yes she said yes i will yes

I only have two things to say right now, and this is what they are:

The first thing is that Melissa Averinos is the best friend ever, well, for a whole host of reasons, really, but at this moment also because she of all people knew that all I really wanted for Christmas was a set of bright white handkerchiefs, beautifully embroidered in the corner with the initials of Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester.

That's "Edward Fairfax Rochester" to you.

I mean really. How great is that?

Suitable, naturally, for sobbing into, while standing under a very large tree near Thornfield, just before one of the best proposal scenes ever.

The second thing is that you should go see The King’s Speech.

Now.

Repeatedly.

With ever-increasing intensity.

Oh.

Yes.

That.

…yeah, that’s about as much of a cogent review as you’re going to get out of me, I’m afraid. I just don’t have it in me tonight, not after watching that movie and then instantly wanting to watch it again. If it were a book, I already would have read it twice.

And besides, I’ve got another 3,000 words to write tonight.

Just go.

Bloggers Swoon Over Brontes

Melissa and I were delighted to be featured in The Barnstable Enterprise last week, essentially spotlighting our intense interest in the works of the Bronte sisters. Which we all know perfectly well is just a polite way of saying “our undying obsession with Jane Eyre.”

If you’re just joining our program, here’s how that all came about.

It all started when I showed Melissa the 2006 BBC version of Jane Eyre, almost exactly one year ago now. Now, Jane Eyre has always been my favorite book of all time, and I absolutely loved the treatment it got in this latest version on the Beeb. I blogged about this version, and my long-standing love of sweeping gothic romance novels, when it first aired in the States, in early 2007.

But when you know something so well, and you have lived with the story and its characters in your heart for so long, it’s hard to know how it seems to somebody who is encountering it for the first time. When I showed it to Melissa, she had never really delved into the world of British costume drama before, and I was really just trying to give her an idea of what the inside of my head looked like. Basically, I was used to other people not really seeing the appeal of these things, and was glad that she was simply willing to check it out and humor me.

Let’s just say she liked it. A lot.

In short, it grabbed her by the throat and would not let go. It was an awesome thing to watch. She became utterly and completely obsessed.

This obsession eventually grew into an online love-fest of Jane Eyre, which we expanded to include other works by the Bronte family, including Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. We called it BronteAlong, and tons of other folks joined in. The idea was that we would all together read (or watch a film version of) each book, and then create something based on the book. Melissa had been churning out drawings and sketches and paintings based on the characters in Jane Eyre since she first got hooked, and I had been knitting and writing patterns for things that some of the character wore, more or less continuously since the movie had first aired on PBS, so we wanted to see what other creative types produced when they were caught in full swoon, too.

Here’s just a small sampling of what BronteAlong produced, with over 40 participants online:

A Cross-Stitched Rochester and Jane by (…is five)

Mixed Media Portrait of Jane by Adelie

Monogrammed cookies for Jane and Edward by Mischief Mari

You can check out the whole list of participants, with links to their creations, on the BronteAlong page on Melissa’s blog.

The BronteAlong Flickr pool is pretty rad, too.

One of the folks who joined in the fun was Barbara Oliver, a local friend who also happens to write for The Barnstable Enterprise. She was so intrigued by the way this international book club got started and blossomed — all using the magic of blogs and social networks like Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter — that she decided to write up a story about it.

Unfortunately, the full story isn’t available online, but you can read it here if you don’t mind panning across a scanned copy. If you like it, why not tell Barbara herself on Twitter — I’m sure she’d love to hear from you!

And of course, we’ll have new fodder for BronteAlong soon, with the 2011 movie version of Jane Eyre looking so very promising…

BronteAlong: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights Frontispiece
BronteAlong has now officially moved on to a focus on Wuthering Heights, after weeks and weeks of wallowing recklessly in everything Jane Eyre. As promised, we won’t be necessarily leaving Jane and Edward F. Rochester behind… just adding Cathy and Heathcliff to the mix.

Although it’s kind of hard to imagine them all together in the same room, in’it?

Wuthering Heights

As you know, I never had quite the fondness for Wuthering Heights as I did for Jane Eyre, but that’s not saying a whole lot, as I was deeply obsessed by Jane Eyre when I was a young lass.  It would have taken a whole lot to have jolted me out of that attachment.

And Cathy and Heathcliff just never did. I mean, I love a good tale that involves woe, and scandal, and staggering across the moors, and desperate love, as much as (and quite likely more than) anyone else. But I knew before I even read it that the story ended tragically, so I never even allowed myself to fully hope for these characters, to fully invest in them, if you know what I mean.

Also, they are kind of maddening. You just want to shake them!

Of course, that’s pretty much how I feel about Lily Bart and Selden in The House of Mirth.  Every single damn time I read that book (I’m down to about once a year with the Wharton gang — I tend to pick them up in the fall, when my husband and I are often traveling to New York) I say EVERY TIME I read it, I retain a shred of hope that Lily will do something different, not take the loan from slimy Trenor, something… or that Selden will finally locate his spine and marry her after all.

Oh, PS, House of Mirth Spoiler Alert. Belated. Sorry. (But honestly, if you haven’t read The House of Mirth yet, how on earth did you find this blog?)

Where was I?

Oh yes, Wuthering Heights. Staggering woefully across the Yorkshire moors. Awesome.

So I watched the 2009 version from Masterpiece Theater, and I loved it. Tom Hardy was a great Heathcliff — he always plays such a believable baddie, and I thought he really nailed the pride and vulnerability in the younger Heathcliff, and the pride and remorse of the older one.

