Perspectives: The Brilliant Brontë sisters

Broadcaster: ITV1
Year: 2015
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/275585

Review by Lisa Smalley

This documentary presented by Sheila Hancock provides some beautiful readings from some of the Brontë’s classic novels, in what is at times a very moving and intimate portrait of the sisters’ lives, successes and tragedies.

What is crucial is the exploration of how the three sisters (with reportedly no life experience), found inspiration for their dark and passionate portrayals of human emotion.

The viewer is treated to some early creativity from the Brontë siblings, and an insight into the kind of study they were allowed by their father.  Put into the context of the Victorian era, it becomes clear how the repression of these intelligent and educated women allowed their imaginations to thrive from a very early age.  Letters from Charlotte highlight her personal feelings on her situation as a teacher at Roe Head School, and there are definite connections between these and the seemingly feminist assertions of Jane Eyre.

Details and writing about ‘Angria’ and ‘Gondal’, the two countries invented by the siblings, and host to their many childhood stories are discussed, and a passage read from the work of a fourteen year old Charlotte, who already shows promise as a writer.  A visit to the location that inspired Wuthering Heights, and its connections to Emily’s stories of ‘Gondal’ are useful to understanding the difference between the siblings and from where their inspirations derive.  As Hancock follows the story of their lives, we discover why Anne wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and its connections to Branwell.

This documentary would be of interest to all Brontë fans, but also to students of EN1020 will find this useful.

Tags: English Literature, The Brontës, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Anne Brontë, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, EN1020, Angria, Gondal, The Brontë sisters.

Advertisements

Jane Eyre and the Presentation of Bertha Mason

Tags

, ,

Romantic and Victorian Literature (1789-1870) – Jane Eyre and the Presentation of Bertha Mason

http://bobnational.net/collection/index/collectionID/169407

Review by Jenny Richards

Three clips from different television and film adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, each depicting the interruption of Jane and Rochester’s wedding and the reveal of Rochester’s previous marriage to Bertha Mason. This playlist may be useful in comparing different portrayals of Bertha Mason as each presents her in ways that are subtly different; these examples show variations in the amount that is revealed about her background, and the presentation of her race and her relationship to Rochester. This may be particularly relevant to those comparing ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, each offering different presentations of the same characters.

Much of the secondary criticism surrounding each of these texts is concerned with issues of race, feminism and mental illness.  Examining various adaptations’ portrayals of Jane, Bertha and Rochester may inform an analysis of the various interpretations that can be extrapolated from the original text regarding these themes. For instance, how sympathetic do we find Rochester in his banishment of Bertha to the attic? Is this a bold, transgressive move that contravenes the social norms of the time, relegating a madwoman to the attic instead of the asylum, or is this inhumane despite the backdrop of a society that condoned this behaviour?

Adaptations that have vocalised this defence of Rochester’s actions and those that show him as compassionate, and, even tender, with Bertha, perhaps take a less critical approach to his assertion of power over her. By contrast, versions that emphasise the resentment, anger, and frustration between them to a greater extent, seem to find the treatment of her character more problematic, showing more violence between them and offering less justification for her secret imprisonment. How this relationship is dealt with is an indication of whether the director has viewed the novel from more of a critical feminist perspective or has focused more on how Bertha’s presence affects Jane and Rochester’s journey in isolation. Do these adaptations prioritise making Rochester a redeemable love interest over a fair, rounded portrayal of Bertha’s character?

Those that have read ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ may pick up on the issue of Bertha’s race and how this has been dealt with on screen. In Jean Rhys’ novel, the character’s race is an essential part of her identity whereas in ‘Jane Eyre’ this is arguably more an auxiliary aspect of her distant, and to Jane, alien, origins and her backstory with Rochester; Bertha’s race is not confronted so directly by Bronte, as descriptions of her physicality draw out more animalistic features than recognisable human characteristics. With this in mind, it is interesting to see the casting decisions these adaptations have made; has the director been at all influenced by Jean Rhys’ emphasis on the race of Bertha’s character? How easily would each of these adaptations fit with the canon of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’? How has this intertextuality been negotiated on screen?

 

Poetry: Between the Lines – The Romantics

Tags

, ,

Broadcaster: BBC2
Year: 2015
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/301317

Review by: Hanna Geissler

The programme is presented by rapper Akala and is divided into five short sections providing an introduction to the life and work of Romantic poets: Wordsworth, Blake, Keats, Shelley and Byron. For each poet, Akala examines one of their most well-known poems and offers detailed analysis of certain lines. Below is a short summary of each section:

1) Wordsworth: The Prelude (extract: stealing the boat)
Akala links Wordsworth’s writing to the Lake District and comments on the relationship between Wordsworth and nature, with nature serving as a companion, often personified in his poems.

