Edward “The Boss” Rochester

I’ve just finished re-reading Jane by April Lindner – it’s the height of summer here in Toronto, the days are long and stiflingly hot, and I felt like I needed a sizzling romance to get me through long days at work and exhausting train rides between my home in the suburbs and the excitement of a bright and humid Canadian downtown core.

I vividly remember reading the novel for the first time. It must’ve been during either my first or second year of university – I recall receiving the book for Christmas, my father telling me that he picked it up because of the title and the fact that he “knew I liked some Jane girl from literature”. My obsession with Jane Eyre (and with the incomparable and sexy Mr. Edward Rochester) was in full swing at this point, so he was right…more ironically, though, he had picked up a modern adaptation of the novel in which Mr. Rochester is made into the badass, mysterious and equally sexy rock star Nico Rathburn. I liked this premise for the novel a lot because it definitely seemed like an appropriate way to bring the story of “plain” Jane and her dark, brooding lover into the contemporary world, but I was even more excited when I read April Lindner’s acknowledgements (I have a tendency to get anxious when reading, and I often flip to the back of the book and peruse the final pages before finishing a novel) and learned that she was a fan of Bruce Springsteen, and had modeled Nico Rathburn after him. I am a huge fan of Springsteen (He really is called The Boss for a reason, people! I may or may not be listening to his music right at this very moment!), mainly because of my father’s love for his music. My dad and I have seen countless Springsteen concerts; we’ve traveled to different cities to see him and we often leave my mother and brother behind so we can focus on his music without the distraction of listeners who don’t know his repertoire as well as we do! Springsteen might be quite a bit older than me (okay, significantly older than me) but I think he is undeniably so sexy, and I definitely see the comparison between him and Mr. Rochester. Take for example a set of lyrics from one of my favourite Springsteen songs, “Brilliant Disguise”:

“Now you play the loving woman, I’ll play the faithful man / But just don’t look too close into the palm of my hand …. Is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise?”

Do these lyrics not essentially reflect the same anxieties and insecurities that Rochester reveals in his song for his new fiancée Jane?

“I dangers dared; I hindrance scorned; / I omens did defy: / Whatever menaced, harassed, warned, / I passed impetuous by …. My love has placed her little hand / With noble faith in mine…”

Springsteen’s troubled narrator guards a difficult, possibly love-shattering secret, and readers of Jane Eyre will know that Edward Fairfax Rochester does the same. He lies to Jane on multiple occasions; he is deceitful and secretive and is not honest or forthcoming until his dark deeds are discovered and he has no choice but to admit to the truth.

And yet, we love him anyway. Okay, I’ve come to accept that I’m probably a shallow and hypocritical person because of this (truthfully, I don’t really care at this point because I love ER too much!). If my best friend were dating Edward Rochester, I’d tell her to ditch that loser after everything he’s done to her. He’s a shady character, to say the least. And, I think this is where Lindner’s adaptation of the novel really shines: she depicts all of Rochester’s, or in this case Nico Rathburn’s transgressions harshly, without softening his demeanor or making excuses for him. Nico is a rock star, and so it feels okay, if not justified, to call him a rude, disgusting a**hole for everything he does to poor Jane Moore. For whatever reason, maybe because Charlotte Brontë’s narrative was so clearly written in another time and so is harder to judge by modern standards, it’s not as easy to label Rochester with our contemporary terms…and because he’s from another era full of idealized romance, it’s much easier to fall in love with him.

But Lindner brings Rochester effortlessly into the 21st century, and his actions are not quite so forgivable here. There were moments, the second time around, when I actually cringed reading how Nico manipulates Jane’s feelings for him. From my first reading, I remembered scenes that felt intoxicating and warm, like the interaction between Nico and Jane in the pool when he teaches her to swim, or when he announces his love for her and demands of her, “‘Let me love you the way you deserve’”. Not only are those moments in the novel incredibly sweet, they actually make my knees buckle and my stomach tingle. When I read the novel the second time, however, I was moved by the scenes when Jane is confused by Nico, when she’s frustrated and annoyed by him, when he is cruel to her. He does what Rochester does almost exactly and tries to make Jane jealous by feigning romantic feelings for a glamorous modelesque woman, Bianca Ingram:

“Mr. Rathburn laughed. ‘You’ll have to catch me when my back’s turned. And good luck with that; it’s not like I can take my eyes off you.’

