Date Someone Who Reads

Date Someone Who Reads

“Finding someone who reads is like dating a thousand souls.”
Yeah, but when I look in your eyes I feel my souls scatter
Like marbles
Running away from unsupportive hands
You couldn’t possibly catch me
My souls, my drift, my hint, the line I’m dropping or what I’m thinking
Too confused by the thousand souls speaking to “catch the nearest way”

“Finding someone who reads is like dating a thousand souls.”
But can you handle each one of them staring at you
Well aware that you dont understand their thousand and one mouths?

Keats After Me

The first time I looked up John Keats was after watching part of the movie Bright Star . The 2009 movie, which lost me when Fanny Brawne filled her room with butterflies and then let them die, had left behind the desire to understand exactly what and who I was supposed to be watching. After I had finished my research, I came to the conclusion that the real-life Fanny Brawne had fallen for a sickly man who had presented her with a recycled love poem and that the poet himself, Keats, was a little bit of a jerk.

Fast forward a few years. I have spent most of my time researching prose authors, but feel I have to study poets if I want to  improve my own poetry. I had been at it for a few days when I ran into this:

“I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion – I have shudder’d at it – I shudder no more – I could be martyr’d for my Religion – Love is my religion – I could die for that – I could die for you.” -Keats to Fanny Brawne, 13 October 1819

Sure you could, Mr. Keats. Sure you could.

His name brought a bad taste to my mouth and I was dubious of his sentiment. But, I’m studying poets and he qualifies. Why not find out what all the hubbub is about?

After reading up on Keats, it didn’t take very long before I thought I was finished with him again. I had come no closer to connecting with his life or with his work. I decided that he was young and idealistic and therefore wrote poetry and love-letters with the dramatic flair of the young and idealistic. I felt that his writing was, for the most part, lip service with lace on it.

With that, I put Keats down once more. But Keats’ work wasn’t done with me. In less than 24 hours after abandoning him again, I ran across this:

“This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.” -Keats
How had I missed this?

Research told me that this poem had been scribbled in the margins of an unfinished manuscript called “The Cap and Bells; or, The Jealousies” while he was on his deathbed and that it had gone unpublished until 1889.

Hmm…

I looked into his work for a third time, deciding to put aside my prejudice and find whatever it had caused me to miss before. That last time is when I learned a thing or two about Mr. Keats.

Firstly, I found that when Keats was less concerned with the beauty of the words and more interested in the emotions he was trying to express, his work was more poignant (“This living hand, now warm and capable”). Secondly, despite his desire to be remembered as a great poet, he detested the laws that bound his poetry (“If By Dull Rhymes Our English Must Be Chain’d”). This was work I could sympathize with.

At the finish of the Keats adventure, I found my own appreciation for him.  His most touching works are reflections on mortality, not romance.  It is when he ceased trying to please the critics, ceased following the rules of poetry, ignored the accepted beauty and forewent the rules of the time that he created true beauty and poetry. It is his struggle against what was celebrated in poetry and his abandonment of the common form that speaks to me as well as what was truly in his beating heart: fear and the struggle to accept a death he knew was coming.

It Takes One to Know One

I have discussed the ways I’ve met inspiration before. How I’ve seen it tipping its hat to me in a back alley, or had it wait patiently outside my door while I pile books and boxes and sticks and cats up to keep it out, or smiling at me while it kept one finger on my writing hand. But I’ve never discussed what it feels like to run headlong into someone else’s moment of inspiration.

Anyone who has written fiction themselves can  probably can recognize the moment where inspiration steps in and asks them to write something outrageous. It’s those instances where inspiration tells a writer to make their staid and reserved lead character break out into song in the middle of a boardroom meeting or to spontaneously begin speaking French without prior reference to them being bilingual. And while I have had those moments myself, it is interesting to get a taste of another writer’s strange moment.

