tempestsarekind: (brighter than sunflowers)
If Manet, Cézanne, and the rest taught their contemporaries to look anew at the world around them, the Pre-Raphaelites did something analogous for the past—teaching people to see beauty in works that had hitherto appeared merely old and strange. The assumption that the present is always superior to what has come before, Prettejohn shrewdly notes, is also a form of blindness.


The link goes to a review of Elizabeth Prettejohn's new book, Modern Painters, Old Masters: The Art of Imitation from the Pre-Raphaelites to the First World War. (As an example, one of the prime instances of imitation in the review is the use various painters made of the mirror motif, inspired by Van Eyck.) The book sounds like it's worth a read, and I've found Prettejohn's work on the Pre-Raphaelites useful in the past (a long-ago college research paper on Victorian uses of Arthurian legend).


Aug. 5th, 2017 06:34 pm
tempestsarekind: (not supposed to be a heroine)
the Masterpiece adaptation of Little Women is apparently filming in Ireland; this seems wrong
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
I keep being tempted to come up with new headlines for this article, like, "Let's all celebrate a man's mediocrity!" or "Being male means never having to live up to your potential in order to still have people devote time and energy to you."

It's time to bring Branwell, the dark Brontë, into the light

I think this was the paragraph that really made my eyelid twitch:

Branwell’s imaginative terrain was vast and impressive. He had the ability to rework a variety of histories and literary genres, immersing himself in an imaginative world that showcases a sophisticated interpretation of the world around him. Yet, despite this engagement, his writings are often derivative and undisciplined, often degenerating into a rambling stream of consciousness. If nothing else, however, these early years saw Branwell as an instrumental figure that inspired his sisters to harness their own imaginations and opinions. Branwell’s contribution was influencing his sisters to become the perceptive, avant-garde writers we know. (my emphasis)

Ugh. So…he wasn't actually good at writing, is what you're telling me, but we should talk about him more anyway?

The thing is, I don't even really have any opinions about Branwell, ordinarily. It's just that every time I hear about him, it's usually someone trying to make him central to the successes of his sisters, or focusing on him and his antics rather than on the creativity and artistic discipline of, you know, the Brontes who actually had flourishing literary careers. (The recent TV costume drama about the Brontes, To Walk Invisible, was regrettably guilty of this, passing over the composition of whole novels in an eyeblink while spending whole scenes on Branwell's conning their father out of money to spend on liquor.) I'm not saying that we should never talk or think about Branwell; rather, I feel like he gets talked about all the time - and maybe out of proportion to his actual accomplishments. It's that same insidious desire we seem to be afflicted with, culturally: we rack our brains to figure out ways to make a man responsible for a woman's literary successes - whether it's spending ages trying to work out who the "Master" of Emily Dickinson's poems might be, or making whole movies devoted to the idea that Jane Austen only became a novelist because Tom Lefroy recommended Tom Jones to her and broke her heart, to this. Why is it so hard to give these women their due? It's just dressing up the Victorian idea that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell could never really have been women in slightly more modern clothing: a man had to have had his hand in the thing, somewhere.


Mar. 24th, 2017 02:58 pm
tempestsarekind: (it is margaret you mourn for)
"The second Mrs Hardy might have known what was coming from the manner of Hardy's proposal. He had taken her to the churchyard to show her the grave of wife No. 1, and, pointing to another vacant plot, he said, 'That's for you.' By this, she took it that he was proposing. Before they're anything else, if they're any good at all, most writers are absurd."

