(I read much less elegantly/yellow-ly)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte: a Review

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It's silly how much trouble I had writing this review. Certainly, I had thoughts about this book - but actually documenting them? Dumbly difficult.
What a little gem, though. Anne is the overshadowed Bronte, generally considered the least interesting of the three, if not dismissed outright as talentless in comparison with her sisters. Which is unfair - she wasn't worse, she was different. She was more of a realist than her sisters, and I would argue that she does her thing just as well as her sisters do theirs.
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Anne wrote Agnes Grey when she was 27, after working as a governess from when she was 19 to 25. She died two years later, after also writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Basically, Agnes Grey is the story of a young girl who, after her family falls on hard times, becomes a governess and realizes that being a governess is terrible because they aren't treated like human beings. Did anyone else know about how terrible life was for governesses? They were too low class to be socially acknowledged by the people they worked for and too high to be acknowledged by the servants, so they were stuck between the two in a lonely limbo filled with judgement and ostracism. Agnes is made to feel unwanted and inferior wherever she goes, and has nobody to talk to about ANYTHING, such as when a kid spits at her or she starts seriously crushing on the nice new curate in town. I mean, how do you bottle that stuff up?
Obviously, governesses were responsible for the academic and moral education of their pupils. Fair enough. OR WAS IT? Because in Agnes Grey, Agnes'  employers  are completely oblivious and unreasonably demanding  - they are blind to their children's faults, spoil them rotten, blame Agnes for anything that goes wrong, treat her with blatant disrespect - and after ALL THAT wonder why she has no control over the kids!!!

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Some of Agnes' experiences with her pupils exceed the regular hyper, bratty infuriating variety and are truly horrible:

"Tom, who had been with his uncle into the neighbouring plantation, came running in high glee into the garden with a brood of little callow nestlings in his hands.
Mary Ann and Fanny, whom I was just bringing out, ran to admire his spoils, and to beg each a bird for themselves.
"No, not one!" cried Tom. "They're all mine. Uncle Robson gave them to me - one, two, three, four, five - you shan't touch one of them! no, not one for your lives!" continued he, exultantly, laying the nest on the ground, and standing over it, with his legs wide apart, his hands thrust into his breeches-pockets, his body bent forward and his face twisted into all manner of contortions in the ecstasy of his delight.
"But you shall see me fettle 'em off. My word, but I will wallop 'em! See if I don't now! By gum! but there's rare sport for me in that nest."
"But Tom," said I. "I shall not allow you to torture those birds. They must either be killed at once, or carried back to the place you took them from, that the old birds may continue to feed them."
"But you don't know where that is, madam. It's only me and uncle Robson that knows that."
"But if you don't tell me, I shall kill them myself - much as I hate it."
"You daren't. You daren't touch them for your life! because you know papa and mamma and uncle Robson would be angry. Ha, hah! I've caught you there, miss!"
"I shall do what I think right in a case of this sort, without consulting anyone."...
So saying - urged by a sense of duty- at the risk of both making myself sick and incurring the wrath of my employers - I got a large flat stone, that had been reared up for a moustrap by the gardener, then, having once more vainly endeavored to let  the little tyrant to let the birds be carried back, I asked what he intended to do with them. With fiendish glee he commenced a list of torments, and while he was busied in the relation, I dropped the stone upon his his intended victims, and crushed them flat beneath it."

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So THAT'S scarring. Then, in her second situation (she's fired over the bird thing, obviously) one of her charges is Rosalie,  a girl a few years younger than her. As soon as Rosalie realizes that Agnes is maybe-possibly starting to get something (a really cute something, by the way) going with Weston, the aforementioned nice new curate, she immediately snatches him away and doesn't let Agnes spend any time with him, not because she likes him, but so she can torment her governess and get some attention. Because she's bored and she CAN.  Agnes  has to watch the one source of happiness in her new life just slip away from her and ROSALIE KNOWS IT.