Bianca moved in closer and said something I couldn’t hear. Mr. Rathburn, his arm slung across her shoulder, whispered something back. They looked so natural together – two supremely confident beings, drawn together by the inexorable laws of celebrity.

Mr. Rathburn whispered something else in Bianca’s ear, and she slipped from under his arm. ‘Not here,’ I heard her say with a laugh. ‘You naughty thing. Later. Tonight.’”

I found myself literally thinking, as I read this scene, What in the holy heck is Nico doing? It’s such blatantly rude and hurtful behaviour that I questioned his love for Jane. The trouble is that this questioning made me realize that I’ve kind of always questioned Mr. Rochester’s love for Jane Eyre too. I mean, love is supposed to be kind and wonderful and is supposed to bring both people to the peaks of happiness and serenity. I don’t see how telling lies (and both Rochester and Rathburn tell many more than I’d like to spoil here) fits into this narrative whatsoever.

No one questions Rochester explicitly though, least of all me, the infatuated reader. Jane Eyre herself forgives him for his conduct almost immediately, and Jane Moore does mostly the same with her Nico. But in Lindner’s version, people are generally more skeptical of Nico’s behaviour, most notably River St. John, Jane’s prospective second love interest. He troubles Jane’s acceptance of Rathburn’s deceit: “‘You’re defending him? After what he did?’”; and he encourages Jane to forget about the liar Nico Rathburn by outwardly saying, “‘Please don’t go back to him, Jane. I know that’s what you’re thinking. It’s written all over your face. He lied to you.’” True, Mr. St. John, you bring up a valid point there. River asks the hard questions that St. John Rivers of Brontë’s version can’t ask for propriety’s sake and that we, as loyal readers, choose not to. Jane Moore returns to her contemporary Rochester though, just as Jane Eyre does, and I can’t really blame her – he’s irresistible and their bond is too strong. They’re kindred spirits after all, like something out of the most beautiful and romantic of 19th century novels.

In this way, Lindner’s novel sheds some light on Charlotte’s original text, and brings out or highlights the elements that are less acceptable by modern standards. It also stays true to the original story, and it doesn’t interrogate Jane too much – she’s allowed to live her love story in the end, and the reader is left satisfied…this isn’t a tragedy after all, or at least not at its conclusion!

Maybe I wouldn’t necessarily let my BFFL date a Mr. Rochester or a Nico Rathburn…but I wouldn’t deny her the greatest, truest love with a soul mate, and so maybe I wouldn’t be able to stop her in the end. I certainly wouldn’t ever stop myself if Rathburn or Rochester or even Springsteen came knocking!

Yours in shared love for the dark, mysterious, guitar-wielding gentleman,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Jane

my dad and I at one of many Springsteen concerts in Toronto
my dad and me at one of many Springsteen concerts in Toronto

Kinsella-ite

I’m practically in literary mourning at this moment, and I couldn’t wait to write a post until tomorrow! I’ve finished Wedding Night and Sophie Kinsella has once again left me both satisfied and devastated – the novel was hilarious and brilliant as usual, but I’m so sad that the story of my new ridiculous and silly and witty best friends is over!

