 90’s–that’s the 1990s. Jane Eyre finds it ridiculous that a decade only twenty-five years in passing, and an insipid one at that, should already be inspiring regret. However, she is pleased that chokers are popular again–as they were during her own day. Indeed, chokers have been worn by women–and men–since ancient times. The first piece of jewelry may well have been some caveman’s choker made from shells and teeth! Chokers became especially notable as a fashion statement during the 18th century French Revolution; noblewomen who had escaped the guillotine sported red ribbons tied around their throats, both to honor their slain friends and relatives and as a kind of f–k you to Robespierre.

All the women in Jane Eyre Gets Real, the whimsical novel by Annabelle Troy, available on Amazon, deserve a choker. Here’s what they picked from today’s hottest looks:

Hester Prynne: We all know ornaments were forbidden in Puritan times. But the occasional bonnet or collar might be tied with a bit of black ribbon. In memory of this, Hester wants a wide black leather choker:

Soft Black Leather Choker Adjustable Necklace

Jane Eyre goes for the sentimental look of her youth:

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You know Emma Bovary is all about the drama:

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Alice in Wonderland shows that chokers can be innocent and charming:

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Even Heidi gets into the act with a girlish, faux tattoo style:

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So, whether you choose classic, bright, metallic or just an old velvet ribbon you have in a drawer, remember that fall, 2016 is the time to stick your neck out.

 

 

Child’s Play

 

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Is childhood a real psychological state or simply a creation of society–and a sentimental one at that? We tend to take for granted that children think and feel differently than adults, as well as that they exist in a better, purer realm. But throughout society this has not been the case. In the medieval ages, and before, children were treated like incomplete, somewhat defective adults. Only in the 18th century did ideas about kids undergo a significant change. Largely responsible for this was philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who equated children with nature and innocence; he believed education should be linked not just to knowledge, work and social duties but to preserving what was untainted in the soul.

Childhood really got going in the Victorian era (1837-1901). Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert had nine children and idealized the idea of family. Though poor children often lead horrible lives, working at very early ages in mills and as chimney sweeps and unpaid servants, life for rich kids included nannies, toy soldiers, rocking horses, wax dolls, even elaborate toy shops complete with tiny goods for sale.  Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in 1865 and it quickly became one of the most popular children’s stories–though how many kids today could read it (in its real, un-Disney form?). Picture books illustrated by Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane and William Nicholson were full of charming pictures of rosy-cheeked “good” little children indulging in ring-around-the rosy, hopscotch and hoop bowling. All of this perpetuated the idea–maybe a fantasy?–that children–at least those of wealthy parentage–inhabited their own reality, free from worry or any true unhappiness.

Later on, Freudian theories of burgeoning infant sexuality would dispel the notion of pre-pubescent innocence and upset the kinder applecart. Psychological tales such as The Bad Seed and Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, in which spoiled little girls deliberately lie and ruin the lives of their caretakers, would perpetrate the image of kids as potential demons, hiding behind frilly skirts, knee socks and toys. Long before Freud, Jane Eyre speaks up to her Aunt Reed, accusing her of of unkindness and hypocrisy in a manner the early Victorians found shocking. She was a passionate child, a rebel, daring to be heard–and cruelly punished for it. Heidi, written by Johanna Spyri in 1881, decades after Jane Eyre, reverts back to an earlier prototype: a joyous child brings delight and miraculous health to all those who know her, simply by existing.

Which idea of childhood do you find the most compelling? Are children miniature grown-ups struggling with many of the same problems as their parents, albeit in different forms? Or did they exist in their own universe, discrete and uncorrupted (at least before they get on the internet?).

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Reflections on Mirrors

Alice in Wonderland crawls through a looking glass. In A Picture of Dorian Gray Dorian’s portrait acts “like the most magical of mirrors” to show him his damaged, hideous soul even though all real mirrors depict him as unblemished. “You are made to be good-you look so good,” one character remarks to him ironically.  The child Jane Eyre, locked in a supposedly haunted room, looks in a mirror and sees herself as a “strange little figure…with a white face and arms specking the gloom.” Later, as a bride, she describes her own reflection “as a robed and veiled figure…so unlike my usual self that it seemed almost the image of a stranger.” After being seduced by the aristocratic Rudolphe, Emma stands in front of a mirror, enraptured by her own corruption, and whispers, “I have a lover, I have a lover.”