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Fortunately, the story resolves happily for Agnes. But as a girl, I feel very lucky that I don't live in the Victorian era. Pretty dresses, yes. Rights as a human being, no.
 I've read several comparisons of Anne's style with Jane Austen's, which I would say isn't totally off the mark; they both write with a particular feeling of light, refined warmth and deliberation.  Anne presents the infuriating unjustness of a governess's situation with a kind of measured, quiet indignation. Final verdict: Agnes Grey is short and sweet and very, very good. Give it a try!
Sorry for all the sad men GIFs today. (Although, would you really call Dawson a man?)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Fun Continues! Well, I'm having fun.

Barnaby Rudge: (I have to begin this post with a reminder to my readers that I by no means encourage them to read Barnaby Rudge. It's very bad.)  There's one girl named Dolly Varden who's sorta fly. She's the "pretty and high-spirited lass" type character, kind of a pre-Dora, but, unlike Dora, she doesn't get punished for being flirty and carefree! And she doesn't faint when she gets kidnapped.

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You go girl.
 My favorite thing about Dolly Varden is that, because she was a very popular character, there are a lot of things named after her. Such as:

A type of cake tin that makes Barbie dress cakes:
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A type of trout:

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A dress style:
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A Long Beach hotel:

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An alt-country band:

Which brings me to another point I want to make! There are a lot of bands named after Dickens characters. Oh yes, next post.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dickens Ladies 3

The Old Curiosity Shop: the Marchioness. A miserably-treated but spunky servant girl who strikes up a friendship with the book's other amazing character,  Richard Swiveller, who is a sort of benignant ne'er do well clerk at the law office where she works/ is neglected/ bullied by her evil mistress who is ACTUALLY SECRETLY HER MOTHER GASP. In this generally overwrought novel that oozes with saccharine sentiment, the Dick- Marchioness plot line is genuinely super touching because they are original, charming, lively and weird. We all know Dickens' how eccentrics are the best. And while Little Nell is being a flowery, infuriating sadsack, the Marchioness is learning cribbage and generally being awesome.

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 "Mr Swiveller began to think that on those evenings when Mr and Miss Brass were out (and they often went out now) he heard a kind of snorting or hard-breathing sound in the direction of the door, which it occurred to him, after some reflection, must proceed from the small servant, who always had a cold from damp living.
Looking intently that way one night, he plainly distinguished an eye gleaming and glistening at the keyhole; and having now no doubt that his suspicions were correct, he stole softly to the door and pounced upon her before she was aware of his approach.
"Oh! I didn't mean any harm indeed. Upon my word I didn't," cried the small servant, struggling like a much larger one. "It's so very dull down-stairs. Please don't you tell upon me; please don't."
"Tell upon you!" said Dick. "Do you mean to say you were looking through the keyhole for company?"
"Yes, upon my word I was," replied the small servant.
"How long have you been cooling your eye there?" said Dick.
"Oh, ever since you first began to play them cards, and long before."
Vague recollections of several fantastic exercises such as dancing around the room, and bowing to imaginary people with which he had refreshed himself after the fatigues of business; all of which, no doubt, the small servant had seen through the keyhole, made Mr. Swiveller feel rather awkward; but he was not very sensitive on such points, and recovered himself speedily.
"Well--come in," he said, after a little thought. "Here--sit down, and I'll teach you how to play."
"Oh! I durstn't do it," rejoined the small servant. "Miss Sally 'ud kill me, if she know'd I came up here."
"Have you got a fire down-stairs?" said Dick.
"A very little one," replied the small servant.
"Miss Sally couldn't kill me if she know'd I went down there, so I'll come," said Richard, putting the cards into his pocket. "Why, how thin you are! What do you mean by it?"
"It ain't my fault."
"Could you eat any bread and meat?" said Dick, taking down his hat. "Yes? Ah! I thought so. Did you ever taste beer?"
'I had a sip of it once,' said the small servant.
"Here's a state of things!" cried Mr. Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "She never tasted it--it can't be tasted in a sip!
Why, how old are you?"
"I don't know."
Mr. Swiveller opened his eyes very wide and appeared thoughtful for a moment; then, bidding the child mind the door until he came back, vanished straightway. Presently he returned, followed by the boy from the public house, who bore in one hand a plate of bread and beef and in the other a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound…Relieving the boy of his burden at the door, and charging his little companion to fasten it to prevent surprise, Mr. Swiveller followed her into the kitchen.There!" said Richard, putting the plate before her. "First of all, clear that off, and then you'll see what's next."
The small servant needed no second bidding, and the plate was soon empty...
"Now," said Mr. Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, "those are the stakes. If you win, you get 'em all. If I win, I get 'em. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?"
The small servant nodded.
 'Then, Marchioness,' said Mr Swiveller, 'fire away!'
The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, took another pull at the tankard, and waited for her lead."