--Alan Bennett, Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin

Heh. This gives a new meaning to "Ah, are you digging on my grave?"
tempestsarekind: (books and flowers)
To Walk Invisible, airing on the BBC later this month:

I'm planning to try teaching Jane Eyre again this year in English 9 after failing at it my first year: we just ran out of time to actually finish the novel; I hadn't realized how long it actually takes to get through The Odyssey while trying to teach students to close-read! But I'm wondering whether it might be fun - if time allows, of course - to also talk a bit about the role of the Brontes in the popular imagination, from their first publication onward. It'll be interesting to see what sort of response this period drama gets.
tempestsarekind: (manuscript [little women])
So someone made a movie about Emily Dickinson? Starring Cynthia Nixon as Dickinson? Here's the trailer:

I am…I won't say unhappy, exactly, but disquieted, at the least. I don't know why, particularly: I have no indications that the film is not good, and I usually like costume drama. Maybe it's because Dickinson seems such a private person to me that it feels particularly wrong to presume to imagine what was going on in her mind and heart.

(This makes no real sense, because I've read quite a few of Dickinson's letters since I wrote a research paper on women's "romantic friendships" in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Open Me Carefully was a major source for that essay. Also, I have been to the Dickinson Homestead and the Evergreens [the house next door where Emily's brother Austen and his wife Susan - who was also Emily's dear friend, and the addressee of the letters in the Open Me Carefully collection - lived] more than once. So it's not exactly that I think the filmmakers ought to have left Dickinson her privacy - more that I think she ought to be left to speak for herself, in whatever riddling ways she chose?)

(I never feel this way about, say, Shakespeare. I might disagree with portrayals of him - since "my" Shakespeare is actually the quiet, circumspect Droeshout Shakespeare, the kind of man who could see the word "temperate" as the highest word of praise for a loved one - or I avoid them because I'm not especially interested, but I'm not upset by the fact that they exist. And my problem with Becoming Jane is that it was terrible and offensive, not that it was a biopic about Austen. I rather liked Miss Austen Regrets, after all.)

I assume, though, from the trailer, that Jennifer Ehle has been cast as Susan, and if I'd ever before thought about who ought to play Susan, I would have chosen Ehle in a heartbeat. So there is that.

ETA: Well, now I'm doubly disappointed. According to IMDb, Ehle has been cast as "Vinnie" Dickinson - Emily's sister Lavinia. It turns out that Jodhi May has been cast as Susan - which is the only time I've ever been disappointed that Jodhi May was cast in something! But I also don't remember seeing her in the trailer, which suggests that Susan might not have a big part, and that's too bad, given how important she was to Dickinson. "One sister have I in our house," she once wrote in a poem to Susan, "and one a hedge away." And here's how that poem ends:

I chose this single star
From out the wide night’s numbers -
Sue - forevermore!


Oct. 15th, 2016 07:09 pm
tempestsarekind: (ophelia)
For anyone not already following the Oxford DNB feed, here's a podcast about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood:
tempestsarekind: (little women)
A series of four essays on Little Women, one for each of the March girls:

Incidentally, I always forget how much more familiar I am with the 1994 film than I am with the novel (I did read it two or three times, but it wasn't a favorite - not in the way that The Secret Garden or Charlotte Sometimes was).
tempestsarekind: (margaret hale does laundry)
A.S. Byatt has written a nonfiction book about William Morris and Mariano Fortuny (I'm only familiar with the former):


I haven't read as much Byatt as I ought, probably (loved and have reread Possession; read The Virgin in the Garden but didn't seek out the other books of the Frederica Potter quartet). At one point I started reading The Children's Book, but partway through I realized that while it wasn't quite making me want to stick with the novel, it was making me want to read about William Morris and Edwardian children's book authors. So…I might want to read half of this new book?

(I always feel like I ought to know a lot more than I do about William Morris - not that this would be hard, because I hardly know anything about him. I did a research paper in college on Victorian uses of Arthurian imagery, so of course he popped up a bit there, but he got drowned out by Tennyson and the PRB. And I can recognize a Morris wallpaper pattern easily enough - once I visited the Evergreens, the home of Emily Dickinson's brother and wife Susan, when they'd opened it up for visits, and there were scraps of original Morris wallpaper still on the walls, and this was very exciting. I've looked at some of his stuff in the V&A, and I'm still disappointed that I've never had a chance to eat in the William Morris dining room there, because it's been full every time I've gone to the museum. But that's not much. So I feel as if I ought to make up for it, somehow. I don't know why I feel this way, though. There are tons of things in the world that I don't know anything about, after all.)
tempestsarekind: (ophelia)