I’m not going to lie and say that Wedding Night is my favourite Sophie Kinsella novel. Honestly, it’s almost impossible for me to pick a favourite because I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of the books she has written, and I have enjoyed them all equally. I get the same tingly, excited feeling every time I crack the spine of a novel with her name on it, and the experience was no different with Wedding Night. I knew I was in for a treat, for a light, summery romance with whipped cream and a cherry on top…and an occasional shot of vodka or something strong and bitter, to represent those moments of serious embarrassment and poor judgment from my beloved heroines. If I am being perfectly honest though, I was and still am passionately obsessed with one of Kinsella’s other novels I’ve Got Your Number, and I don’t think anything else she’s written has been able to knock that particular story off the pedestal I’ve put it on! I seriously fantasize about re-reading that novel (And not only because of sexy Sam Roxton, okay! I liked Poppy too, and the overall premise…and okay Sam’s shining romantic declaration at the end is hard to forget and it does make my stomach all butterfly-ish when I think of it again, but I swear I loved the novel for more than just him!), and I most likely will do so sometime very soon! Wedding Night did effectively fill the void that I’ve Got Your Number left after I finished it, however, and I will say that Kinsella’s use of two different female narrators (and an occasional male narrator, Arthur) was really unique and refreshing (as I mentioned a few posts ago). I thought the novel was exactly what I needed it to be and what it promised to be: a light-hearted, fun, exciting tale of mishaps and misunderstandings and not so perfect but still absolutely irresistible love!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think Sophie Kinsella might be the Jane Austen of our time (and I’m speaking as a person with a Master’s degree in English, people, so I am kind of an expert on these sorts of things!)! Okay, Kinsella’s characters are admittedly sillier than your average Austen heroine, but that’s what makes her stories so accessible and satisfying. I’ve done many a stupid thing in the name of love (I can count several embarrassing things I did this weekend alone…yikes, maybe Lottie and Fliss are starting to rub off on me?! Not that I would really mind!), and reading a Sophie Kinsella novel helps me not only to get over these blunders but to actually become proud of them. And didn’t Elizabeth Bennet do some pretty inadvisable things in her day…like reject Mr. Darcy, for one? Didn’t Anne Elliot allow herself to get a touch overwhelmed and end up making some less than stellar choices? Don’t even get me started on Emma Woodhouse who would fit right into Kinsella’s literary world! Sophie Kinsella writes stories about real women and the things they’re worried about and concerned with, just like Jane Austen did way back in the 19th century…and Kinsella’s no stranger to irony and literary allusions either…she just has this way of making everything that happens in normal, mundane life to ordinary people about a bazillion times more fun! I said it in one of my last blog posts and I’ll say it again – if I can become a writer as sharp and humorous and creative as Sophie Kinsella, then I will be perfectly fulfilled and happy!

So Everyone, do it! Go out and buy Wedding Night and sit on a beach with a cocktail or in your backyard with a sunhat or on a patio with a plate of French fries and devour it! To get the craving started, I’ll leave you with my favourite passage from the novel…

“‘I see a brilliant answer to the whole problem. It’s retro! It’s tried and tested! Did Queen Victoria have sex before she married Albert? And was their marriage a huge success? Did she love him desperately and build a great big memorial to him in Hyde Park? Exactly. Did Romeo and Juliet have sex before they got married? …. Did Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy have sex before they got married?’” – Lottie

Wedding Night

Forever the Kinsella-ite,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

A Man to Marry

It’s time for a much-delayed update and I think it’s also time to reveal a very special part of my “personal archive”. I mentioned in my first blog post (Salutations!) that I wanted to be able to post some more creative reviews of my favourite literary works. I came up with this idea because I had already written several adaptations of my favourite novels, plays and works of poetry (which I may share here at some point if I can muster up the courage!), and I had always enjoyed making use of my own creative impulses and imagination to expand the stories I had grown to love and to get to know my beloved characters better.

It was because of this desire to get closer to my most idolized literary characters that I wrote a letter to Prior Walter, of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, during the summer after my second year of university. I was reminded of this letter just a few days ago when I visited the Distillery District in downtown Toronto and saw that the play was being performed. I vividly remember my reaction to Kushner’s award winning play. I remember wondering whether I would like the reading list for my Jewish Literature class because most of the works were American, and I have never been a particular fan of American Literature. I remember reading the premise of Angels in America and thinking that it sounded too far-fetched, a little random and altogether too religious for my liking. I remember sitting down in E.J. Pratt library, at the University of Toronto, and flipping eagerly through every single page, desperate to get to the end. I remember tears streaming down my face as I devoured the story of Prior Walter and his lover and his friends and the marvellous cast of intricate and unique characters that surround him. I remember being moved, I remember being violently emotional, I remember being obsessed with this modern prophet…I remember wanting to marry him despite the fact that I knew he was gay and, probably more importantly, fictitious. I remember wanting to help him, wanting to jump into the play and save him from a disease that I hadn’t known much about and from a love that seemed to be destroying him. I remember wanting to give myself to him, to heal him.

And so, my only option was to write Prior Walter a letter, to pour my heart and soul out to him in writing, the sole medium through which we could speak to each other. I wrote this letter with more tears streaming down my face…and as I documented my more articulate thoughts about the novel in my journal, still more flowed. I love Prior Walter, to this day, and I will never forget him…he gave me insight, he gave me knowledge, he gave me compassion. He gave me the will to be a better person, and he opened my eyes to issues and ideas that I hadn’t considered before. I am the woman I am today because of Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale and Shirley Keeldar and so many other strong female characters – but I possess this overwhelming capacity to love because of Prior Walter.