One of the most famous reflections in the world is that of Narcissus, a handsome young man who, after glimpsing himself in a lake, desires his own image so fervently that he dies from longing. And so vanity is linked to the unattainable, to fantasy and pining. But that never stopped anyone from looking–because mirrors are also symbols of perfection and the allure of beauty. The earliest known mirrors date from around 6000 BC, and were made from polished volcanic glass. In 500 AD clearer, reflective glass mirrors began to appear, using amalgams of silver-mercury. Venetian craftsmen refined the art of making mirrors by figuring out how to fuse glass, mercury and tin; they then framed their creations with gilt and beveled edges. In 1665 Louis XIV imported twenty Venetian glass workers into his own court and–viola!–the Hall of Mirrors was conceived. Seventeen mirror-clad arches facing seventeen arcade windows still glitter today at Versailles. Mirrors greatly helped artists from the Renaissance onward in depicting “linear perspective”, the technique which takes what is flat and makes it appear in relief i.e. real.

Inside the looking glass: whether like Alice we are searching for a new world, or just taking a selfie, the search to verify ourselves and our surroundings remains essential. What do you see when you look in the mirror?

 

A Confederacy of Lunches

David Copperfield, a character in Jane Eyre Gets Real, was no stranger to the vagary of circumstances. He knew what it was like to be very poor, quite wealthy, and everything in between. Like clothing and housing, food has always been a solid indicator of the good, or the bad, life.

Unemployed, homeless people were consigned to workhouses in Victorian times. Lunch, the main meal, was called “dinner”. According to a menu from a real Victorian workhouse, dinners consisted of 6 oz. bread, 2 oz. cheese per person, varied by such alternatives as 8 oz. bread, 1 and 1/2 pints of gruel, and 12 oz. suet or rice pudding with vegetables. If you were really lucky you might get a bit of pickled pork or a meat dumpling. Breakfast and “supper”, the evening meal, were always bread, gruel and cheese with the occasional potato. There was never any dessert.

Ordinary middle class people might enjoy a lunch comprised of cheese, sausage, bread, bacon, and vegetables. Tinned food became available for the first time during the reign of Queen Victoria; it was less expensive, and thus less prized, than fresh meats. A rich man might enjoy a lunch of creamy soup, broiled fish or roast beef, piping hot bread, asparagus in butter sauce, with cheese and fresh fruit at the end–all washed down with a good claret. Wealthy children enjoyed a nursery “dinner” (modern lunch) at noon of mutton (considered the easiest meat to digest), brown bread, and milk. Interestingly, for breakfast they might have been served cocoa, eggs, and macaroni, something like a modern mac & cheese meal but at seven in the morning instead of six at night. Ladies were likely to have a large breakfast, light luncheon, and rich French-themed dinner, with a very pretty tea in between.

Forget the image of the weak Victorian. Historians suggest that, beggar or lord, they had stronger immune systems than we do. The working poor ate a lot of fresh vegetables including cabbages and onions, wholemeal bread, and beetroot. They would boil meat or fish bones for the broth. And cherries, known as “the poor man’s fruit”, were available for half a penny; an equivalent amount would cost close to $10 today. Due to the expense, they rarely smoked (at least the women and children), beer was watered-down, and sugar used sparingly. The average working woman lived to 73 and was still doing back-breaking chores such as laundry until she dropped down dead. Men also did hard labor until they collapsed at 75. As for rich women, they got their nutrients through all those little watercress tea sandwiches AND they didn’t have to lift a finger. Rich men, who did drink and smoke heavily, might have been the unhealthiest but as they had the best of everything while they were alive, they may also have had the last laugh–even if it came from the grave.

 

 

 

No Sex Please, We’re Puritans

 

Hester Prynne is one of the characters in the Annabelle Troy novel Jane Eyre Gets Real. She also has the starring role in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Because Hester is naturally frugal, when she wakes up to find herself in contemporary New York City she doesn’t run off to the movies or the theater. Plus, she is scared of going outside…She stays home a lot and watches cable TV, DVDs, and youtube.