They're my favorite, the end.

Awesome Dickens Ladies Part 2

Nicholas Nickleby: the Infant Phenomenon, hilarious member of the acting troupe Nicholas joins.
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A jigsaw puzzle of Nicholas Nickleby. 
"This, sir," said Mr. Vincent Crummles, bringing the Maiden forward, "This is the Infant Phenomenon--Miss Ninetta Crummles."

"Your daughter?" inquired Nicholas.

"My daughter--my daughter," replied Mr. Crummles; "the idol of every place we go into, sir. We have had complimentary letters about this girl, sir, from the nobility and gentry of almost every town in England."

"I am not surprised at that," said Nicholas; "she must be quite a natural genius."

"Quite a--!" Mr. Crummles stopped: language was not powerful enough to describe the Infant Phenomenon. "I'll tell you what, sir," he said; "the talent of this child is not to be imagined. She must be seen, sir--seen--to be ever so faintly appreciated. There; go to your mother, my dear."

"May I ask how old she is?" inquired Nicholas.

"You may, sir," replied Mr. Crummles, "She is ten years of age, sir,"

"Not more?"

"Not a day."

"Dear me," said Nicholas, "it's extraordinary."

It was; for the Infant Phenomenon certainly looked older, and had moreover, been precisely the same age for certainly five years. But she had been kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin and water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps this system of training had produced in the Infant Phenomenon these additional phenomena."
So, that's pretty great.

Buuut I have a whole lot to say about her, so I'll do another post. Who in the world could it be? THE SUSPENSE!!

Where I forever and always disprove the claim that Dickens couldn't write good female characters....Part 1 DUN DUN DUNN

That Dickens was abysmal at writing lady type characters is sort of a literary given. And I mean, sure, headstrong, heavily-bearded dude writing in the Victorian era. When some other guy named Coventry Patmore actually wrote this poem:
Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself.
 How often flings for nought! and yokes 
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes 
Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse, 
With pardon in her pitying eyes.


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     Plus, Dickens had numerous decidedly bad relationships with women throughout his life, almost all of which were caused by his being a dick (ummm like when he left his wife Catherine for the 18 year old Ellen Ternan). 

    So what with disgusting cultural norms and icky personal baggage, there's no denying that Dickens' fictional depictions of women are mostly repugnant and frustrating, either doe-eyed weepy angels or monstrous vicious shrews. BUT you are missing out on quite a bit you think all his women characters are terrible. He sucked but he was also an extraordinarily brilliant person and he wrote some pretty kickass female characters to match, even if they kind of slip through the cracks.  For all the Little Nells and Lucie Manettes, there are also your Betsey Trotwoods and Helena Landlesses. Let's talk about them!

The Pickwick Papers: As the majority of the book is about a bunch of old guys who ramble around the countryside and drink, there are SURPRISINGLY not a lot of women. There only one of marginal interest is Mary Weller. Mary Weller was actually the name of Dickens' nursemaid when he was little, and she used to tell him creepy stories.

Oliver Twist: Nancy. As a prostitute and thief she is the complete antithesis of a "good" Victorian woman, but rather than vilifying her as would have been more acceptable based on the morals of the time, Dickens makes Nancy the compassionate, valiant heroine of the story. And a lot of readers don't realize that, based on a comment she makes to Fagin about Oliver's age,  she's only 16 or 17. Damn, right?  She is tragic, strong, compelling and morally complex in a novel where most of the characters are either ALWAYS picking wildflowers at six in the morning or ALWAYS kidnapping orphans.