With the biggest and warmest of hearts,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


A letter to Prior Walter of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

“Fuck you.  I’m a prophet.” – Prior Walter

To my favourite prophet Prior,

Throughout history there have been countless alleged prophets, most of them religious, but I must begin by admitting that of all of them, you are my favourite. No disrespect to Jesus, who I grew up learning of, but you, Prior, seem altogether more real and tangible than any prophet that I have ever heard of. Perhaps I am most drawn to you because you are not religious, because you are so bound up in the secular. Among the characters of Tony Kushner’s awesome, awe-inspiring work, you stand out as the one so totally free of religion, so non-denominational and non-conformist. You don’t have all the answers, and you don’t care to find them. I respect that. I respect you more than I respect Roy Cohn, who is evil despite his Jewish heritage, or Joe Pitt, who does everything in his power to contradict his Mormon upbringing. The angels that appear to you are orgasmic, not spiritual, and their god is a traitor unworthy of devotion. You are untouched, unaffected by them, and you even have the guts to reject their prophecy, to scorn their Book of Immobility and their offers of immortality. You are a prophet with balls who I believe to be severely under acknowledged!

I was also drawn into your world and I began to (rather vividly and viscerally) adopt your sentiments, especially your mixed affection/anger toward Louis Ironson. I was half insane with devastation when Louis left us battling AIDS alone and abandoned. I was enraged and crazy when he returned and begged for our forgiveness. I was astonished and proud when we held firm, demanding his blood and torture before accepting his apology. I became a gay, fatally ill man and I fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with a cheater, a traitor, a criminal. I wept with you. I swore and cursed through you.

But, there were of course some critical differences between us. I had a strong, healthy body, free of sores and lesions. I didn’t shit blood or cough and wheeze after minimal exertion. I could see clearly; no woolly patches clouded my eyes. I didn’t have AIDS; I wasn’t facing a death sentence. I could only read as you limped along, in and out of the hospital and consciousness. This fact only served to increase my fury. You were lonely, helpless, uncared for. I was lonely, companionless and dying (not quite literally) to soothe your pain. I wanted nothing more than to jump into the thick, worn pages and marry you, Prior. I am not delusional; I knew that you would have no physical attraction to me whatsoever. I knew that our relationship could never be sexual and that I would always be more attached to you than you would be to me. Regardless, I felt, I believed inwardly, that I could easily accept a less than reciprocal engagement if you would only let me heal you. I would be your nursemaid. I would administer your medication, wipe your sweating forehead, tuck you in at night. And, I would lie beside you, listening to your tired ramblings, letting you call me “Louis” if you needed to. I would be your angel, your Book of Immobility, your key to peace and calm. You would not be the first literary character with whom I formed a relationship, and yet I would give up all the others to take away your torment. I became inexplicably attached to you. When you cried, I cried, my heart breaking. When you screamed in frustration, my chest ached with silent sobs. My only peace came when I saw you happy, surrounded by friends, and when, in the end, I heard you declare that you would fight your disease without cease. You gave me the will to fight too, to conquer my own demons here, in the real world. You gave me strength and courage.

And, simultaneously, you scared me. You still do. You are beyond intriguing. You are developed, intricate, multi-faceted, the perfect character. You have a voice; it is yours, not your creator’s, and you use it well. You have a spirit and, as I said, you are so real, so realistic. Having said that, you are above me. I don’t know if I could ever create a character quite like you. I don’t know if I have the talent to envision a prophet, and then inflict torment and torture upon him. I don’t know if I can create a Pulitzer Prize winning story, if I can surpass or even match your narrative. I don’t know if there is enough passion in me…yet. I only know that you, Prior Walter, have helped to increase my passion, have left an imprint on my soul. You are permanently lodged there, and your presence encourages me, inspires me to write and imagine and see. You make me want to prophecy my own work, my own story.

I shudder to think about what has become of you since I last saw you, in February 1990. I know instinctively that you are dead now, as you can only fight such a tremendous battle for so long. This thought saddens me, and yet it seems somehow fitting. You will always belong to that period of change and anxious anticipation. May you rest forever in that peaceful time, just before Millennium approaches.