2) Blake: London
Akala describes how Blake peels back the layers to reveal the true London, a city divided by the disparity between wealth and poverty. He also explores the influence of the Industrial Revolution on Blake’s writing, and his voice as an angry radical pleading with the reader to recognise the wrongs he saw in the world around him.

3) Keats: Bright Star
Akala analyses the symbolism of the star, describing Keats as a man who ‘believed you should try to live as intensely as possible’. He comments on the important theme of nature in Romantic literature.

4) Shelley: Ozymandias
Interestingly, Akala links the poem to Antony Gormley’s sculptures in the instalment ‘Another Place’ at Crosby beach, explaining that both art forms depict man facing nature and ultimately convey the futility of trying to conquer nature.

5) Byron: When We Two Parted
Akala comments on Byron’s exploration of universal themes and the personal nature of much of his poetry.

The programme also includes interviews with experts on the work of each poet and comments from three young poets who provide thought-provoking, word-level analysis of the poems. Although the programme is only thirty minutes long and each section is relatively short, it serves as short but sweet introduction to the work of these Romantic poets.

Poetry from the Front Line

Tags

Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: 2008
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/301356

Review by: Hanna Geissler

In Poetry from the Front Line, BBC War correspondent Jonathan Charles looks at present-day poetry written by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Charles interviews Brian Turner, one of the most successful modern war poets who served in the US Army. Turner explains that poetry plays an important role in recording the horrors of war as he believes that the news does not always accurately and fully convey the truth. He argues that the emotional content of poetry can powerfully capture the intensity of life in a warzone, allowing a reader to try to understand the experiences of soldiers who are living in an environment that is worlds away from their own.

Charles then speaks to another poet, B.J. Lewis, who explains that poetry provides him with an outlet for emotions that he has to repress when on duty, as ‘emotion is not part of the job’. He demonstrates this with a reading of one of his own poems:

The Mask

Get a grip! I’m expected to succeed,
face fear, be strong, and take the lead,
not hesitate in thought or deed.
My mask must never slip.

Man up! and keep my thoughts inside
No one can know how much I cried
when the rockets came and the fear arrived.
My mask must never slip.

Crack on! there’s no time to reflect
or admit that I did genuflect
and prayed to God, me to protect.
My mask must never slip.

Chin up! Worry not ‘bout how I feel
never let them know just how surreal
it was. Dark thoughts I can’t reveal.
My mask must never slip.

It is interesting to note that Lewis states that while poetry is therapeutic and helps him deal with the emotional strain of his job, his writing is very much a private part of his life. He explains that he keeps it a secret to maintain his bravado and doesn’t tell his wife about it as he doesn’t want her to worry about his state of mind.

The programme then further examines this idea that writing poetry can help soldiers process and deal with the things they’ve seen, and Charles visits the charity Combat Stress who have created a poetry wall in one of their centres.

Throughout the programme there are several moving readings of modern war poems set to music that show how poetry can be used to express the intense emotions of soldiers fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Jonathan Charles’s exploration of modern war poetry provides a fascinating insight into the reasons why soldiers may choose to write poetry.

A Taste for the Baroque (The Essay)

Tags

, , , , , ,

Broadcaster: BBC Radio 3
Year: 2013
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/143830

Review by Lisa Smalley

This fifteen minute discussion performance by Tessa Hadley celebrates the style of Henry James.  She describes how the complexity of sentence and story line appealed to her as an adolescent, adding a depth of detail and reassurance during that troubling time of development.

A reading from James’s last published novel, ‘The Golden Bowl’ is given and that passage analysed.  Hadley compares James’s style to that of a baroque framed mirror, with the complicated twists and turns in language and relationships within the novel resembling the ornamental twists and turns of the frame.  The dense language, littered with colloquialisms ‘as who should say’ and lacking in commas, give his sentences a distinctive sound.

Students will find this radio short of interest, but should be prepared to take notes, as it is as detailed as it is short.

Simon Armitage, writing poems

Tags

,

Broadcaster: BBC 2
Year: 2013
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/200844

Review by Lisa Smalley

This is the first of six short films, which discusses the inspiration and personal history behind some of the poet’s best known work.  In reviewing each piece, the audience is helped to understand the language and techniques used to create them.

The six poems discussed in this film are:

  • ‘Harmonium’
  • ‘The Manhunt’
  • ‘A Vision’
  • ‘The Clown Punk’
  • ‘Give’
  • ‘Out of the Blue’.