We'll pick up again next time with Nicholas Nickleby. I still have nothing to say about Agnes Grey, so I'll probably just rant about governesses some time soon.

Monday, August 12, 2013

While I try to think of things to say about Agnes Grey, there's this

Me: "It's a song by The Smiths rewritten to be about Charles Dickens's life."
Supportive Friend: "Everything about what you just said sounds terrible."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


As of today, my blog has received 500 views!! In terms of the overall blogging world I don't know if that is pathetic or respectable for a fledgling blog, but TO ME it feels like a big fat whopping deal. So thank you thank you thank you, readers!!! I am very grateful to anyone who takes time out of their day to hear/read what I have to say. (Now, somebody make me a celebratory cake.)

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Or we could have a dance party.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: a Review

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So I borrowed this from a friend almost a year ago and only got around to reading it just recently because...because...I have no excuse.  Actually, my behavior might not be as bad as it seems because I lent the same friend my sister's copy of Michael Jackson: This Is It a few months ago. Actually, maybe it is bad after all because I'm lending out my sister's possessions. Um.

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The negative thing about short story collections is that while they'll contain a number of gem-like little tales there is usually a lot of what feels like filler to wade through too. The good thing about short story collections is that if you find yourself reading a dud it'll be over in a few pages and hopefully the next story you read will be better. Probably the best collection  I've ever read is Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White. It's charming and smart and eccentric and there's no filler and I encourage everybody to read it.

Fragile Things was really fun - colorful, bizarre and insanely creative.A lot of the tales are excellently spooky or delightfully witty or just plain weird. Some of them are noted in the introduction as being award winners, and you can definitely see why. Some do admittedly fall short of the very high standard set by the best of the collection. Most of these seemed like pretty good ideas that just weren't fleshed out sufficiently. The only other Neil Gaiman I've read is The Graveyard Book, of which I retain very little memory but I think my sister owns so you know where this is going, and I definitely plan to check out more of his novels and short fiction from here on out because his storytelling is wonderfully unique, deft and a just a blast to read.
Take it away, remaining MJ GIFs!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: a Review

Here we are now. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

It's beautifully written, gripping and transfixingly powerful. You just get sucked into and swept along in this wildly, passionately dreary tale of warped passion and blind revenge. Whee. Okay, now that the back-cover review is over, time to spew some random thoughts!

I have a theory that the only way to make a satisfactory Wuthering Heights adaptation would be to make it a fake reality TV show.
  • A bunch of hot and/or crazy people in an interesting locale.
  • They are all spiteful, immature, selfish and manipulative.
  • Seeing their soul-crushingly melodramatic story unfold is like watching a train crash. 
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"Oh, I've been tormented! I've been haunted, Nelly! But I begin to fancy you don't like me. How strange! I thought, though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me."

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Okay, so this already happened. But we can pretend it didn't, right?
This book is somewhat infamous (to me) and it seems that a fair number of people really, really loathe it. I can understand that perspective, because it's a pretty difficult story. But I think your reception of  it can be heavily swayed by what you go in expecting. I mean,  it's hailed as one of the best love stories of all time, but  it's not a romance-romance where the reader wants to be Lizzy Bennet or whoever; the love story is filled with hate and the choices the (mostly intolerable) characters make destroy their lives and  those of everyone around them. It can really throw you off, but if you know beforehand  that it's a bleak bleak bleak study in selfishness and misguided emotional venting as opposed to a charming and airy tale of provincial romantic mishaps then I think it'll be a lot more enjoyable from the get-go. (Once again, credit goes to The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller for helping me realize things.) Heathcliff...well, he's no Mr. Darcy.