With love and admiration,

JNG

July 27, 2011

I have many loves in my life, my most recent being Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Angels in America. I will admit, I am completely obsessed, and after seeing the film adaptation I am even more affected. I cannot talk or write about this amazing play enough. Don’t misunderstand, I love Shakespeare but Kushner is a truly breathtaking playwright. Angels in America opened my eyes to so many controversial issues: religion, sexual orientation, the American legal system and injustice, the AIDS epidemic. After reading, I realized just how little I know about the world and its suffering. However, after reading, I felt more informed, more knowledgeable, more aware. I was most touched by the character Prior Walter (even thinking about him now, I could cry) and his battle with AIDS. I have never witnessed suffering first hand, but I feel like I lived through AIDS with this man. At times, I could hardly control my anguish, and I was severely overcome with sympathy and the desire to help somehow. I was moved by every aspect of the play, and I can honestly say that I feel I am a better person for having read it.

Prior Walter is now one of my dearest companions. He joins a list that includes Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, Johnny Wheelwright, Owen Meany, Duke Orsino and Viola, Erik the Phantom, and Henry Higgins. I have already conversed and will continue to converse with him as I do with Milton’s Satan and Abdiel, or Munro’s Del Jordan. I seek refuge in his company as I do with my own fictional creations. He is, for me, more real than many people I know.

Rainy Summer Romances

It’s a holiday here in Toronto and it also happens to be an incredibly rainy, what most people would describe as dreary day. The rain is intermittent, but thunder continuously pierces my otherwise silent small town, and the lightening occasionally brightens the sky with pink and orange hues. It’s all quite beautiful actually, but it’s not the ideal weather for a holiday…people at their cottages are probably losing their minds over this “waste of a day” and I don’t think many kids are going to be getting dessert from the ice cream truck this evening. For me, it’s the perfect day however, as I had planned to spend the day curled up reading the newest Sophie Kinsella novel, Wedding Night. If you recall, I promised to write a review of it sometime this summer and I couldn’t resist reading it any longer. The cover alone is enticing enough – a cute little cartoon man and woman dance around in what happens to be a Greek locale – and I know that I can always count on Sophie Kinsella for a laugh and for an irresistible romance. It might be raining outside, in the real world, but in Sophie Kinsella’s fantasyland, everything is sunshine and roses and exquisitely adorable mishaps and the perfect blend of heroine embarrassment and complete happiness!

I will write a more comprehensive review of the novel when I finish it, but for now I’ll say that it is just as witty and engrossing as any other Sophie Kinsella novel. (Sidenote: I would consider my opinion of Sophie Kinsella’s novels to be an expert one, because I’ve read all of her novels, some several times, and she’s actually the closest approximation to the type of writer that I want to be one day!) The plot is fast-paced, as usual, and we are plunged right into the action and into the hilarity of a story that is not at all far-fetched and is actually uncomfortably realistic, even for a 22 year old reader with relatively limited and normal romantic experiences. Kinsella’s characters are funny and their voices are distinct and unique (especially the male characters who are all so remarkably different), and I love that Kinsella has chosen to narrate through two female characters (a pair of sisters who are different in terms of lifestyle but whose speech and actions emphasize their blood relation in the most subtle ways) rather than just one – her remarkable knack for getting her characters just right is most evident when she masterfully switches from one narrator to the other with ease. Needless to say, I am so excited to finish the novel, and the fact that I’ve been a tad inconsistent about writing blog posts recently is pretty much directly related to how much time I’ve spent immersed in Kinsella’s world.

Anyway, I don’t want to say too much about the novel now because I know I’m going to have a lot to write about once I’ve finished…so stay tuned for my second post on Wedding Night which will come as soon as Lottie and Fliss get their acts together and figure this whole mess out…in probably the most creative and hilarious way possible, if I know anything about Sophie Kinsella!

For now, I’ll leave you with a commentary I wrote last summer about another romantic novel, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. This novel absolutely changed my life, as you’ll find out if you keep reading, and it became, along with Shirley, a sort of second Jane Eyre for me…I saw myself reflected in Margaret Hale, and I saw everything I ever wanted to love in John Thornton!

Your slightly soggy blogger,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


 North and South

by Elizabeth Gaskell

I never hoped or believed that this would happen to me again. I never dreamed that I could be so lucky as to meet yet another set of literary characters that would touch me so deeply. Remember Johnny Wheelwright, that shy and meek narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meany who inspired creative juices within me and encouraged me to become a writer? Remember Prior Walter, the prophet suffering from AIDS who encouraged me to feel a deep and lasting sympathy for homosexuals and inspired me to believe in the existence of angels in America? Remember the time traveller Henry DeTamble, the sharp and venerable Henry Higgins, and the brave and defiant Calliope (Cal) Stephanides? Remember how they both terrified and inspired me? I have spoken at length of my two dearest friends, Jane Eyre and her tortured, grave, dashing and intoxicating eventual husband Edward Fairfax Rochester – remember how they changed me at a time when I was at once vulnerable and optimistic, scared and beyond excited? These fictional characters, these entities that emerged from the brilliant minds of their creators are, without doubt, my closest and most cherished companions. I spend inordinate amounts of time with them. I have dialogues with them. I live through them and learn from them. I become a better person for having met them.