Some technical terminology is used, but this should pose no problems for students of EN1010 and EN1025.  Not only does it give an insight into the thought process of writing a poem, but also highlights some considerations that can be applied to close readings.

Armitage treats the viewers to some personal readings of his work, and discusses the choice of perspectives and how this has created the overall tone he desired.  Particular word use and language is highlighted and explained in relation to structure, which is also discussed.  Armitage highlights his use of the term ‘the neon line’ and how it can reinforce the theme of a poem.

This film is brief and a good starting point for those who have limited history in studying poetry.  However, fans of Simon Armitage will enjoy his diverse choice of work and the insight they are allowed into the history and background of this truly talented poet.

Tags: Simon Armitage, poetry, writing poems, writing poetry, EN1010, EN1025, ‘Out of the Blue’, ‘Give’, ‘The Clown Punk’, ‘A Vision’, ‘The Manhunt’, ‘Harmonium’, English Literature, Poetry.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ by John Ford (Saturday Review)

Tags

, ,

Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: 2014
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/299521

Review by Jenny Richards

This is a BBC Radio 4 review of Michael Longhurst’s stage production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’, a play published in the Caroline period by John Ford. The discussion is chaired by the broadcaster and journalist Tom Sutcliffe while novelist and journalist, Linda Grant, theatre correspondent and critic, David Benedict, and writer and broadcaster, Emma Wolf, share their critiques of the production.

This will be relevant to those taking the Renaissance Drama module and especially pertinent to those reviewing theatre productions in their assessments; the programme provides examples of the aspects of production that are picked up on by critics and emphasises in particular the relationship between this production and the play’s original text. It is interesting to note that there is a balance in the discussion between the negatives and positives of the performance; though somewhat brief, the reviewers display a range of nuanced responses to Longhurst’s production and incorporate comments on design, script editing and performance.

Emma Wolf describes the play as one that is shocking, both in the amount of blood and gore that features on stage and the controversial incest that the protagonists participate in. This is thought to be the reason for the play’s relatively short performance history; these themes and images remain uncomfortable for a modern audience in a way that the promiscuity and sexual scenes in other renaissance dramas do not.

Despite the shocking nature of the play however, David Benedict feels that this production only delivers the dark themes of play superficially. Several reasons for this are drawn out and explored; the director’s lack of editing the original script seems to be a primary complaint. David Benedict and Linda Grant both find the elements of sub plot in the play are actually more obstructive than insightful for the modern audience and make the central plot harder to follow.

David Benedict also critiques the director’s decision to balance the costume ambiguously between Elizabethan and modern dress, arguing that this modernity spills over into the performance style in a way that is detrimental to the language of the play. It seems that this play could not survive an entirely updated modern setting and costume in the same way that many Shakespearean plays can.

Finally, there is a discussion of the space used in the production. All three critics agree that, performed in a small theatre by candlelight, the sexual transgressions and the passion that permeate the play become more dark and intense in low lighting and on a more intimate stage. These elements of production, such as the size and design of the stage on which it is performed and the acoustics of the venue, may be worth examining in a review of a live production as this can have quite an impact on the atmosphere of the performance.

Directing ‘King Lear’

Tags

, , ,

Broadcaster: BBC News channel
Year: 2012
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/298557

Review by Jenny Richards

This 15 minute clip is an excerpt from a programme about the actor, television presenter and director Jonathan Miller, following him behind the scenes as he directs a stage production of King Lear. This may be useful to those studying a Renaissance Drama module or anyone with an interest in the direction of Shakespeare’s plays.

Miller introduces the play by discussing its historical context; he describes the play as one ‘dedicated to the necessity of the monarchy’ but also highlights the fluctuating dynamics of the monarchy and their sovereignty throughout the seventeenth century in which the play was written and performed. Speaking about his job as a director, he highlights the importance of accentuating the universal themes of the play that will remain resonant with today’s, fundamentally different, modern audience.  For instance, while our relationship to the monarchy has changed dramatically since the play was written, the issues of power, status, family and loss that permeate the text are still relatable to us in the contemporary.

Rather than discussing the poetry of the language Shakespeare uses in isolation, Miller sees the universality of such themes that Shakespeare deals with and the eloquence and accuracy with which he portrays the human condition as critical to the success and persistence of Shakespeare’s works in modern culture.