We spent quite a bit of time on Juliet's "vial" soliloquy in class this year - which is not particularly relevant to anything, except that we spent a lot of time talking about how the verse picks up the pace as it goes along, as Juliet's shorter, more measured sentences become this long tangle of a sentence that keeps breaking off and starting over, as she gets more and more frantic. It's interesting to listen to an acclaimed Victorian actress recite the speech, presumably in a way that audiences approved of,* as it's so different: stately, and magisterial, and I'm sure thrilling, but not frantic in the way I'd expect it to be based on the language. But acting styles change, of course.

*My favorite Ellen Terry story - not that I have tons of them or anything - is still that guy who proposed to his sweetheart by saying basically, "Since Ellen won't, will you?" I should find that anecdote again.
tempestsarekind: (corset pout)
Here's a 2012 article from Collectors Weekly (found via link-hopping) about the history of the corset:

Everything You Know About Corsets Is False

The writer interviews Valerie Steele; I read her book on corsets back when I was in college. It's always nice "running into" someone whose work you've read on the internet; it's like meeting up unexpectedly with an acquaintance.
tempestsarekind: (henry tilney would SO write fanfic)
The Oxford University Press blog delivers again:


[Francis] Barrett gave private tuition on the magical arts, and one of his pupils was a Lincolnshire cunning-man named John Parkins. When this rural magician returned to his home near Grantham he set up a Temple of Wisdom, and began publishing a series of divinatory, herbal and magical texts. In 1812 we find Strange using his magic in the service of Lord Wellington, and that same year Parkins advertised a lamen or talisman for military and naval officers in his Cabinet of Wealth, or the Temple of Wisdom. ‘God Save the King, and Defend this Nation!’ He declared. Parkins’ lamen would ‘not only powerfully protect and defend the British Army and Navy in all those times of the greatest danger, but also give them the most complete victory over all enemies, both foreign and domestic.’

So when you watch the next episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, spare a thought for those very real friends of English magic: Sibly, Barrett, Denley, and Parkins."
tempestsarekind: (histories)
I was searching for information about Tudor petticoats on the internet (like you do), and happened upon the fact that Mary Shelley wrote a novel about Perkin Warbeck.

How did I not know this before?

It is apparently available on Project Gutenberg Australia:
tempestsarekind: (don't get clever in latin! [donna])
I'm going to go ahead and post the last couple of things I've written about trying to read Wolf Hall recently (I figure I should try to read it before I see the miniseries? I have until April - which is when PBS is airing it), even though I am kind of embarrassed by them (why can I not appreciate this book that everyone else in the world loves? What is wrong with me?), but for the sake of honesty, here we go.

18 January 2015

Somewhat perversely, I would like to read some criticism of Wolf Hall by someone smart and thoughtful who didn't like it; maybe it would help me like it better, knowing that someone out there hadn't praised this book to the skies when I am not enjoying it. Admittedly I have only managed to struggle through the first three chapters - this is only partly the book's fault; I haven't been reading it consistently - so maybe I haven't adjusted to the prose yet and I will enjoy it more as I get used to it, but right now the book's very syntax is grating on my inward ear. Stop cramming all the paragraphs with so much syntactically unconnected detail, Hilary Mantel! Stop changing point of view in the middle of paragraphs! (You can't just throw "We hope he'll grow up tall" in the middle of a paragraph about Cromwell's son when the whole rest of the paragraph is being narrated in the third person, what are you even doing!) Also, I know this book is all dudes*, but if you could be a little bit clearer who you're talking about - so that every sentence isn't "He said to him that he was a great scholar" or whatever, although this would be less difficult to figure out if every paragraph weren't crammed with so much detail, because each one of those three pronouns could refer to a different man mentioned in the last two sentences, for all I know - that would be nice. (Yes, yes, I'm sure this is on purpose. That doesn't mean it doesn't grate.)

