Charlotte Brontë, who died in 1855 aged 38, might almost have been an Elizabeth Gaskell heroine. Like Margaret Hale in North and South (1855), or Molly Gibson in Wives and Daughters (1864), she’d had to look after a widowed and cantankerous father in very difficult circumstances, facing the grim realities of sickness and death. Perhaps it was this that inspired an extraordinary friendship between two great Victorian writers, which would ultimately blossom into one of the most remarkable literary biographies in English prose. The two novelists first met in the Lake District in the summer of 1850. They were, in many respects, polar opposites. Gaskell was beautiful, worldly and dizzyingly public: a mother of four; familiar with Florence Nightingale, Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, and even Dickens, with whom she did not get on (“If I were Mr G,” exclaimed Dickens, “oh heaven, how I would beat her”). By contrast, Brontë (pseudonymously hiding behind … [Read more...] about The 100 best nonfiction books: No 63 – The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell (1857)
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Christine Langan, who runs BBC Films, recently felt obliged to defend the latest cinematic adaptations of novels by Charlotte and Emily Brontë – Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre, which opens early next month, and Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, due for release in November – against accusations of deja vu. "People," Langan sighed, "will be saying, 'Why the hell are they doing all that over again?'" They are doing it, I'd suggest, because it needs to be done. Certain books – by the Brontës and by Jane Austen and Dickens – are indispensable to us and accompany us through life. When we first read them, they prospectively sketch our quest to discover who we are and our struggle to impose ourselves on the world; in later decades, they remain as markers of our progress or testaments to our disillusionment. In Jane Eyre, a disadvantaged girl prevails by force of will and by the intensity of an uncompromising imagination. Oliver Twist is about an even more … [Read more...] about Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights: do we need new film versions?
Q: Please could you recommend great lesbian literary fiction for someone who has read all the obvious? Anonymous, thirtysomething, south-east England A: Emma Donoghue, playwright and novelist, writes: Oh dear, yours is an intimidating question. Well, if any of my recommendations are what you’d call obvious, maybe we can agree that they’re good, at least. You’ll have read every word of the holy trinity (Sarah Waters, Ali Smith and Jeanette Winterson), but what about Jackie Kay’s Trumpet? Crossing the Irish Sea, Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends? You’d probably enjoy Sara Collins’s genre-blending (historical/queer/crime) The Confessions of Frannie Langton – I lapped that one up. Angela Chadwick’s XX isn’t exactly literary, but it is a page-turningly plausible tale of the first two-ovum baby and the cultural ructions it causes. Getting very literary again, from Canada (where I live) I’d fervently recommend Ann-Marie … [Read more...] about Christmas book clinic special – our experts’ gift ideas
Monday, 13 April 2015 was a typical day in modern British politics. An Oxford University graduate in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), Ed Miliband, launched the Labour party’s general election manifesto. It was examined by the BBC’s political editor, Oxford PPE graduate Nick Robinson, by the BBC’s economics editor, Oxford PPE graduate Robert Peston, and by the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Oxford PPE graduate Paul Johnson. It was criticised by the prime minister, Oxford PPE graduate David Cameron. It was defended by the Labour shadow chancellor, Oxford PPE graduate Ed Balls. Elsewhere in the country, with the election three weeks away, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, Oxford PPE graduate Danny Alexander, was preparing to visit Kingston and Surbiton, a vulnerable London seat held by a fellow Lib Dem minister, Oxford PPE graduate Ed Davey. In Kent, one of Ukip’s two MPs, Oxford PPE graduate Mark Reckless, was … [Read more...] about PPE: the Oxford degree that runs Britain
Over this ecstatic high summer, visitors to the Haworth parsonage museum will be able to watch a film that simulates the bird’s-eye view of Emily Brontë’s pet hawk, Nero, as he swoops over the moors to Top Withens, the ruined farmhouse that is the putative model for Wuthering Heights. You’ll be able to listen to the Unthanks, the quavery Northumbrian folk music sisters who have composed music in celebration of Emily’s 200th anniversary. If that’s not enough, you can watch a video installation by Lily Cole, the model-turned-actor-turned-Cambridge-double-first from Devon, which riffs on Heathcliff’s origins as a Liverpool foundling. Finally, Kate Bush, from Kent, has been busy on the moors unveiling a stone. In short, wherever you come from and whoever you are, you will find an Emily Brontë who is sufficiently formless yet endlessly adaptive to whatever you need her to be – a rock, a song, a bird in flight. That’s assuming, of … [Read more...] about The strange cult of Emily Brontë and the ‘hot mess’ of Wuthering Heights