Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Dark and Stormy Night Prompts Thoughts of Literary Storms

Last night was a stormy, stormy night down here at the edge of the U.S.  Those of you on the Eastern seaboard should prepare to batten down your hatches.  This system is headed your way!

We got hail in parts of the county and long periods of lightning.  The sky was an angry purple, like a bruise.  I'd like to say it put me in mind of Jane Eyre, because today is Charlotte Bronte's birthday, but I'd be lying for the sake of a smooth transition.

Still, I do wonder about how often storms are used in literature.  Need a dramatic transition?  Throw in a storm.  Need something to prompt an epiphany?  A storm might be just what your story needs.

I seem to recall storms in Jane Eyre, but that may be filmmakers' decisions, not Bronte's. Oh, Jane, how I have loved you through the years!

I bought my first copy of that book through the Scholastic Book Club. Did anyone else have that experience in elementary school? You got a little newspaper with the titles and descriptions of books, and you could place an order every other week.

I first tried to read Jane Eyre when I was 12, and I remember not being able to wade through the first chapter. But just a few years later, I couldn't put it down. And I've been hooked ever since.

In graduate school, I reread Jane Eyre for a Victorian Novel class, and I remember thinking, all this childhood abuse. And look, the abusers act just like we know they act, and Jane Eyre protects the most odious abuser, even when she has a kind adult to tell. How did Charlotte Bronte know all of this? After all, she didn't have a decade of sociological research to draw on.

From that pondering would emerge my dissertation: “My Relations Act with Me as My Enemies”: Domestic Violence as Metaphor, 1794-1850. I looked primarily at 6 works, all full-blown Gothic or Gothic tinged. In each, I traced the realistic portrayal of domestic violence, even in works which had always been studied as full of the fantastic and unbelievable.

I always liked Jane Eyre better than Wuthering Heights, and I've always suspected the world could be divided into those 2 camps. Or better yet: are you a Bronte sister fan or a Jane Austen fan? Or maybe we should get down to the real nitty gritty: Dickens or Bronte sister (sister of your choice)?

I've always loved that vision of the Bronte children who grew up creating new worlds out of their imaginations. I've always felt sad that their adult lives ended so quickly, in sickness and death. Of course, to be fair, so did a good many adult lives in the nineteenth century. Nothing makes me appreciate my twenty-first century perch more than studying disease and sanitation (or lack thereof) and their effects on civilizations.

So, happy birthday Charlotte Bronte. Thanks for blazing that path for female writers everywhere. Thanks for giving us a plucky heroine like Jane Eyre, who knows what she wants and needs and isn't willing to sacrifice her deepest self in order to get it.


Wendy said...

I'm definitely a Jane Eyre over Wuthering Heights person. in fact, I'm not sure I've ever actually made it to the end of Wuthering. I go back to JE again and again. I think Austen and Brontë are like apples and oranges. Dickens might be an interesting comparison. I haven't read enough of him to be able to make that comparison.

Definitely real storms in JE. The horse chestnut tree (or horse named chestnut tree as one hapless student thought) was struck by lightning. When Jane is wandering the towns and moors after leaving Thornfield it goes from being "a still hot perfect day" to "towards morning it rained; the whole following day was wet" and when St. John finally finds her, he calls it a "wild night."

When I think of storms in literature I always go to A Wrinkle in Time first, and I think about Shakespeare and, well, The Tempest though there are other storms too. Fascinating to think of how the storms would have been portrayed--mostly through dialogue--on the 17th century stage.

Thanks for the inspiring post.

Kristin said...

Thanks for reminding me of great storms of literature!