Also, the dialogue is also irking me, but this is more personal; it just sounds so terse and modern that it actually feels at odds with the way that Tudor people seem to me to think. Even their personal letters are more playful and elaborate with language than we are today - they like playing with words and coining new ones; they weren't like, "ah yes, in the halls of power we get right to the point, none of this fancy-dancy speechifying." And their speech could still be muscular and vivid - but they were not exactly a terse people. I know historical fiction doesn't have to represent the speech patterns of its historical period exactly, even in stories about speakers of whatever language one is writing in (a book set in ancient Rome but written in English is never going to sound like Latin), but still.

*This bit actually sounds more sarcastic about Mantel than I meant it to; it's not her fault that every important person in this period is a guy named Thomas!

21 January 2015

Still trying to read a chapter or so of Wolf Hall before bed; right now I am only managing three or four pages every couple of nights, but hey ho. I hit one of those bits last night where Mantel apparently uses what reviewers actually called "ye olde speech," because why not, in order to make a humorous contrast or whatever:
Above all, Mantel avoids ye olde-style diction, preferring more contemporary phrasing. Small rises in the level of language are frequently used for comic effect, as in: "Well, I tell you, Lady Shelton, if she had had an axe to hand, she would have essayed to cut off my head." The effortless-seeming management of contrasting registers plays a big part in the novel's success, as does Mantel's decision to let Cromwell have a sense of humour."

And this is even more grating than the lack of clarity regarding third-person singular masculine pronouns, because it's indicative of a thing that feels to me like a failure in the world being imagined. It's the same problem I had with Desperate Romantics, a not particularly good miniseries about the PRB, in which all the painters spoke in relatively modern speech, except for Millais (played by an adorably hapless Samuel Barnett), who was supposed to sound so quaint and prim and prudish...except that all he really sounded was Victorian. You know, like all of the other characters in the miniseries are as well. Or "The Shakespeare Code," which is supposedly set in 1599, but has an exchange between two of "Shakespeare's" actors in which they complain that they never know what old Will is going on about (yeah, Early Modern English must be really hard for you sixteenth-century guys to understand), and the only characters in the episode who ever sound remotely Elizabethan are the Carrionite "witches," who are supposed to be from the dawn of time. I mean, I get it: modern readers and viewers hear that language as old-fashioned and ridiculous, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to yell "do better!" at people when they pull this nonsense. It never stops bothering me when historical fiction or historical drama takes the language that people actually spoke and turns it into nothing more than a ridiculous joke. Surely historical fiction is supposed to be about imagining what the past was like, to the degree that we ever can, and trying to conjure up an actually different world, in which people thought - and yes, spoke - very differently from the way we do? And wouldn't it make more sense for critics to - let's get crazy here - respect that endeavor, instead of demeaning the so-called trappings of historical fiction as nothing more than "ye olde-style diction," and only praising those books of historical fiction that "make the past seem just like today" or "make the sixteenth-century court seem just like the modern halls of power," as though the erasure of difference and such easy parallelism between then and now are things to strive for?

I know I have ranted this rant before, about RTD-era Doctor Who historical episodes (oddly enough, Moffat managed to ameliorate this not by having a companion from the past - which I still want, and I'm still wistful about Victorian Clara - but by changing the Doctor so that he no longer says things like "This lot have still got one foot in the Dark Ages," but instead remarks offhandedly that he's on Virginia Woolf's bowling team, and has longstanding relationships with figures like Churchill, and takes Vincent van Gogh seriously and befriends him instead of making jokes about him like Ten does to Shakespeare), but still. This attitude is like nails on a chalkboard to me; I can't help it. And it's such a waste. (As much as I find myself yelling "what are you even doing right now" at Sleepy Hollow on a regular basis this season, one thing that they got right is that Ichabod's old-fashioned language doesn't mean that he's a joke - even though he is often funny, and Abbie rightly laughs at him when he takes refuge in an even greater level of formality because he doesn't want to deal with something. He speaks the way he speaks not because he's some kind of prudish fussbudget, but because he's, you know, from 1781. They spoke like that then. And he can still be curious and tender and exasperated and everything else in that language, because it is an actual language to him, not just an affectation a writer has him put on when he wants to make fun of someone else. I can't wrap my head around Mantel's decision, after reading what must have been tons of Tudor documents and history, to look at the way they spoke and then decide to use it only in mockery. Why not just choose not to use it at all?)
tempestsarekind: (little dorrit)
One could lose a lot of time looking through this:


