Tag Archives: to walk invisible

The Bold and Brilliant Anne Bronte

“I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man”- Anne Bronte, Second preface to ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

 

Image result for anne bronte

It was only until I studied ‘Wuthering Heights’ at A-Level that I realised there even was a third Bronte sister. Even so, she received a passing mention, and it wasn’t until the summer before I started university that I investigated her novels. I watched the Tenant of Wildfell Hall and was incredibly surprised that this incredible story had never gained my attention beforehand. The 1996 adaption wasn’t perfect, but the brave and feminist character of Helen Huntington shone and compelled me to buy the book and bring it with me on holiday. The book far surpassed my expectations and left me with one nagging question. Why and how has Anne Bronte been forgotten?

Charlotte and Emily wrote ground-breaking, wonderful novels and are justly remembered for them. Anne on the other hand is the ‘other Bronte’ and those who may have heard of her aren’t familiar with her novels or poetry. Her novels are viewed as not reaching the same literary heights that Charlotte and Emily’s did, but to me, and to those who have read her work it’s clear Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are equal to anything Charlotte and Emily wrote, and surpass them in ways too.

Anne’s devotion to the truth is evident in all of her works, her unflinching honesty in Agnes Grey written before Jane Eyre details the harsh reality of being a governess, Anne writing about the hardships she herself experienced while being a governess. Anne shed light on a life that numerous women experienced in Victorian England, and while it doesn’t reach the gothic greatness of Jane Eyre, the novel is unwavering in its account of the tough life of a young governess. Agnes ends up with the sweet Mr Weston, and finds companionship and love, in a healthy and caring marriage. Unlike Charlotte and Emily, Anne herself persevered and managed to make her career as a governess a success after her turbulent experiences, becoming close friends with her employers the Robinson’s, and gaining her brother Branwell a position as a tutor, until his subsequent affair with Lydia Robinson caused Anne to resign and move home.

It is Anne’s brutal depiction of marriage however, that dominates her second and best novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. While examining Victorian marriage, Anne also addresses the true nature of the mysterious and damaged men that her sisters, and readers have idolized. The Byronic, brooding figures of Heathcliff and Mr Rochester have been heavily romanticized, especially in TV and Film, despite characters like Heathcliff behaving awfully, and while being a captivating and complex character to study, I question whether his actions warrant the rose-tinted view the media seems to enjoy.

 

 

Many Victorian novels end in marriages to these kind of figures, Jane with Mr Rochester, young Cathy with Hareton.  The marriage of Helen and Arthur Huntington however, happens early in Helen’s life, Anne raising the question of: What is marriage actually like to one of these men? Arthur at first appears attractive and charming compared to the other dull marriage prospects that Helen faces, and she believes that her love can change him and make him a better husband and father. However Arthur soon descends into alcoholism, resulting in him being emotionally abusive, having an affair and negatively influencing their son. This stark and violent illustration of alcoholism and its consequences on a marriage had not been written in such an intense nature before, let alone by a female author. As she did with Agnes Grey, Anne channelled her own life experiences into Tenant, the Bronte family dealing with their brother Branwell falling to alcoholism, eventually resulting in his death in 1848. While her novel was criticised, Anne defended her work, claiming

 “When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest?”

Helen leaves her husband and takes her son, and moves to a new town under her maiden name where she meets Gilbert Markham, who takes an interest in the mysterious new woman. It’s evident why the novel is considered one of the first sustained feminist texts, Helen breaks the law by running away from her marriage and slamming the door in the face of her husband despite the persecution she faces, because she knows it’s the right thing to do for herself, and to protect the future of her child. The novel ends with her second marriage to Gilbert, after she’s secured her independence and financial security. While Gilbert isn’t the best dashing romantic hero, he loves and respects her. This time, she proposes to him, having an assurance that she will have a happy marriage on her terms of devotion and respect.

