Sunday, 8 December 2013

Miscellaneous: woman, woman reader, woman writer

1/ Charlotte Bronte's reply to a critic:
"Whenever I do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call "melodrama." I think so, but I am not sure. I think, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's "mild eyes," to finish more, and be more subdued; but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master -- which will have its way -- putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature, new moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?"

Jane Austen's reply to a critic:
"You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe-Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other."

According to the article above, research has shown that there are differences between Jane Austen's manuscripts and the published texts in terms of spelling, punctuation and grammar, so negatively speaking, much of her style isn't hers, contrary to the public's view of her as a perfect stylist, and she owed much to the editor; or positively speaking, she had an innovative, experimental voice that wouldn't be heard again till the early 20th century and she thus was ahead of her time.
To be honest I don't know which of these 2 possibilities is the case and can't even say if there indeed are significant differences, not having seen the examples. All I can say is that I have read many of her letters and her style is pretty much the same there as in the novels I've read and people are unlikely to have changed anything except the spelling (indeed, Jane Austen was a horrible speller), the random capitalisation common in English writings at the time and the ampersands and some minor errors/ inconsistencies. 

1 thing that attracted my attention is that 1 person commented "The question that arises for me from this information is whether or not this is a case of a male publisher distorting or silencing a female voice?"
Then somebody else snapped back "As a professional editor, and a woman, please know that I distort and/or silence MALE voices every single day. It's my job.
I am a pedant, and the genitalia of authors has no bearing on my obsessive compulsion to repair errant grammar, bad punctuation, and poor word choice.
I abhor the knee-jerk tendencies of some (c.f., mren2 above) to make a feminist (or racist) issue out of every simple human interaction. That proclivity is divisive and, if I may be frank, immature." 

This is absolutely true.
If Jane Austen was bad at spelling, grammar and punctuation, the editor was doing his job. If she was indeed an experimenter and the editor misunderstood her and corrected her style, that only means that he was an ordinary man who was unable to understand what she was doing and that she was ahead of her time. Why must it have had something to do with sexism?

3/ A bit of feminism in Emily's "Wuthering heights":
"‘He’s in the court,’ he replied, ‘talking to Doctor Kenneth; who says uncle is dying, truly, at last.  I’m glad, for I shall be master of the Grange after him.  Catherine always spoke of it as her house.  It isn’t hers!  It’s mine: papa says everything she has is mine.  All her nice books are mine; she offered to give me them, and her pretty birds, and her pony Minny, if I would get the key of our room, and let her out; but I told her she had nothing to give, they were all, all mine.  And then she cried, and took a little picture from her neck, and said I should have that; two pictures in a gold case, on one side her mother, and on the other uncle, when they were young.  That was yesterday—I said they were mine, too; and tried to get them from her.  The spiteful thing wouldn’t let me: she pushed me off, and hurt me.  I shrieked out—that frightens her—she heard papa coming, and she broke the hinges and divided the case, and gave me her mother’s portrait; the other she attempted to hide: but papa asked what was the matter, and I explained it.  He took the one I had away, and ordered her to resign hers to me; she refused, and he—he struck her down, and wrenched it off the chain, and crushed it with his foot.’"

4/ Toni Morrison on rape:
"Rape is a criminal act whatever the circumstances. A woman riding the subway nude may be guilty of indecency, but she may not be raped. If she invites or even sells sex at 10:00 and refuses it at 10:45, the partner who disregards her refusal and forces sex is guilty of rape. If she is drunk, asleep, mentally defective, paralyzed or dead, she must not be raped. Why? Because sexual congress must be by consent."

Ah! Conspiracy theory.
"While the three Bronte sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlott met with great literary success with Withering Heigths, Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre, biographers suggest that it was actually their genius brother Branwell Bronte who was behind it all.
So why did he alone perish in anonymity? It’s a sad story of a man whose fertile mind and high flights of fancy were never allowed to take wings in the real world. As a child, Branwell was the leader among his sisters. If he cried, they cried. He laughed, they laughed. They followed him everywhere; delighted by the fantastical characters he created and awed by his brilliance..."
Branwell must have been behind it all because, well, it's impossible to believe that in such a family all the 3 sisters are acclaimed and well-known today, especially the 2 older ones, whereas the only one who perished in anonymity was a man! 
More interestingly, let's consider the theory: Branwell wrote all these shocking, scandalous books, then signed as 3 different masculine/ unisex pseudonyms Currer Bell, Ellis Bell, Acton Bell because it was difficult for authoresses at the time in a male-dominated society, and then when the question of their identities was raised, he told his sisters to appear and tell publishers that they were the ones that wrote those books?

6/ My gender does not disappear when I read just because I do not discriminate against an author based on gender. I read as a reader and as a female.

7/ Adrienne Rich sees Jane Eyre as more valuable to the woman reader than Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary and Catherine Earnshaw combined. That is true.

8/ In the end, I'd like to end this post with something happy-go-lucky:
Here is the witty, humorous Emma Thompson, receiving a Golden Globe for her "Sense and sensibility" screenplay, pretending to be Jane Austen:

Even more hilarious is her diary from the filming. Here are some extracts:

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