The best example I have of peaking in on someone else’s inspiration detour comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The moment comes  at the end of the confrontation at the hotel and contains a subtle sort of disturbance in the flow of the story-one I could neither say was wrong or right, but had to pay attention to.

“After a moment Tom got up and began wrapping the unopened bottle of whiskey in the towel.

‘Want any of this stuff? Jordan?…Nick?’

I didn’t answer.

‘Nick?’ He asked again.

‘What?’

‘Want any?’

‘No…I just remembered that today’s my birthday.’”

When I read this for first time, I remember literally dropping the book, folding my arms and waiting for the text to explain to me why we had taken this turn.  And I may be wrong, but I believe this is a moment the author was not expecting.

I believe this is a situation where the character, Nick Carraway, had something to say that even his creator, F. Scott Fitzgerald, hadn’t been aware of. It is a sense of honest revelation to both the characters and the writer that makes it the perfect candidate for a creation of inspiration.

Now, that does not mean that my opinion is at all truth. I have never done any research into the matter and am not sure if Fitzgerald would have admitted it if he had been surprised by his own writing. But I do know that sometimes one recognizes “the glance of a curious sort of  bird” because they themselves have been that bird. And it’s in those incredible moments that a writer can find solace in the midst of the eternal struggle between what wants to be said versus what needs saying.

 

Sugar-Free Holmes

I went to the bookstore last Sunday to stare at books that I wish I had the means to purchase, drink hot things, and daydream. And while I couldn’t buy even a quarter of what I wanted to, I did walk out with a gift: A conversation I overheard between two women in line to get their drinks at the bookstore café. It took a little while for my brain to recognize the fact that they were talking about Sherlock Holmes, but when it did I couldn’t help but listen in. If they every read this (which is unlikely) I apologize for being nosey.

Woman#1 “’Cunning fiend.’”

Woman#2 “What?”

Woman#1 “‘Cunning fiend’; that’s all he could say.”

Woman#2 “That’s all who could say?”

(Both order hot chocolates before continuing the conversation)

Woman#1 “The villain. Colonel…colonel something. Moran.”

Woman#2 “And why was he saying this?”

Woman#1 “Because Holmes had tackled him after he had shot a dummy.”

Woman#2 (confused) “Shot a dummy…Why would he shoot-oh, wait, is Moran the air gun guy?”

Woman#1 “Yep.”

Woman#2 “Oh, yah, I remember…(noise of liquid being sipped through cup) ‘Cunning fiend,’ huh?”

Woman#1 “Yep.”

Woman#2 “Not much of an insult, is it?”

Woman#1 (Laughing) “No. No, but he couldn’t possibly insult Sherlock, Moran is too much in awe of him to insult him…and stuff.”

Woman#2 “Oh, so the problem is the awe factor? It trumps absolutely everything, even the fear of going to jail?”

Woman#1 “Yep. Villains can’t even insult Sherlock because he is too amazing. It’s those fabulous qualities of being cunning. And clever. And…(struggles for words)

Woman#2 Sugar-free?

(moment of silence)

Woman#1 Oh my god (LAUGHS)  yes! Yes, that’s the reason. Holmes…(unable to talk through laughing) is sugar-free! After everything, that’s what really does it to them.

Woman#2 (Dramatic tone) “’You cunning, sugar-free beast!’”

Woman#1 (Still laughing)

Woman#2 (Dramatic tone continuing) “’Ruining all my plans at the last moment with your incredible physical prowess and absurdly clever ways. Damn your magnificent, sugarless brain!’”

Woman#1 (Unintelligible speech and laughter)

At this point, I was giggling and I hid it by pretending to eat my sugar cookie. I wrote it down as best I could and wish I had been recording it.

I believe in Sugar-Free Holmes.

