November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
It’s 2nd November – already.
At this point in the term, the only true ‘news’ or post-worthy information I can provide revolves around my dissertation and Virginia Woolf. Both interesting subjects, I should add. Studying Woolf and Brontë over a few months has been intense – which, by the way, is my favourite and most overused word. It describes everything and anything imaginable. Had a deep conversation with someone interesting? That’s intense. Have 12,500 words to write over the next month? That’s intense. Seen Skyfall? Bloody intense!
Whilst Woolf and Brontë are very different writers, there are aspects of their works and ideas that overlap. To begin with, Charlotte’s fiction was received as something different and unread before (it is also fair to say that most of the Brontë siblings’ literature was received as something ‘new’ – Wuthering Heights especially). Woolf’s writing, like Jacob’s Room and The Waves, is innovative and modernist. It is difficult to discuss because there is so much to read and to see, so much to interpret. In Woolf’s A Common Reader, she writes of Charlotte Brontë. What she writes bothers me. It bothers me because Woolf is so wrong. Not only does she believe, like so many others, that “In that parsonage, and on those moors, unhappy and lonely, in her poverty and her exaltation, [Charlotte Brontë] remains for ever”. This in itself is simply lazy. Having said that, it is best to remember that Woolf and her contemporaries were heavily influenced by Elizabeth Gaskell’s romantic envisioning of Brontë’s remote, isolated existence. Recent biographers and critics have disproved such a view, maintaining that Haworth was in fact a bustling, if a poor, town with connections to West Riding and Bradford. Perhaps Woolf is attempting to portray the commonly-held perception of Charlotte, with her unhappiness and her loneliness, her solitary circling of the living room once her siblings had died. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Yet, to then say that the “drawbacks of being Jane Eyre are not far to seek”:
“Always to be a governess and always to be in love is a serious limitation in a world which is full, after all, of people who are neither one nor the other. The characters of a Jane Austen or of a Tolstoi have a million facets compared with these.”
I wonder whether Woolf even read Jane Eyre. If she did, she must have skipped over the vivid sections of her childhood, that period of “fire and violence” that was calmed by Lowood school; she must have skim read Jane’s escape from Thornfield, and her discovery of family and inheritance. Whilst I admire and enjoy Austen’s novels, I do not understand how her characters are depicted as having more “facets” than Charlotte’s. If Woolf had simply read Villette she would have altered her view. Or perhaps not.
If there is one thing that this term has proven to me, it is that everything is questionable in literature. There are no rights or wrongs. You can dislike Shakespeare (I don’t but I’m a conformist – and find his language beautiful… when performed… not read… it’s hellish to read) and you can still be an English literary student/critic! I have also realised that I am one of the few people in Fourth Year (whom I know) that still loves their subject. I am still passionate about reading a book, about finding that one word or sentence that makes me go “wow!” because a writer who died almost two hundred years ago expressed my thoughts in words. Apparently, not a lot of people retain this passion. Although, I think that English literature is not a subject that you can just study without that feeling of enthusiasm. Without that enthusiasm, I could not have come so far in my degree. x