This is a kind of Cliff's Notes version of Pride and Prejudice. Accept it for what it is. It doesn't have grand aspirations; it only wants to be fun. I think it is. In any case, the performers had fun and their audience had fun also. If you are like me, then it only takes a sentence or two in any Austen novel and you know exactly where you are in the story and can easily bring to mind the rest of the chapter so we can fill in the blanks and enjoy.
In this time of a man shortage, there were two women for every man, it was a brave woman who turned down an offer of marriage, any offer. One toothed men, fat men, ugly men, stupid men or drunkards, even a Mr. Collins could have a wife for the asking. So Mrs. Bennet, silly as she was, was not at all unreasonable in her anxiety to get her daughters married to anybody as soon as possible. With no means to earn her own living, a single woman's prospects was not pleasant to contemplate.
Mr. Wickham to our modern selves was not all that bad, just a little bad. In that time period, he perpetrated a catastrophic evil upon the Bennet family. By his seduction of Lydia, the marriage prospects of the remaining sisters was reduced to nil. A meager existence awaits. In this light, Miss Elizabeth Bennet was a very brave, principled woman, Mr. Wickham was as an evil wretch as can be imagined and Mr. Darcy was as noble a creature that ever existed. Maybe this story is a once upon a time, a Prince Charming, a fairy tale. Something gives it enduring power. I can't put my finger on the why, but I am constantly drawn back to this story, to a woman worth risking all. PS, did I say this audio book was fun?
Over the years, I have listened to several performances of Jane Eyre with Wanda McCaddon, Susan Ericksen, Amanda Root, even a couple more which I cannot recall at the moment. Each narrator brings different life experiences and interpretations to the table. I have learned something from each as light was aimed into some new corner. While I highly recommend all of the above versions, Amanda Root turns in the hands down superior performance. I don't know if she is the actress who did such a superior job of portraying Anne Elliot in Persuasion, a rather satisfying movie, not perfect but workman like and creatively respectful to Austen. In any case, I bought this audio book based on her name. I was not disappointed.
The Brontes, in particular Charlotte, had a knack of storytelling using high, almost ferocious poetry disguised as prose. Poetry can get closer to the core of our emotional being than even the finest prose. Ms. Root has managed to make the poetry her own and allows the listener to drink deeply of the passionate love and pain that is Jane Eyre.
The Bronte sisters followed the writer's golden rule: "Write about what you know." Their limited but intense life experiences informed their fiction. Villette is IMHO, Charlotte Bronte at her very best. She is in command of her craft. In her most famous work and a favorite of mine, Jane Eyre, she used some tricks to move the story such as the unknown voices to bring Jane Eyre back to Mr. Rochester. Villette's Charlotte didn't need any tricks, just straight honest writing.
In a scene in "Mr. Holland's Opus", Mr. Holland tries to explain to the lead singer how a particular Gershwin song should be interpreted. He said it expressed the "yearning to belong" of the young woman. While mostly unspoken, that same heart rending yearning is the soul of this work. I think Karen Cass's particularly wonderful performance made the raw heart-felt emotions of Lucy Snow accessible, even more so than the book. This emotion is understated but it is always there and one instinctively knows it runs deep. Ms. Cass also highlights those little flashes of Bronte humor which are not always apparent to a thick headed lug such as me.
I am always struck how a Bronte heroine can take a punch, then get up, put themselves in order then go to face life's next challenge. They are not lachrymose. I think the Bronte sisters were cast from the same high grade metal. Charlotte Bronte left the ending to the reader's discretion. If I was doing the movie, I know the ending.
Unless you are a thorough going Austen addict, this is probably not the book for you. However, if you are in the words of the Jane Austen Society of North American, a Janeite, there is much food for thought and speculation about The Watsons and Sanditon. I bought this because I had only read/listened to the fragments as parts of completions by various writers. I wanted to see what my own speculations would be without a third party present. Norma West turns in the best performance of these three works that I have heard. It is an absolute pleasure to listen to her. Her Lady Susan is the best I have heard. It is written as a series of letters, a form of novel favored by novelists of the day including Samuel Richardson, Ann Ward Radcliffe and others. Jane Austen herself helped eliminate this style of novel writing with her body of work including Sense and Sensibility; perhaps, one should say helped lay the foundations of the modern novel.
I own several completion attempts of the latter two fragments both in audio and in print. I even seem to recall a movie version of the Sanditon fragment quite a few years ago. I found Juliet Barrett's Charlotte the best of the lot. I have seen some negative comments but I frankly dismiss them as petulant or uninformed. The Sanditon fragment seems a major departure from her previous work. It is startlingly different; it is as if Austen finally knew her own power.
The fragments seem to have most if not all major characters in place and are complete enough to impute the heroines; maybe project a general direction of the intended works. One can't quite be sure about the heroes except perhaps Sidney Parker, certainly not the setbacks, misunderstandings, flaws, adventures, resolution and happy ever after can only be conjectured. The last words written by Miss Austen are included, "Poor Mr. Hollis...."