A veteran director of King Lear, having done so twice before, he is accustomed to the fine details of performance that enhance this portrayal of characters. Seeing Miller in action directing rehearsals is particularly interesting as he focuses on the subtleties of body language – the ‘sub-intentional actions’ – that accompany characters’ speech, allowing the actors to explore or emphasise features of the characters that are not as prominent on the page.  In his direction of the interrogation in which Gloucester is blinded for instance, Miller orchestrates the characters’ actions in a way that maintains Gloucester’s dignity despite his incarceration. Small decisions like this on the part of the director may be worth thinking about when reviewing a production or analysing a character’s speech as details like this define how the play is interpreted.

An adaptation of Henry James’, ‘The Turn of the Screw’

Tags

, , ,

An adaptation of Henry James’, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ – Victorian and Modern Literature (1870-1945) http://bobnational.net/record/298557/media_id/298671

Review by Jenny Richards 

Students studying a module on Novel or those studying the work of Henry James may find this relatively recent dramatization of ‘The Turn of the Screw’ an interesting watch. The way the novel is designed makes the question of narration particularly intriguing, for James both constructs mediating layers of narrative, – the preface’s unnamed narrator portrays Douglas, who in turn gives voice to the governess’ written account of events, essentially relating the story to us third hand – and makes the governess’ uniquely supernatural account seem more and more dubitable as the story progresses.

In dramatizing the novel then, there are three key considerations that interlink; how religiously the adaptation follows the narrative of the novel, how reliably the governess’ perception of events is presented and finally the stage at which the viewer enters the story – this could be directly with the governess’ immediate experience, retrospectively with Douglas and the unnamed narrator at the fireside as in the novel’s preface, or when the governess later recounts events on paper. How the adaptation navigates these decisions will determine how far it suggests either the apparitionist (the belief that the ghosts are real) or non-apparitionist (the belief that the ghost are a product of the governess’ unbalanced mental state) interpretation of events.

Though the adaptation still uses retrospective narrative framing as James does in the preface of the novel, the programme does so in a way that departs from the original story and sets up the governess’ character in a different light. The novel’s preface sees Douglas remembering the governess with warmth and love; the setting is by a fireplace, a space symbolic of warmth and safety, and we thus approach the character in the main body of the novel as a trustworthy protagonist. By contrast the opening scene of this programme establishes a dark, cold tone both in colour palette and what the setting represents; the governess’ incarceration in a mental institution (which doesn’t feature in the novel) instantly suggests her interpretation of events to be questionable. The way in which the character is introduced or established has a significant effect on the audience or reader’s response to them – is the governess necessarily more trustworthy at the beginning of the James’ version or does her incongruently lucid demeanour at the beginning of the programme suggest her diagnosis of insanity to be a superficial explanation for the supernatural?

It might be interesting to note how your feelings about the governess’ reliability are altered or manipulated throughout the adaptation in comparison to changes in your perspective of her in the novel. Unlike James’ novel, this adaptation punctuates and ends the governess’ narrative with cuts back into the present. How do these differences in structure and setting affect the way that you view the governess and the events at Bly in the end? Is your reaction different to the one evoked by the novel?

‘A House Divided’: The Poetry of the American Civil War

Tags

, ,

Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: 2011
Genre: Documentary
URL: http://bobnational.net/record/299524

Review by Jenny Richards

 A House Divided: The Poetry of the American Civil War is a BBC Radio 4 programme examining the relationship between American poetry during and after the Civil War, focusing both on how the war affected the poets of the late 19th century, and the part that poetry played in the propaganda surrounding the war. This may be useful for those taking modules in American literature, poetry or history. The poets discussed include, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Henry Timrod, Herman Melville, Julia Ward Howe and George Moses Horton.

The programme is presented by the American novelist and essayist, Allan Gurganus, a veteran of the Vietnam War with a particular interest in the literature of the American South. A reminiscence of his childhood in the South, amidst buildings torched in battle only ninety years previously, and his family history on opposing sides of the war, just three generations ago, is a testament to the significance the Civil War still has in the American psyche today.

Faith Barrett, a 19th Century American poetry Anthologist, speaks about the popularity of poetry during the Civil War. Appearing in newspapers and read at school programmes and lectures, poetry permeated many aspects of American life in both the North and the South and thus became a medium of expression that was accessible to a range of different American voices. The programme features several examples of these different voices; poets of different races, genders and ethnicities, writing at different times, show the reverberations of the war’s impact in every cross-section of American society and the different reactions to it.

New England poet, Susan Howe contributes to the discussion, examining the religious rhetoric of poetry on the sides of both the Confederacy and the Union that served as propaganda to boost their morale and righteousness throughout the war. In contrast to this bellicose enthusiasm however, poets such as Whitman and Dickinson approach the topic in ways that are more subtle, abstract or critical of the war, each considering the significance its violence, death toll and devastation had for the meaning of human life.