"May she wake in torment!" he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. "Why, she's a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”  

The structure of the narrative, with Lockwood telling us what Nelly told him, comes across as a little odd and complicated. But actually, it serves a purpose when you think about it -Nelly and Lockwood act as buffers between the reader and the swirling vortex of narcissism and spite that is the story.  Nelly has an attachment to all the Sucky People who get up to the hijinx, and is an emotionally-healthy observer of said hijinx, and Lockwood is an impressionable outsider to the story who ties together the past and present. It's not perfect, admittedly, because Nelly is just sort of there and Lockwood...is sort of an idiot. The part with the dead rabbit-puppies? How I laughed.
I'm trying to think of other perspectives that would work. Healthcliff is the most important Sucky Person, but it couldn't be first-person Heathcliff because so much happens out of his sight. Everybody else plays too small a role to connect both generations of the story, except Nelly. The only thing I can think of is different characters narrating different portions of the story. The part with Isabella's letter works, doesn't it? So what if the whole story was like that, with all the characters taking turns to tell a bit based on which perspective and voice would best suit the happenings? Except Joseph would never have a chapter. Ever.

"We's hae a Crahnr's 'quest, at ahr folks. One on 'em's a'most getten his finger cut off wi' hauding t'other froo' sticking hisseln loike a cawlf. That's maister, yah knaw, ut's soa up uh going tuh t' grand 'sizes. He's noan feard uh t' Bench uh judges, norther Paul, nur Peter, nur John, nor Mathew, nor noan on 'em, nut he! He fair like's he langs tuh set his brazened face agean 'em!" 

Ech! Fook yah Joseph.

To conclude:
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Seriously, this came up when I did an image search for Heathcliff:


But in all fairness, so did these:
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Here's this now. Goodbye!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pip's going back to the time when he owned this town.

The time has come, people of the Internet, to talk about how Sovereign Light Cafe is my Great Expectations song. Here is the story of how I made the realization.

Right in the middle of my era of crazed Dickens-obsession I was reading Great Expectations, which have I mentioned before is the best?? Because it is. Orphans and convicts in creepy graveyards, spider-cakes, unrequited love, the Aged P, delusion, death by conflagration, youthful stupidity. WHAT LARKS. So I was happily reading away (I think I was sitting waiting in a Trader Joe's parking lot, for a reason that now evades me. Why wouldn't I go into Trader Joe's? They have sample cheeses!) And then a song came on the radio. The song.  As I half-listened, it dawned on me that firstly the song was stand-alone awesome and secondly THE WORDS IN THE SONG MATCHED THE EMOTIONS IN THE BOOK. Besides the overall feeling of nostalgia and regret that pervades the book,  I was at the specific part where Pip's life has imploded and he's like, Well, darn, I sort of ruined everything by pushing away those deserving of my love and deserting them to chase my selfish and all-too-elusive dreams of superficial self-betterment, I guess I'll try to pick up the shattered pieces of my existence and go back where I really belong . And the song was like, "You've got nothing to hide, you can't change who you really are/ You can get a big house and a faster car/ You can run away, boy but you won't go far.." And I got all teary-eyed and realized that this was A Moment.

And so I obviously scribbled down the name of the band in the front of my book (spelling it "Keen" at the time, may I be forgiven) and went home and totally fell in love with their music. I saw them live in January and they did Sovereign Light Cafe and that was Another Moment. And Great Expectations is awesome and Keane is awesome and this post is a very happy way to start the day. For me at least. Maybe not for you. Maybe you don't like melodic/anthemic piano-based British introspection. That's ok! For you then, here is another happy thing: I read in the intro to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (I'm behind on reviews) that when they were young, the Bronte sisters kept pet geese named Diamond, Snowflake and Rainbow and a pheasant named Jasper. JASPER THE PHEASANT.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Eyre-athon Reviews

I've now finished my Eyre-athon of screen adaptations. Huzzah!! It's not actually quite as totally "finished" as it could possibly have been, but I think I did fairly well nonetheless. (As movie taste is subjective and adaptation taste is DOUBLY subjective because it's also based on book taste, I'd love to hear other opinions!)

1934, Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive
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About to sing a duet.
This version is a hoot. Not only does it seem like an adaptation created by someone who received an inaccurate 2-minute synopsis of Jane Eyre, it also seems like an adaptation created by someone who received an inaccurate 2-minute synopsis of how human beings interact normally with each other. The characters bear virtually no resemblance to their literary counterparts- Virginia Bruce's Jane is pointedly referred to several times as "beautiful" and smirks and swaggers her way about to the point that you want to shake her and say "Who do you think you are- Blanche Ingram?"

