Saturday, January 28, 2017

176, 175, 174, 173: First Impressions: The Bronte Project by Jennifer Vandever

The book revolves around a PhD student of literature. Her specialty is Charlotte Bronte and as part of her study, she is trying to get hold of the letters that the author wrote to her lifelong friend, Ellen Nussey and Professor Heger, the object of her affections. [It was a case of unrequited love and resulted in many soulful epistles and the novel, 'The Professor' or 'Villette'. It also seemed to fuel other people. These letters were considered to be incendiary by the author (she compares them to 'lucifer matches') and her husband, Nicholls, insisted on either destroying them or censoring them. Heger was married and would tear up Charlotte Bronte's letters.]His wife would tape them back together and keep them. When she died, she entrusted these letters to her daughter.]

Paul is Sara's boyfriend and he is also a literature student studying George Orwell.

Paul and Sara break up on account of a Claire Virgee who is studying the late Lady Diana as a social phenomenon.

The story is set in New York.

This tale of a broken heart plays out against a pastiche of subtext - the similarity between Lady Diana and Charlotee Brontee, the comparison between Orwell and Brontee, and the Brontee childhood that gave a pastor (their father) an experience of dining with three kids who'd written, amongst them, Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, and Wuthering Heights. The book also tells us of the humanity we lost when we stopped writing and reading letters. It has a segment where Sara traipses to some place in Italy to spend a night in a dream room in a castle. Legend has it that a woman died in a room pining for her lover. That woman's dream and pain melded into the air and consciousness and whoever sleeps in that same room, has a dream that continues from the pain that the dead left behind. There are other characters who alternate between annoying and vapid. There's a couple that only dresses in 17th century costumes and a Frenchman who spares no opportunity to tell Americans that they are prudish.

So, this book is about a lot of stuff. All interesting stuff. But it's an uneven read with a problem of plenty. There's a very strong piece that I liked about how both Diana and Charlotte Bronte obliquely entered the male world of publicity using female devices of depression and telepathy. (There's an interesting explanation in the book.)

Oh...and there's a plot. Sara needs to live on in New York to help write a movie about Charlotte Bronte. The production house finds Brontee too drab. This lays out the field of some social commentary about the sign of our times when quiet heroism does not stand a chance to be depicted in cinema.

While reading the book, I was not allowed to forget for even one minute that all the principal characters have literary backgrounds. You had to pay your dues by plodding through some juicy, if heavy-handed, metaphors and factoids. It brought back the experience of running into one of your kohl-lined literature friends in college (when you hadn't opted for the subject.) They went on and on about something with an enduring sense of plaintiveness about God Knows What!

I avoided my friends then. This time, I finished the book.

It's not very bad but it did get me into a state of panic when I thought that the book was just growing endless numbers of pages. But all said and done- it is Charlotte Brontee after all. Not the sister I would pick but still. Reading a Brontee was like peeking at the sun. So, any book inspired from her story would still gleam. I found this bit really moving:

"Anyway, Charlotte's very upset - her life is dull, her father is ill, her brother is an alcoholic - so she pours all her sadness into these letters and they're never answered. Then she suddenly shifts her attention to fiction, transforming her experience into art, which you might say can be read as one long, unanswered love letter."

So for that alone, the book has my affection.


neha said...

Which sister would you have picked?

mukta raut said...

Emily...the only other sister. They were two sisters and a brother.

mukta raut said...
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