Lots of pride, that Heathcliff. Lots of pride. And, um, anger. Plenty of that, too.

I have no idea what sort of craft I might conjure up to celebrate this portion of BronteAlong, though! I shall have to read it and watch it again to get inspired. I’ve been listening to it, off and on, for a week or so, in my car — courtesy of a great audio version narrated by the excellent Michael Kitchen.

This is, of course, only my first post in the Wuthering Heights series of BronteAlong. More to come anon!

Making fiends

It’s amazing to me how easily we convince ourselves that we are the only oddballs on the planet who like the oddball little things we do. For me, it’s 19th century literature, history, architecture, manners, dress… but you knew that.

But the moment we put it out there that this is the thing that really makes our motors run, suddenly we find legions of kindred spirits, ready to join us in our oddball little pursuits.

Such has been the case with BronteAlong, of course, which has now attracted the participation of no fewer than 32 bloggers at last count. And the number keeps on growing.

Who knew?

It’s a nice reminder that the internet, despite all the negative press to the contrary, is really amazingly good at bringing like-minded people together, building real relationships, and establishing ties of friendship that would never have been built otherwise.

This gal, for instance, I met by reading her blog. And now look what we’ve done.

This week, I’ve been staying in The Samuel Sewell Inn in Brookline, just across the river from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I work. (I sleep over sometimes when the weather is particularly bad, or work is particularly intense. My commute from Cape Cod is very long and occasionally such measures are called for.)

This morning, I left my Jane Eyre DVD out on the TV stand, where I laid it down after watching it last night before falling asleep.  This evening, as I returned home from a long day at work and an evening spent teaching a college class, I found a note attached to my DVD, left there by the manager, who pulls the blinds in each room when the sun sets. (It’s that kind of a great place, with fanatical attention to detail. I love it here.)

Here’s what the note said:

Now, how great is that?

The lesson I’m choosing to extract from this is that like-minded people are everywhere, and we are never as alone in our passions as we might think we are.

All you have to do is put it out on the table for others to see.

Bibliophile

Ever since we started in on this whole BronteAlong madness, I’ve been reminiscing about how I grew up loving Jane Eyre. When I was about 12 years old, I suddenly graduated from obsessively re-reading Little Women (and Little Men, and Jo’s Boys, and Rose in Bloom — I do nothing halfway) to obsessively re-reading Jane Eyre.

As I have mentioned before, I grew up in a rather run-down Victorian house on Cape Cod that we inherited from my Great Aunt Eva. We had been living in a little house three doors down the street from her.  When I was born, bringing the total child count to 3, we were officially Too Big for That House.

When Aunt Eva died a few years later, it made sense for us to move into her old house and sell the wee house down the lane. Our new house came complete with all Aunt Eva’s gorgeous old things — mahogany secretaries and marble-top sideboards, hooked rugs and needlework samplers, and, of course, rooms and rooms filled with books.

War-time cookbooks. Leather-bound Shakespeare. Maps of the world predating World War I.

Aunt Eva wasn’t a snob, either — I found plenty of mystery novels (lots of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers), adventure-on-the-high-seas books (ooh la la Horatio Hornblower), and various novels of an even pulpier variety.

It would seem that Eva was as much of a literary omnivore as I would become.

It was her copy of Jane Eyre that I fixated on during my early teen years. Part of a 1904 series of “great books,” all published as part of something called The Everyman’s Library, they were nicely bound in red, and decorated with flowing art nouveau frontispieces.

I asked my mother if she could dig up those old books for me, so I could be reunited with them, for obvious, BronteAlong-related purposes.

She just dropped them off today — Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights among them. Guess which one I liked best when I was a girl:

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

I took that book with me everywhere. Thought absolutely nothing of sticking it in my back pocket and going to the beach with it. Or on a long bike ride to read in one of my favorite spots — an old abandoned house on the north side of town. Later, they boarded that place up and I could no longer crawl through the broken windows to sit on the ground and read while the sun set over the dunes. Yes, I do go in for the overly dramatic. What of it?

In the front of the book, there is Eva’s name, just where I remembered it:

Inscription in Aunt Eva's Jane Eyre - 1908

It was apparently a gift from my great-grandmother, Minnie:

Bottom of the same page (Jane Eyre)

Wilhemina Baker, whose long, silver hair I can remember brushing out when I was a little girl. She lived to be 101. Her husband, Samuel Baker (“Pop” to me), lived only 6 months longer, dying at 102 years old. They had been together since they were teenagers. Here’s Minnie at about 19 years old (when she graduated from Boston University – note the diploma scrolled up in her hands):

Minnie Baker

Back to the actual book:

Jane Eyre Title Page

So pretty!

Jane Eyre Frontispiece

…you ain’t kidding, mister.

And oh look at that! Guess which page it still opens up to:

Jane Eyre

…also known as “the fireplace scene.” I loved it even then.

In contrast, let’s see how comparatively pristine the copy of Wuthering Heights is. Even the frontispiece is noticeably less faded and manhandled:

Wuthering Heights Frontispiece

Although it, too, opens up to a favorite scene:

Wuthering Heights

I am so happy to have these back in my hands!

Since we are moving on Wuthering Heights next in our BronteAlong, I will clearly have to manhandle this copy a little more in the coming weeks, and make it look a little more well-loved.

Although I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that it can catch up to how well-loved that copy of Jane Eyre is. No 38-year-old woman, however hard she might try, can possibly love a book with anywhere near the devotion and ferocity of a 14-year-old girl. At least not the 14-year-old, book-obsessed girl that I was.

What books grabbed you by the throat when you were young?