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 Rochester is Adele's jovial, loving uncle in the process of divorcing his wife, who in her reveal scene calmly strolls into the room in a pretty dress and says "Edward, darling, are we to be married again?" Raging madness = mild confusion, apparently. Add to that the inexplicable and frequent use of Adele as slapstick comedy relief (HEY GUYS that young child just fell over the rail of the staircase into an umbrella stand! I wonder if she can breathe HAHAHA), and well, you're left with the worst ever adaptation of Jane Eyre.

 photo images_zps433f3b24.jpg1944, Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles: This is a truly excellent film and artistic achievement in and of itself and I recommend it highly, even though it is not the best adaptation I watched in terms of faithfulness to the book. It's classic Old Hollywood-  super Gothic and melodramatic, with beautiful use of black and white and atmospheric lighting and tense violin music. Joan Fontaine is...ok? I don't know, she's sort of bland and simpering for Jane. Orson Welles is awesome. He chews the heck out of the scenery, and he's awesome.  I feel somewhat hypocritical for writing so positively because I'm being accusatory of all the other adaptations for not being faithful to the book, and I don't know why I DON'T feel the same way about this version. Maybe it's because the alterations in the other versions result in something that is artistically disappointing, whereas in this one the alterations are done so well that they result in something that is different but still respectful of the original because it's good? *takes a deep breath* Maybe I'm overthinking this. It's a great movie. Watch it!

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Join us, Jane! Welcome to the world of dated family-friendly comedy Westerns!
1970, Susannah Yorke and George C. Scott: Meh. This version feels badly miscast and rather as if it was going through the motions. Probably because I will forever think of him as Ebeneezer Scrooge/the guy from The Changeling, George C. Scott is, in my opinion, not right for Rochester -besides speaking with an on-again-off-again American accent, his performance feels obnoxious, blustering and stilted rather than tortured. Honestly, he'd be a better Brocklehurst. Susannah Yorke's 30-something Jane looks  like she belongs on Here Come the Brides due to her elaborate 70's hairdo and, while doing a decent job, she sheds no light into the character's complexity. The romance is absolutely lacking in chemistry and the story essentially just lurches from important plot point to important plot point. The dialogue in the end is particularly terrible and sappy and I yelled at the TV, but other than that this version is just a little worse than mildly displeasing.

1973, Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston:  Proof to me that word-for-word accuracy to the text does not a good adaptation make. The creators should have taken heed that films are an entirely different art form from books and there things that work on the page that simply don’t on screen. I'm an adaptation purist generally but this version just takes it too far. To try to include as many of Jane’s thoughts as possible, there is this terrible, overbearing voice-over narration.  Jane has to interject every few minutes (often in the middle of conversations)  to describe things that are either 1) totally apparent already and have no need of explanation  2) unclear but could easily be made apparent without a wordy explanation with better acting and an effective screenplay 3) specific little details that have a place in the narration of the book but come across as the weirdest of weird non sequiturs on screen. Overall, my reaction is this:

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Also, Sorcha Cusack drove me crazy as Jane. She was constantly doing this coy/surprised, eyebrow-raised smile thing. It would've been okay if she had done it just once or twice but it was her response to EVERYTHING and it was so bizarre and distracting.

