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

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.


Kids Just Wanna Have Fun


In the Annabelle Troy novel Jane Eyre Gets Real, 9 characters from classic literature find themselves transported to a Big Brother type reality TV show, set in contemporary NYC. Heidi is the youngest cast member. Stuck in the midst of a sweltering New York City summer, with her optimistic nature she makes the best of it. But she can’t help wondering what is going on in Frankfurt (the only other big city she has ever known, where she stayed with her friend Clara). Below are some comparisons:

New York City has the Central Park Zoo, Dylan’s Candy Bar, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. This museum on West 83rd Street has hands-on educational exhibits, including America to Zanzibar where Heidi composed her own music on a tabla and learned how to say her name in 21 languages. In Germany there is the Frankfurt Zoo (a small zoo set in the midst of the city and known for its mischievous monkeys); and the Palmengarten featuring 5000 types of outdoor plants as well as a greenhouse. Heidi’s favorite place in Frankfurt is Bären-Treff, a sweet shop with a vast selection of gummy candy. Forget the usual cherry bears and, like Heidi, savor daring flavors which include “red bull” and chili pepper.

For Heidi, no matter where she is, the absolute best thing to do on a summer’s day is to visit kids (the animal kind) at her local petting zoo.






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.


Jane Eyre: Imitation Is The Highest Form of Flattery


I don’t mind when authors write books inspired by my own story. In fact, I feel honored to be noticed. Of course, each writer takes my life into her own hands with varying degrees of wit and skill. One popular book, Re Jane, by Patricia Park, has me quite baffled. It’s a modern recreation of my tale, using a Korean-American heroine in my stead–all well and good. But the childhood of Korean Jane, though she is an orphan forced to work in her uncle’s grocery store, doesn’t seem bleak enough; and Mr. Rochester’s stand-in, professor Ed Farley, is a beta male at best, a sensitive wimp nothing like my own Edward. Unlike in my own book, the best part of Re Jane is in the middle, when Jane goes to Korea and remakes herself as a high-fashion corporate type.  Re Jane is fine as bright “chick lit”, a term I apologize for using btw as I despise it; but the glowing reviews which make the novel seem like real literature are what have me in dismay.

A better book, I thought, was Jane Steele by Lyndsay Fay. It is inspired by Jane Eyre rather than trying to be a retelling of my tale. Jane Steel’s favorite book is Jane Eyre and she wishes she could be me–a quaint desire! What makes Jane S. unique is that she is a serial killer, a downfallen Victorian orphan girl who uses murder, rather than virtue, to improve her circumstances. Also, the romantic figure here is likewise a killer, the dashing Charles Thornfield, originally from India and as enigmatic as that country. He is a great improvement on professor Ed Farley! When faced with a problem, Charles uses his wits and a series of Sikh weapons to solve it, rather than resorting to emotion.

Of course, the best in a recent windfall of books where I am the inspiration is Jane Eyre Gets Real by Annabelle Troy. Available on Amazon, it features me waking up in contemporary New York City, as a character in a Big Brother type reality TV show. My flatmates include Mr. Darcy, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, David Copperfield, and Emma Bovary. In order to get back “home”, back into the pages of my book, I must attract enough modern day readers. Please check out the link below and read Jane Eyre Gets Real today!




Beauty Sleep

The lavish production of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty performed by American Ballet Theater this season is pastel eye candy. It’s like an illustration from a fairy tale come to life, with over 400 costumes, 200 wigs (make that periwigs) and many set changes. The style of this production suggests the courtly 18th century: a time when upper body movements, melodramatic acting, and intricate footwork were the stars of the show. In consequence, the production can seem a little soporific, devoid of lightning leaps and show-stopping turns, but its prettiness is never in doubt.

In the 19th century Philippe Taglioni pioneered what was the forerunner of the modern ballet style: athletic leaps, clean and visible lines of movement, dancing en pointe (on tippy toe). He added the Romantic element–white tutus, moonlight, heroines dying for love. His talented daughter Marie Taglioni, known for her role in Le Sylphide, was his muse. Read about her life and times on Amazon. The Grace of the Hunchback by Annabelle Troy will be available for free July 2-6.



In Praise of Heroines

Heroines come in all ages, races, and body types. They remind us that being a woman is different than being a girl. In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, her last completed novel published posthumously in 1817, the protagonist Anne Elliot is no blushing maiden. She is well into what would at that time be considered middle age, when she becomes reacquainted with her original love, Captain Wentworth, a man she rejected years before because her family didn’t approve of him. Persuasion is both a biting satire, perhaps Austen’s most acidic, and a Cinderella story for the woman approaching autumn. Anne finally marries Wentworth, but not until she has undergone decades of character development and weathered the vagaries of fortune.

In the 1955 David Lean movie, Summertime, no less a formidable lady than Katherine Hepburn plays Jane, a secretary on a Venetian holiday. Having granted herself this vacation as a treat, she gets more than she bargained for when she meets a handsome antique store owner (Rossano Brazzi). He captures her heart; then breaks it when she learns he is married. Though his romantic interest in her is sincere, Jane cannot go against her morals and she breaks off the relationship. This bittersweet story shows a sophisticated and complicated situation, against a gorgeous Italian background. It’s both escapism and harsh reality at the same time.

In present day New York City,  Denise Marsa, singer/songwriter and owner of her own PR firm, is preparing her one-woman show. Entitled The Pass, it will tell of her life and times, which include being lead vocalist on HELPLESS (You Took My Love) by the Flirts & “Lucky Stars”, with Dean Friedman. Due to have its first salon reading in the late fall of 2016, The Pass is a true tale of a woman’s journey through stardom, disappointment, conflicting loves, and ultimate triumph, as she learns to take control of her own destiny. The link to Denise’s blog:

Heroines don’t live only on the pages of Jane Austen or on movie screens. They’re not just Jane Eyre or Alice in Wonderland, and they’re not always teenagers. They are your sister, your mother, your neighbor, your friend; they are you.

A Taste for Lace


Emma Bovary, in the course of her summer shopping, has been delighted to find lace making a come back. In her day she was a mean tatter. For those not into thread work, there are several ways lace can be made:

Needle: the creme de la creme, the lace of royalty, made just with a needle and thread. Venetian Gros Point–no, not a city in Michigan– is an example.

Bobbin : pins are stuck into a pillow, traditionally one of straw. Bobbins made of bone or wood are used to weave the threads around these pins. Chantilly Lace–no, not the song–is this sort of lace. Bobbin lace has existed since the 1500s when women, primarily in Italy, made extra or “pin” money from its weaving.

Tatted: feminine version of Boy Scout knot tying or perhaps Victorian macrame? Lace, used for collars, cuffs and other trimmings, is formed by making a series of  knots over a core thread.

Cutwork: portions of fabric are cut away to make patterns that are then reinforced with embroidery.

Crocheted: check out your grandmother’s doilies.

Machine-made: patterns are replicated via machine. Sorry, but it’s the merde you are probably wearing. Never fear, you can remedy the situation by purchasing a lace making kit from Amazon:



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