The Case of the Half-Completed Canon

So, I recently finished the last of the only four Sherlock Holmes novels. And while I still have something like 60 short stories to catch up on, I think four books worth of reading counts as half the canon.  After all of this reading, I am amazed at how much time Doyle spends in America. When you’re looking forward to adventures in a country that is not your own, you feel a bit cheated when you think you’ve bought a ticket for a foreign place and the plane drops you off at home. But, being that Doyle wasn’t really writing for an American audience, it makes sense. America was, at one time, considered as wild and exotic as any other place on Earth, even in the eyes of its own people. And though not fraught with tigers, fictional America was apparently simply riddled with gun-toting murderers and men with incredible personal histories who, after their grand and sordid American adventures, somehow found themselves in England.

Below is a very short list of things I found notable or interesting, all entirely subjective.

Most memorable moment which occurred while reading the books: My mother calling Sherlock Holmes a bastard.

Most memorable moment which occurred within the books: Can’t say without spoiling the story for other people, but it was in Baskervilles.

Favorite of the four novels: The Hound of the Baskervilles
So far, this story is unrivaled by any of the other Holmes stories. It is a delightful walk along the border of the supernatural and the mundane. It more satisfying than some Gothic novels for ambiance and horror and also adequately detective-y. And it’s an intriguing story when you take Conan Doyle’s relationship with the supernatural into account; it makes you wonder how much of the story is an argument between his personal beliefs and the reason-bound character he created.

Second favorite book: The Sign of the Four
It’s a good old-fashioned adventure. Mystery, romance, and a brief cameo by a slow-worm. Who can say no to that?

Wrong: Thoughts on The Autobiography of Jane Eyre

It all started when I saw the sub-titled screen captures and realized the woman with her face in the camera was supposed to be Jane Eyre. Thoughts piled up, one on top of the other more quickly than my mind could organize them. But the general idea was that these images were wrong. I have since spent the last week researching and trying to determine the best way to communicate those thoughts here. After much word-writing, I decided the best way to present them would be in the form of a list detailing my complaints and the reason for them.

The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, or AoJe, is a YouTube web series that modernizes Charlotte Bronte’s work Jane Eyre. For a modernization to be successful, I understand there are things that must change. Those things, however, should not be qualities key to the character of the heroin/hero. AoJE did just that. They changed Jane Eyre so much that she is unrecognizable to anyone who has read and understood the book. Continue below for my complaints and concerns.

1. The entire concept, or Jane with her face in a camera

I rejected this out of hand. It is as inappropriate and out of place as Ghandi driving a Porsche, George Washington being a fascist, or Caligula obeying the senate…this is wrong.
Jane Eyre is not one for the spotlight. Jane Eyre is not one to ask that people sit down and listen to her life story or one who asks for approval. This is not false modesty, this is not pouting…Jane did not want to be the center of attention. And who, after growing up with Jane’s Aunt Reed or after surviving an education at Lowood, would throw themselves on the mercy of YouTube?

So, Jane keeps to herself until questioned.

What Jane did want was to be cared for and to be loved. When she did fall in love and had that love reciprocated, she wanted her actions and words to matter to ONE person (Rochester). What Blanche Ingram thought, what Mrs. Fairfax thought, what the rest of society thought did not matter.

2. Jane as an indecisive, timid, apologetic creature with low self-esteem.

I look up to the character of Jane Eyre. In a world of female characters that rely on their fear or someone’s will besides their own to dictate their next move, Jane Eyre has ballast. She meets fear with a quiet, direct gaze and the knowledge that, no matter what happens in the next moment, no matter how extreme, she knows where she stands. Her will-power, her self-control, and her self-respect are all beautiful and admirable qualities. However, this web series removes Jane Eyre’s gall and replaces it with timidity. Is this a necessary step for modernization? No. But it is a necessary step if you are trying to make Jane Eyre a victim.

Moreover, timidity in general is not a theme in Jane Eyre. No character is timid or afraid to take what their heart wants. Jane listens to both her heart and mind and acts in complete obeisance to both, even to her own detriment. Rochester is determined to get what he wants, even if it damns him and Jane in the process. Even St. John Rivers is strong enough to quash a passion he sees as inferior to his calling. Does he shake? Yes. Does he blush? Yes. But does he give in? No. Even Blanche Ingram is bold enough to pursue Rochester’s fortune without guilt.