 

Image result for the tenant of wildfell hall

However since then, Anne’s work has fallen off the public’s radar and seen as a lesser version of her sisters. It didn’t help that Agnes Grey was published in the same volume as Wuthering Heights, or that despite being written first, was published after Jane Eyre. However after Anne’s death in 1849, Charlotte chose not to republish The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, stating that

“Wildfell Hall it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve. The choice of subject in that work is a mistake – it was too little consonant with the character – tastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring, inexperienced writer”

As the novels dark themes were too radical it sees that this didn’t fit with Charlotte’s view of who her sister was, thus leading to its suppression. Charlotte didn’t appear to take Anne’s work seriously, and while partly it may have been to do with the negative critical response and Charlotte wanting to protect the memory of her sister, to suppress a work that was ground-breaking and important, disappoints me greatly.

The lack of television or film adaptions for her novels has contributed to the lack of recognition of Anne’s work, not receiving the Hollywood treatment like Wuthering Heights or the number of adaptions like Jane Eyre. Sadly without a captivating romantic lead, it seems no one believes an adaption could be a success, maybe Anne’s refusal to sugar coat reality doesn’t leave a stereotypical period drama that producers believe will draw in viewers. The 1996 version of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is worth watching, but it’s definitely dated in parts and an update for the novel is desperately needed and its feminist themes and Helen’s struggle to escape a toxic marriage are just as relevant in society today.

 

Image result for to walk invisible

However this last year, it seems everyone is catching onto the brilliance of Anne Bronte, with at least two new books published on her, a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Agnes Grey, and the BBC’s brilliant television drama, To Walk Invisible which looks at the three years in which all sisters wrote and published their novels while dealing with the decline of their brother. Anne’s portrayal was fantastic, highlighting her strength and honesty, her close relationship with Emily and her integral role in the family.

In September I’ll be starting my third year of my English Literature degree, and I’ve planned to focus my dissertation on Anne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, something I’m nervous but excited to start researching. I hope this spotlight of Anne continues, because she deserves far more than to be seen as the ‘other Bronte’, I hope that people continue to write about her, adapt her novels and talk about her courage and bravery, and that she claims her place in the literary canon with her sisters, as she rightfully earned with her feminist, radical views that proved she was far ahead of her time.

I’ve wanted to write about literature for a while, and I’ve decided to take a break from television reviews for now, so expect more book related posts coming up soon!

Thanks,

Sarah

 

Best TV Episodes of 2016: Part One

  • The Crown, Season 1 Episode 7 ‘Scientia Potentia Est’

the_crown_s01e07_still

Elizabeth’s sudden accession to the throne is detailed in the first series, her lack of preparation and confidence in her role as Queen being wonderfully played by Claire Foy, who perfectly illustrates how restrictive and damaging the crown is on her personal life and her own character. ‘Scientia Potentia Est’ is Elizabeth’s shining moment in the whole series though, where she takes a stand against those in government for damaging the relationship between the crown and the government. Elizabeth’s education is the focus of this episode, and it’s brilliant. When up against men like Winston Churchill, and other highly intelligent politicians , Elizabeth feels she is intellectually inferior, her lack of confidence meaning she has to change the conversation to ‘dogs and horses’. Elizabeth’s lack of detailed education in subjects like Maths, or History is not something I ever considered would have been an issue for a member of the royal family. What I love about this episode isn’t Elizabeth’s frustration, but rather what she does with it. Elizabeth hires a tutor in a wish to educate herself and further her knowledge,  and while she’s trying to improve herself, government lets her down.