Naturally the amount of sex on TV has come as a shock to her, especially the joyful participation of most women in physical acts that, in Hester’s day, were performed silently, in the dark. (Of course, that is how Puritans did most things anyway.) So, when Hester found the Starz TV show Flesh and Bone, she was delighted to discover Claire (portrayed by Sarah Hay). Claire is a withdraw ballerina being groomed for fame; she doesn’t want to have sex with anybody–with the possible exception of her brother, with whom she has been in an incestuous relationship for years. Because Claire and her brother turned to each other for love due to very unhappy home circumstances, Hester finds it possible to forgive them. She identifies with Claire’s fierce wish to belong only to herself, as opposed to say, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw who looks on her body as an extension of her adventurous soul.

Hester also likes a little-known French Canadian movie called Sarah Prefers to Run (spoiler alert follows.) This film’s pretty, athletic heroine might be Claire’s best friend. Sarah wears no make-up, favors grey clothes, and scrapes her hair back into a ponytail. She enrolls in college in order to become a track star–not to engage in drinking, drugs, or sexual experimentation. (On the flip side, she never seems to study either.) All Sarah wants to do is run. Though she marries another student so they can both obtain grants (it’s some Canadian thing), she doesn’t want to spend any time with him. Probably because of this, her easy-going young husband falls for her. When they finally have sex (it is not making love), Sarah gives up her virginity to him in ways that are both physically and emotionally painful. Soon after they divorce. Facing possibly fatal heart arrhythmia, as well as a lifetime of loneliness, Sarah rededicates herself to running. She’s like the nun of track and field.

As for Hester’s love life a Puritan never tells. This may be because she has nothing to tell or else because, raised in a time when sex was dangerous as sin, discretion is a titillation in itself.

 

How Jane Eyre Kept Her Cool

 

In the middle of summer, when many places including NYC are shimmering with heat, you may wonder how, I, Jane Eyre stayed crisp and cool in a time before air conditioning. It’s well-known that Victorian ladies wore a lot of clothing. I was no exception; I would never have dreamed of walking about in a camisole and pantaloons, the equivalent of a modern girl’s t-shirt and shorts! Nor am I fan of polyester dresses. Natural fibers like muslin, cotton and linen allowed me to breathe even in the worst 19th century heat. Though I always wore a corset in public, I did allow myself only one petticoat during the months of July and August.

In medieval times bathing was thought to bring on the plague, by exposing the body’s delicate pores to water. By the 1840s we had gotten over this idea but there was no modern plumbing consisting of pipes or flush toilets. As a girl I bathed in a copper tub as was the custom, and because I was the least important person in the household, I used bath water in which my Aunt Reed, my male cousin, and my two girl cousins had already immersed themselves. If there had been an infant in the house he or she would have bathed after me; hence the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Soap underwent a major transformation in the 1840s. when manufacturers began to replace lye made from wood ash with chemical products. Being a country girl my soap was generally still fashioned out of lye and tallow, with maybe a handful of dried rose petals mixed in. Perfumes were not made out of heavy musk and ambergris until much later in the century; but as a married lady I did allow myself a dab or two of orange blossom-scented toilet water. As fastidious as all governesses must be, I brushed my teeth with a sponge and warm water each morning; occasionally I whitened them with a powder of crushed sage. My friend, Madame Emma Bovary, was not quite so lucky; it was a trend in France to brush your teeth with urine, a practice mocked by some but extolled by others. Mr. Rochester liked to scrub his teeth with gunpowder, also a popular practice. Though a form of 3-row bristle brush was invented in 1838, my nursemaid Bessie used to chew on a thin twig with a frayed end until she died–nearly toothless, I might add.

As for going swimming to keep cool, it was usual in my day to walk by the sea and catch the breezes. It became more accepted for girls to bathe in the ocean as my stepdaughter Adele matured. Of course, she always wore a proper bathing costume which kept her limbs well-hidden and she emerged into the ocean from a bathing machine, which otherwise kept her from the public’s vulgar gaze.

 

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