Passing English of the Victorian era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase, by J. Redding Ware (1909); Routledge, London.
tempestsarekind: (little women)
I Smell a Gritty Reboot: "Modern Take" on Little Women Coming to ABC

(link via Bookshelves of Doom.)

My actual problem with this is that I simply can't imagine it. Sherlock, and then Elementary, was an easy fit for imagining how modernization might work because people had been telling Holmes-inflected stories on TV for years before that (House, Psych, The Mentalist, a host of shows I've forgotten - and even crime procedurals that aren't explicitly wedded to the "super-smart and observant male detective" model draw on some of the same elements). I don't know how closely Revenge hews to its original source material, but the idea of revenge was still a part of the TV landscape before the show aired.

The thing I keep getting stuck on is that the concerns of the March family, and the ways those concerns are dealt with, are so located in their specific time period - not the fact that the father is away at war (sadly - although I don't understand the "military scandal" part in the synopsis), or the family's straitened circumstances while he's away - but the way self-abnegation is such an important part of the story, for example. (Not that this isn't a modern value, but it's not one we see on TV all that often.) I guess this is the question I have about the difference between "inspired by" and "retelling" or "adaptation of." House is not really an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories, even though it's clearly inspired by them - and that's fine. Reign would make fifteen times more sense to me if they just told a story inspired by Mary, Queen of Scots, instead of purporting to be based on her life but getting every single detail of it wrong and having no allegiance to anything resembling actual history. A modern story inspired by Little Women is one thing - and actually, the more it makes sure to stand on its own without constantly looking back to the novel, the better it would probably be - but an actual adaptation is another thing entirely, and much harder to figure out, especially when the original has such specific and important values at its heart.

(This is also why the two recent-ish adaptations of Mansfield Park - the Rozema film, and then the miniseries with Billie Piper - annoy me so much; they both rewrite Fanny Price entirely, to make her more "palatable" to a "modern" audience, instead of taking her seriously as a character with values that are important to her role in the story.)
tempestsarekind: (martha at the globe)
I tried to watch Penny Dreadful season one (library DVD), because I'd heard Rory Kinnear was in it. It turned out Billie Piper is in it as well (doing an absolutely wretched Irish accent, which is made more wretched by the fact that her character's being Irish adds just about nothing to her story as far as I can see, except that she can be named "Brona," which apparently means "sadness"), and guest actors I love kept turning up - Alex Price, Simon Russell Beale (!), Helen McCrory. And yet, I could only make it partway through episode 3; I realized that I wasn't actually enjoying anything about the show.

The Gothic is definitely not my aesthetic, and I'm not interested in vampires (the Timothy Dalton character says - or intones; nobody just "says" anything on this show - "My daughter was taken," and I snarked "by the fairies," and then thought, disappointed, "…oh. I would so much rather have that show").1 And I really hate the character of Frankenstein, just in general (despite the number of times the National Theatre has screened the Miller/Cumberbatch Frankenstein - including once more this year, for Halloween - I have not been able to muster up enough enthusiasm to try to go). Like, how did you not think this through, idiot? You brought what is basically a corpse puzzle to life, and then thought, "oh no, this is terrible, run away"? And then were not at all concerned that your animated corpse puzzle wasn't there when you went back? Like, "dum de dum, glad that's over, it's probably not out terrorizing people with its very existence or anything, on with the rest of my life!" Victor Frankenstein, you are the worst. And then the whole "Romantic bros locked in primal combat" thing is also not that interesting to me. But I think I never recovered from the fact that it looked like the creators of Penny Dreadful were going to take the Frankenstein story in a different direction (and also make Frankenstein less terrible) - and then, nope, right back in that soup. Without spoilers…I feel like the decision they made, which was to end the one part of the narrative that looked like it might have been about that rare commodity, joy, in as abrupt and bloody a way as possible, essentially summed up the show for me. Humor and joy and happiness - even the hard-won sort - don't exist in these kinds of worlds (so what are we fighting for, exactly?), and it's foolish of you, viewer, to look for it or invest in it if it seems to be there for a few scenes. Well, I learned my lesson, and that's a big part of why I stopped watching. That might be to someone else's taste, but it is emphatically not to mine.