Churchill suffers a stroke, and deputy prime minister  Eden is stuck in America having an operation, leaving the country without a  leader. Despite this emergency, no one thinks it right to tell Elizabeth and instead let her believe her into thinking Churchill only has a bad cold. It is patronizing to her and her position, done only so she won’t ask Churchill to stand down as Prime Minister. When she finds out about this concealment, though it’s clear where her strengths and intelligence lie. The show makes it very clear that Elizabeth is not uneducated, as if Elizabeth knows anything, it’s the constitution that was drilled in her when she was a child. This is a subject she has the upper hand on, one where she can make them feel inferior for not even following the basics, the trust between parliament in the Crown. It’s glorious to watch, and probably my favorite scene of the show, these two politicians being summoned to Buckingham Palace and nervously waiting for their audience. To Salisbury she is cold and magnificent, “It is not my job to govern, but it is my job to ensure proper governance” he doesn’t even get a word in before she rings the bell for him to leave. Elizabeth shows Winston far more respect, and rather than being angry she is just disappointed. Even bringing out her school work book to underline the trust the has been broken between the Crown and Government. It’s the best moment for her character, and her confidence and collected manner are beautifully summed up in the final part of her lecture to Churchill, “I would ask you to consider your response in light of the respect that my rank and my office deserve not that which my age and gender might suggest.”

(A small detail I enjoyed- when the professor tells her of a horse he backed in a race, she is quick to share her knowledge of the race and admiration for the trainer, only to learn he backed the horse only because he”just liked the name”. What Elizabeth does know she knows very well).

  • Crazy Ex Girlfriend Season 2 Episode 4 “When Will Josh and His Friend Leave Me Alone?”

First things first, if you’re not watching this show, DO IT NOW. It was more difficult than I expected to pick my favorite episode of this show this year, with an incredible first season  being continued in its equally stellar second season. “When Will Josh and His Friend Leave Me Alone?” is not necessarily the best episode of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, but it is the bravest and boldest one. The departure of Greg is a sad one, and as one of my favorite characters I was worried about how good the show would remain without him after all the great work they put into his alcoholism storyline this season. But the show is breaking away from their love triangle, and sending Greg off to law school is the right choice for the character, as much as the audience has hated seeing him leave. The show is far, far more than who Rebecca should end up with, and with this exit they’re simultaneously  sending Greg into a better place in his life, and drawing the focus back to the show’s protagonist. Many shows exhaust their love triangles, so it’s refreshing to see that neither Josh or Greg is right for Rebecca. This episode also features some of the best songs this season, with ‘It was a Shitshow’ summing up Greg and Rebecca’s relationship perfectly, while making the most of Santino Fontana before his exit. ‘We Tapped That Ass’ is just hilarious, filled with great tap dancing and puns, with imaginary Josh and Greg  haunting Rebecca just as she decides to try and move on from them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-tAiOVMYFY

It’s Paula’s storyline in this episode that is arguably the best part though. After getting into law school and then finding out she’s pregnant, Paula decides she has to give up her dream of law school, her life being too hectic to juggle three kids as well as law school. Though Rebecca’s fixation on her makeover leads to Paula taking over one of her cases, despite not being a lawyer.  Paula succeeding in the case and receiving high praise even though she’s caught out at not being an attorney,  gives Paula the final encouragement to make her choice. It’s only later, when we see her in bed and her son answers the door because “she just had an abortion” that we find out about her decision. It’s not heavily focused on, and it’s clear that it is the right decision for Paula, with her husband and family being incredibly supportive. It’s not something I’ve seen on TV before, a middle -aged woman already married with children making that choice, and it’s a credit to the writers for handling the storyline so well. There’s not a massive fuss, no guilt, it’s not heavily focused on. It’s just a woman making a choice that is best for her. Credit to the writers for handling the storyline in a such a simple, yet extremely effective manner. Seriously, this is one of the smartest and funniest shows on TV right now, and it is worth watching.

Small detail I liked-  The introduction of Heather’s parents highlighting how self obsessed Rebecca is, even though she’s apparently met them several times the audience is only is introduced to the when she has to stay with them after accidentally causing a fire in her own home. Also the fact she didn’t even remember Heather lived with her parents, forgetting Heather’s surname and therefore referring to her parents as ‘Mr and Mrs Heather’. I love this show.

  • Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 10 ‘The Winds of Winter’

It was a difficult decision in the end to pick between this episode and ‘Battle of the Bastards’, despite my criticisms of how the story played out during this season’s big battle episode. I’ve already talked about both of these episodes in an earlier overview of Season 6, and though nothing on TV could match the heart-stopping battle sequences and the brutal presentation of  war in Episode 9, ‘The Winds of Winter’ still reigns triumphant. I don’t want to repeat myself too much by talking about this episode, Miguel Saponick’s beautiful direction  creating what is arguably one of the best episodes of the entire show.  From the breathtaking trial sequence with the masterful score, to Cersei’s coronation and the numerous deaths throughout this episode, it set the pieces for the final two seasons. Game of Thrones was far from perfect this year, but after the mess that was season 5, they managed to partly redeem themselves with an episode like this. (Lena Headey was robbed of the Emmy this year, Golden Globes, please finally give her the award she deserves this week)

  • To Walk Invisible

“Our work is clever, it’s truthful, it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s vivid and subtle and forthright!”

I’m incredibly biased in including this one here, especially as it’s a one- off drama rather than an episode of a TV show, but I couldn’t not include it in this list. I have a great deal of respect and love for the Bronte sisters, with Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall being some of my all time favourite books. It’s about time there was a realistic, detailed look at their own lives and Sally Wainwright exceeded my expectations by writing a realistic and remarkable two hour drama looking into three crucial years in the Bronte sisters lives as they try to publish their work while dealing with living with their alcoholic brother, Branwell.

Even if you haven’t read any of the Bronte sisters work, I’d still recommend watching this to see a story of three courageous and talented sisters tackling their problems and each writing different and groundbreaking novels. The equal focus that Anne was given with Charlotte and Emily is what pleased me most, as my favorite Bronte and as a criminally underrated writer who wrote the most shocking and incredible work that is just as good, if not better, than her sisters. Despite being the ‘quiet’ sister, Anne is portrayed as the mediator between the fiery Emily and passionate Charlotte, accurately portrayed in showing her desire to write about truth and the real world. Sally Wainwright put a lot of detail into the relationships between the siblings, Charlotte being in awe of Emily’s work, yet describing Anne’s as “not without charm” which pretty much sums up their relationship. Anne and Emily’s close relationship was such a treat to watch, making up some of the best moments.

 But it’s their brother Branwell that really drives the story, Adam Nagaitis doing a truly impressive performance with a character that would be easy to hate, yet makes the audience feel pity for him as he struggles with alcoholism and a failed affair with his employer’s wife. Everyone had high hopes for Branwell as a painter and a writer, and you have to feel pity for him as he slides further and further into despair.

The attention they gave Emily’s poetry was excellent, and not something I expected. Charlotte’s rummaging in Emily’s room to find her notebook mixed with Emily walking among the moors started off a beautiful sequence with an extract from Emily’s poem ‘The Prisoner’. The raw and superb poetry  mixed with beautiful piano music as the camera focused on the Moors was simply stunning.  Like Charlotte, the audience is transfixed by Emily’s poetry.  A scene later on with Emily and Anne sitting on the Moors, as Emily recites ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’ (Arguably her best poem) was also a favorite.

Jonathan Pryce is perfect as their father Patrick, there’s no one else I could imagine playing that role. Chloe Pirrie is the standout as the fiery and brilliant Emily, with lines such as “If he hits me, I’ll hit him back. Harder”. Finn Atkins is just how I imagined Charlotte, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect Anne, played by Charlie Murphy.

The parallels between Branwell and the sisters are made clear, while Branwell’s pain and misery leads him to addiction, Charlotte, Emily and Anne channel all their experiences into their writing, creating wonderful novels in the process. Even when Charlotte’s first novel gets rejected, she persists and doesn’t give up, leading to the publication of Jane Eyre which as we know and see in the show, is incredibly successful.

There’s a truly magnificent scene with Charlotte revealing that she has published Jane Eyre to her father, and that all the sisters have published work under pseudonyms. The shock and disbelief Patrick goes though is a joy to watch, as well as his pride in his daughter’s work.

 This post ended up being a lot longer than I expected, so the second half will hopefully be up in a week or so!

I want to talk a lot more about TV and books this year, and try to regularly update!

Until next time,

Sarah