Janet McTeer and David Timson are magnificent narrators and perfect for Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte wrote this one sheer, magically, unadulterated book of poetry then died. Some books I wear out: Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, The Enchanted April, Rilla of Ingleside. Other books just sit on my shelf of good intentions. They reproach me. I just noticed a Wuthering Heights in cd format on my shelf bought June last year still unopened; I think there is an unopened mp3 version also. I downloaded this version just to complete my Zune's Bronte collection. Why do I avoid this book? The anticipation of pain. The fortune teller in Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict said we humans will do anything to avoid pain. There is pain in this book. There is pain.
I was struck with certain similarities (not exact) of character, behavior, situation and the need for control, between Mr. Earnshaw and later Heathcliff in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Captain Aylmer, the anti hero of Anthony Trollope's The Belton Estate, the husband of Helen Graham in Anne Bronte's The Tenant at Wildfell Hall, Mr Wemyss in Elizabeth von Arnim's Vera as well as St. John Rivers in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. How fascinating they are on first meeting and how easy the women were charmed by them. Still there was an element of simmering violence rippling just below the surface of these ordered lives. There was danger. These men will destroy what they cannot control. Some of the women in these stories finally broke free but others like Cathy or Heathcliff's wife could not, did not. There is pain in this book, a magnificent poetry of pain. The Bronte sisters knew pain well. Emily wrote this book straight from her heart and it is almost unendurable.
This was my introduction to Tony Britton as a narrator and I am very impressed. Timothy West and Frederick Davidson come to mind as comparable in talent.
This book could have been titled Emily after the heroine Miss Hotspur. In some ways she reminds me of Marianne Dashwood "Sense and Sensibility" in her naivet? and of Fanny Price "Mansfield Park" in the strength of her resolve. Like her sister heroines, Emily is not the kind of woman one would willingly cross. The thought of the probable results would terrify me. However, George Hotspur, the anti hero of the piece, had no such terrors. Glib as Willoughby and smooth as Henry Crawford, he was sure of his ability to talk his way out of or into any situation and confident of his ability with women. Like his fellow scoundrels, his weakness of character comes into play. I am not so satisfied with Trollope's bitter sweet conclusion of this little tale but one can't have everything.
Timothy West turned in his usual five star performance with this story. He has an amazingly flexible voice, narrating seemingly without effort bringing out the nuances of Trollope's work. This narrative was of special interest to me because the two villains as well as the heroine are fellow Louisianans. I say the two villains but actually I think their blackest crimes are almost venial in comparison to the evil done by the gossiping women, particularly Mrs. Stanalope in this story. Indeed, the pain and damage inflicted by gossips is a real evil today as it was during the time of this story.
Trollope had a talent for picking hot topics, in this case, the heroine was a bigamist albeit unwittingly. This subject is just as hot today judging from stories in the press. What paper or television news program could restrain itself from leading with such a story? Trollope, I think rather liked taking on heroines with flaws. For instant, in Doctor Thorne the lady was born illegitimate. In essence, Trollope digs a hole for himself to scramble out dragging his heroine with him. The author's job is to make the reader like the heroine. Bigamy certainly didn't make his job any easier but these stories sold newspapers, then and now.
Nadia May as usual, performs this work as if she had wrote it and knows exactly how each character should sound. She enthusiastically joins in with Angela Thirkell's obviously Dickens and Trollope fun with the names of characters and places. The story is glowingly playful and absolutely takes a serious look at love affairs, mildly broken hearts and other general foolishness. Having only read (listened to) one previous Thirkell novel "Before Lunch", a delightful snack of a book, I have just begun to get an idea of the style of her writing. I only bought "Before Lunch" because Nadia May was the narrator; in the 30 or so books narrated by her that I have bought, I have yet to be lead wrong by her tastes to date. The author takes enjoyment in fingering an occasional Trollope character or place and plopping them down in the middle of her stories. It seems like a little joke she shares with the reader. Heck, I think she stole his entire imaginary county: a bold move for a bold woman and wonderful writer. A person who doesn't enjoy this book should look to the mirror for a reason.
This gentle story goes leisurely along as if there was no reason in the world to hurry. Indeed, there doesn't even seem to be a foreordained conclusion. Trollope writes as though he had no idea what was to come next; as if he was just as surprised as the reader. The story seems to ramble almost aimlessly but what delicious aimlessness. I think despite appearances, Trollope knew exactly what would come next; the seeming ramble is careful craft, an unsurpassed talent. This is a satisfying saunter through a gentle country romance albeit somewhat awkwardly with two charming suitors. Ah, but unexpected complications, setbacks, right angle turns and forks in the road are the forte of a Trollope story and makes him as fresh today as when first published in the mid 1800's.
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