Jane Eyre is in no way a story about timidity and fear. Even the “villains” are strong-willed.

3. Jane Eyre starting a video blog because she wants to be more like the “confident” Elizabeth Bennet.

This is insulting for two different reasons. Firstly, Jane Eyre is not short on confidence. Jane is part of a lower class than Rochester and his circle of acquaintances, she is not considered beautiful, but she is not in need of confidence and she does not allow herself to be subjugated. This is exemplified in her famous poor, obscure, plain and little speech to Rochester. Secondly, Charlotte Bronte’s feelings on Jane Austen makes the above reason for Jane Eyre vlogging particularly ridiculous

Allow me to cite Charlotte Bronte’s letters to George Lewes for her feelings on Austen.

 

  • Her [Austen’s]business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman…
  • Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say you would rather  have written “Pride and Prejudice” or “Tom Jones’” than any of the Waverly Novels? I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with near borders and delicate flowers- but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy- no open country- no fresh air- no blue hill- no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in they elegant but confined houses.
  • Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant.”
  •  “Can there be a great Artist without poetry? What I call-what I will bend to as a great Artist, there cannot be destitute of the divine gift. But by poetry I am sure you understand something different to what I do- as you do by ‘sentiment” .It is poetry, as I comprehend the word which elevates that masculine George Sand and makes out of something coarse, something godlike…Miss Austen being as you say without “sentiment” without poetry, may be – is sensible, real ( or real than true) but she cannot be great.”

Taking all this into consideration, why in the world would Charlotte Bronte’s Jane EVER look to Austen’s Bennet for inspiration or guidance? Both the authors and their creations are as different from one another as frost from fire.

The Root of the Problem: the Creators of AoJE Want Jane Eyre to be an Austen Character.

The inspiration for The Autobiography of Jane Eyre was the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a web series that modernizes and serializes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s work and characters lends itself to this medium. Like Charlotte Bronte said, Austen’s work is about shrewd observation and YouTube is mostly observation laced with opinion. Also, Austen’s work, for all its drama, is essentially satire.

In comparison, Jane Eyre is not about satire. It is not about drama. Jane Eyre is a gothic novel. It covers abuse, neglect, love death, deceit, the concept of the soul, the influence of the supernatural on nature and humanity, nature as a reflection of humanity, the role of human law and convention as opposed to individual morality…I could go on for days. By trying to soften all that, by trying to make it light-hearted and brightly-coloured, by trying to make it a Jane Austen work, which is what AoJE did, you ruin everything that makes not only Charlotte’s, but all of the Brontes’ passionate and poetical work important.

If you want light-hearted fun, you have come to the wrong place.

On Modernization: Jane Eyre Would Probably Have a Tumblr Account.

In the end, I believe the creators of AoJE got one thing right. Out of every social media outlet, I think Tumblr would be the one Jane would use. It is simpler and more straight-forward than Pinterest or Instagram, is not as cliquey and competitive as We Heart It, it requires little to no writing, and is mostly focused on the art of the image which is how Jane prefers to express herself. Do I agree with the content that the creators of the web series include? Not a bit.

And when it comes to the creation of a web series, I can imagine a successful modernization, but it would have to embrace the gothic quality of the story,  the fact that Jane is a product of her inborn nature twisted by a childhood of abuse, and present an image of the world seen by the modern woman who would be Jane. If it were well done, I believe it could be very powerful…But is it too deep for the YouTube wading pool?

Dear Reader, if you have made it this far in the post, I thank you for taking the time and reading it. It may have been biased and passionate, but I think it was warranted. While I can’t discredit the people of AoJE for taking on this project, I can say they did it poorly. No, not even poorly, plain out wrong. They didn’t capture the essence of the novel or its characters. Instead, they have gave us a weak Austen-esque woman with Jane’s name claiming to tell her story.