(And then Frankenstein's creature tells this backstory about how he fell in with a bunch of theater people and became a stagehand, and that sounded so much more interesting to me than the whole "I hate my dad creator, but I will hound him to the death to force him to make me a mate" thing, which sort of only works if the creature hasn't…just made friends who still live around the corner? And also just basically looks like Rory Kinnear with some scars and a partially shaved head? The theater guy he meets actually says to him when they meet, "Oh, was it an industrial accident?" not, you know, "Vile thing, avaunt and quit my sight!" So it feels really dumb, this whole "I can never join the humans" line that they've taken with him. I…guess the creature is immortal? But it feels like he hasn't been around long enough to have a) figured this out; and b) have exhausted the possibilities of connecting to other humans, since he meets theater guy on his very first night alone in London, and has been working at the theater just long enough to have tracked Victor down? I don't know; time is mushy on this show. Anyway, the point is, the creature learning to be human from a bunch of actors and through art was suddenly so much more interesting to me than this "Time to make the donuts lurk in alleys and stalk my creator" narrative that I was pretty much over it before it had even begun. Also, he had this terribly clunky line about how Victor likes Keats and Wordsworth, but poetry is Over because of the Industrial Age or something - "did you think we would find eternity in a daffodil? Who's the child now, Victor Frankenstein?" and it just bounced off my head entirely and made me giggle for several minutes, because daffodils are still a thing, you can have flowers and steam engines, it's not like they cancel each other out; and also it's just so "You so don't get it, dad!" that I couldn't take it seriously.) (Also, it's weird that Victor, fictional character created by the wife of a Romantic poet, can read Keats and Wordsworth…but not Shelley, I guess? - Wait, no, the creature totally mentions Adonais, what the hell.)

Also, Dorian Gray is…there? For…reasons? Maybe he gets something to do other than random uncomfortable Sexytimes at some point, but I won't be finding out.

In sum: If you are going to throw all the 19th-century monster tales into a blender, you should actually do something more interesting than the usual "everything is grim, there were no colors in Victorian London / look there are opium dens so it's not your grandma's period drama / let's go hunt the creatures of the night / guess we'll enlist some shady dudes without giving them enough information to properly protect themselves on a bloody vampire hunt, that's totally responsible of us and not at all done just so we can seem Mysterious / ha ha, coherent mythology, that's not a thing, silly" world that they've set up.

1Seriously, where are my fairy shows??? Even aside from the fact that I love that mythology and never get to see it onscreen except for Pan's Labyrinth a billion years ago, at least it would be different. Penny Dreadful basically exists in the same murky, blood-drenched, scabrous, consumptive world of Copper and Ripper Street and The Crimson Petal and the White, and you can't throw a vial of holy water without hitting vampires and werewolves and End Times and Creatures of the Night Set to Blot Out the Sun and Destroy the Age of Man, and bleh. I can't even think of a supernatural show that has had much to do with fairies; I guess they don't mix especially well with the Apocalypse?
tempestsarekind: (books and flowers)
I got a remaindered hardback of Daisy Hay's Young Romantics today for $4.99, aw yeah. I had it out from the library a few months ago, but only read the first forty pages or so before I had to return it. So now I will...promptly go back to not reading it yet, I guess. But I'll know that at any moment, I *could*.


tempestsarekind: (Default)

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