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 ALL the time. 
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1983, Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton: Mr. Pricklepants from Toy Story 3 = Rochester = WIN. To me, this version does the best job of putting the book on the screen, due to spot-on acting by the leads and a script that is super faithful to the book but effectively adapts as well to convey the powerful emotion of the original story. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Now time for a Happy Rant. Zelah Clarke is wonderful as Jane. She is by turns quiet, composed and thoughtful, ardent and strong-willed, and chipper and playful. Everybody says that Timothy Dalton is too attractive to play Rochester, but for me at least, when the actor so masterfully captures the character's nature -and he simply IS Rochester - tormented, brooding, commanding and bitter but also somehow charismatic, wry and loving and all that under the sardonic surface- his looks are second to that ability. (Plus I, for one, will never make a complaint about Timothy Dalton's looks under any circumstances whatsoever.) This is the only version that takes enough time and manages that time so well that you truly believe that Rochester and Jane are soulmates. There are a few scenes that could definitely have been sped up, though, (it takes much too long for Jane to get to Thornfield once she's grown up at Lowood) and, like many old  period dramas, it suffers from a stagey air and poor production qualities.  BUT in my humble opinion, it's the one to watch.  If you could combine the lovingly faithful, top-notch quality content of this version with the lush production values and style of the 2011 version you'd have the PERFECT Jane Eyre adaptation.
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It kind of looks like Jane's neck is going to be snapped whenever they kiss.
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1996, Charlotte Gainsburg and William Hurt: I watched it a few years ago and was underwhelmed and intended to revisit because I couldn't remember anything other than that I disliked it but then I got distracted by this Wii game where you're an ocean explorer and you solve mysterious legends and heal whales to the soundtrack of Celtic Woman. SUMMER PRIORITIES. So here is the imaginary conversation I have with this adaptation  (Jane Eyre  is Jack Donaghy's teenage nemesis here, and I'm Jack Donaghy, dammit!):

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1997, Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds: Did not watch. But word on the street is that Ciaran Hinds plays a Rochester in need of anger management therapy. 
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Ah, the staring into the mid-distance!

Somebody get these two a golden retriever puppy to cheer them up. 
2006, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens:  I couldn't find a copy of this one but I watched it a bit ago and I remember thinking that it was pretty okay but not fantastic (Be astonished by my specificity and thoroughness). I watched it and the '83 version at the same time, and while Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens were fine in their respective roles, Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton made wayyyyyy more of an impression on me. Also, I remember that there were some really silly, random changes and the dialogue was altered in an attempt to modernize, all of which is quite saddening to me. Oh! And the really controversial thing is that this version is fairly sexed-up; there are some flashbacks with Bertha (I think? I hope I'm not imagining that, because that would be weird) and it's pretty steamy when Rochester's trying to convince Jane to stay after the whole mad-wife unveiling debacle. It's not like I'm automatically righteously indignant about that, but if it's untrue to the way the characters would actually behave -which, at least for any making out after the wedding, it definitely is- or if the actual relationship-building content of the story is gotten rid of just to make room for more hanky panky then I'm not too happy. I'd say this version is worth a watch, though.

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 photo 215px-Jane_Eyre_Poster_zps9b6740c7.jpg2011, Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender: This movie is beautiful –sweeping music, lovely artistic design and cinematography. Every minute is a visual delight. Mia Wasikowska is an excellent, dynamic Jane who manages to capture the nuances of the character despite the film's shortish running time. It's very enjoyable to get swept up into the lushness and elegance of this version.  BUT in my opinion, it is crucially flawed in that it is sort of a Jane Eyre Lite that's too dark.

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I can't believe I actually found a use for this.

Allow me to elucidate: obviously it’s a serious story but there are also many moments of delightful warmth and humor that are totally absent here, and a lot of the excessive time spent on dramatic shots of Jane gasping and stumbling on the moors could have been better used in fleshing out  the relationship between Jane and Rochester with more accuracy to the amazing dialogue  Bronte wrote between the two (much of which is condensed, excised or inexplicably altered here, leaving Fassbender’s Rochester pretty bland.) The heart of the story is glossed over - to me, just as much as it’s a story about suffering and loneliness, it’s even more about the joy of life and the incredible beauty of the regard and affinity human beings are capable of developing for each other. I think this version focuses to much on the former and tells the story in such a way that we as viewers are expected to take the latter for granted. Basically.... Jane and Rochester spend too much time brooding and furtively watching each other wander the rugged terrain so then when the story's like "You're kindred spirits! NOW KISS!" you're like, "Um, sure, let's go with that?"  So it is definitely flawed but it's quite nice in several ways as well and it's gorgeously filmed.  

The End. The takeaway lesson is that I'm not a biased critic at all.  Nope nope nope. 

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