Jane Eyre Does Not Cry

A couple days ago I took some students in my class to see the latest cinematic attempt to bring Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre to the public.

At the opening scene of Cary Fukunaga’s film my heart sank down into my heels and then, from there, I only stomped the ground with a red face throughout the rest of the film, trying to crush and smother the disappointment and anger that swelled through my body.

Continue reading

Florence Nightengale and Labor

Victorians wrote love stories about work.  Labor was the answer to almost every question.

Carlyle’s hero in Sartor Resartus cries, “Produce!  Produce! […] Work while it is called To-day; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.”

For Victorian authors and artists, work is either placed on a pedestal as an emblem of progress, or its face is dirtied like a troublesome rogue in texts like Gaskell’s Mary Barton and even Trollope’s The Claverings.

Yet, this, too, is a love story — perhaps more so.

Continue reading

Hazlitt’s Pleasures of Hating

William Hazlitt is notorious for writing criticism that doesn’t hold back.  A kind of rogue who received a large number of threats for his blatant opinions concerning authorship and culture, Hazlitt ruminated about the darker aspects of human experience.

In his best-known work, The Spirit of the Age (British, 1825), he appears more tame than in other essays, such as “Reason and Imagination.”  Although he does frequently praise his contemporaries for certain noble attributes, Hazlitt is much more in the habit of ripping them to shreds.

Yet, he rarely elevates himself above these decapitated philosophers.

In “The Pleasure of Hating,” I find Hazlitt at his best.  I also ponder about the function of hating in Victorian society, and its use today.

Continue reading

Marie Corelli’s Electric Creed

Marie Corelli is one of the most undervalued Victorian authors, yet she was as prolific — and as popular — as Dickens in her own time.

Her novels drip with supernaturalism, mesmerism, and science fiction: they’re exciting and bizarre.  Novels such as Ardath: A Story of a Dead Self, The Sorrows of Satan, or Wormwood have had me teetering on the tip of my old Victorian seat, snatching at the pages, trying to turn them faster.

Perhaps her best work is her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds.  It is, certainly, my favorite due to its synthesis of scintillant sanguinity and macabre fatalism. The tale revolves around an unnamed female hysteric whose musical genius has degenerated due to the malaise of urbanity.  Her friends take her abroad to a rustic hotel in Cannes where she meets Raphaello Cellini, a rejuvenated artist who, through the help of Heliobas Casimir – the “physical electrician” – has recovered his creative genius and zest for life.

Continue reading