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

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

Child’s Play

 

Image result for pictures of victorian children playing

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.

 

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!

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

 

 

 

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: https://denisemarsatheartist.wordpress.com.

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:

https://www.amazon.com/Lacis-LB43-Bobbin-Lace-Kit/dp/B003W0O2MW

 

 

Vintage Summer Flicks

 

In Jane Eyre Gets Real, a novel available on Amazon, 9 literary characters including Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, and Mr. Darcy, find themselves on a reality TV show in contemporary New York City. As hot weather approaches and they spend more time staying inside their air-conditioned apartment, Holmes figures out how to use the DVD player. They begin to binge-watch old movies with, fittingly, the theme of “summer.” Here are their favorites:

Jane Eyre: Summer and Smoke. When a spinster’s love for a handsome doctor is unrequited, she drifts around cemeteries and hooks up with traveling salesmen. ‘Nuff said.

Heidi: Summer Magic. Poor, plucky widow and her cute kids move to dilapidated farmhouse which they fix up so that it looks gorgeous. Hayley Mills sings!

Madame Bovary: Smiles on a Summer Night. Sophisticated, balmy Ingmar Bergman classic, shot in black and white. What life should be like, if one wasn’t stuck with a stupid, ugly husband and a cheapskate mother-in-law.

Hester Prynne: Suddenly, Last Summer starring Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Because even wearing a scarlet A pales in comparison with lobotomy, not to mention being eaten by a pack of urchins.

Alice in Wonderland: (500) Days of Summer. Pretty blue-eyed people kind of fall in love, artistically. Made in 2009 so not quite vintage but these days time moves so quickly, it almost qualifies!

Mr. Darcy: A Summer Place. Old-fashioned love story about couple who never marry in the first place due to class barriers, then reunite decades later. Sandra Dee plays the daughter.

Dorian Gray: A Summer’s Tale directed by Eric Rohmer. Young man on beach holiday drifts around looking for sex and ice cream.

David Copperfield: Summer of ’42. It’s a MILF thing.

Sherlock Holmes: I Know What You Did Last Summer. What??? Hey, even Sherlock is allowed to have a guilty pleasure. No one can be brilliant all the time.

 

 

 

 

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