And now, I am so pleased to say that I can add two more lovely, complex acquaintances to my list of idolized and adored literary icons: Margaret Hale and John Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian masterpiece North and South. Oh, the three of us have been through so much together. I lost parents and loved ones with Margaret, experienced unrequited love with John, and I became socially, economically, industrially aware. Gaskell describes her characters with such detail and affection – Margaret’s strength and perseverance as she moves from teen years to young adulthood, John’s complexity, intellect and determination as well as his emotional depth and soft, beautiful core. I have made best friends within those pages; I have met likeminded individuals, a man and a woman who understand me, my passions, hopes and dreams. And I have felt their emotions just as strongly as if they were my own.

I could not have hoped for anything better! As a budding Victorianist, I am so excited to journey further with Margaret and John at some point, to study and pursue them. And yet, I will never forget or shake off this exquisite visceral reaction – this feeling that at some moment in the 19th century, in England, a young female writer decided, in a way, to speak to me. Somewhere out there, at some point in time, some women lived that thought and loved and feared and hoped just as I have done and will do – and I am lucky enough to speak with them, or I am lucky enough that they have chosen to speak to me through their pens. So, I am less lonely for having Margaret and John in my life – and yet, there will always exist that sense of dissatisfaction, that desire to leap into the book and live with them, that yearning to know where they will go, what they will do next. I miss them, even as they forever exist and are available to me. If only I too could inhabit their world!

The novel and the incredible BBC adaptation.
the novel and the incredible BBC adaptation

“For never was a story of more woe…”

So, last night I was able to cross another cultural experience off my “I Want To See More of the World and I Want to Do More Chic and Sophisticated Things” Bucket List. I attended the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Four Seasons Centre. I had been to The Nutcracker as a child, with my grandfather, but I was definitely too young to fully appreciate it, and I remember finding it boring, long and dull. I developed this idea in recent years, however, that my assessment was wrong and that ballets were, in fact, beautiful.

Obviously I was right! When I learned that the National Ballet of Canada was performing Romeo and Juliet for three days only, I rushed to buy tickets. I love Shakespeare, as any hopeless romantic would, and although he isn’t my favourite playwright (that title goes to Tony Kushner because of his masterpiece Angels in America, which I will post a review of very soon) and although Romeo and Juliet isn’t my favourite of his plays (I prefer Twelfth Night for its wit and disturbance of gender norms, as well as Hamlet and Othello), it was the first Shakespearean play I read in grade 9 English class, and so I’m sure it’s in some way responsible for my love of literature and refined speech. I wondered though, when I purchased the ballet tickets, if Shakespeare’s story would remain as poignant and touching if rendered without words, without those powerful soliloquies (think Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech) or those oft-quoted, now cliché lines. Is Shakespeare’s narrative and plot interesting in and of itself, or is it the manner in which he wrote the story that makes it so special?

I can now say with confidence that ballet dancers can express with their bodies exactly what Shakespeare portrayed with his pen. The ballet was gorgeous (even more gorgeous, in my opinion, than the pages of Watchmen that I spoke about in my last post – go figure!) – the sets were simple and minimalistic but full of perspective and designed with muted, neutral tones to showcase the dancers; the costumes were elegant and sumptuous, bright and vibrant. It was the dancers, however, and their flawless, twinkling toes that left me amazed! Every single scene was captivating (so much for ballets being boring!) and exquisitely articulated! The male dancers were strong and fierce (the athleticism of every performer was intimidating and motivating – I actually refrained from eating a cookie during the show, which is proof enough of this fact!), and I particularly loved the moment when Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo (Keiichi Hirano, Christopher Stalzer and Guillaume Côté) sneak into the Capulet party. The men made use of their strength and catapulted each other into the air, and there was some much needed humour in this scene (the audience actually laughed during Romeo and Juliet!).

The true star of the show was Juliet, though. Greta Hodgkinson performed the role to perfection, and I think they could’ve gotten away with calling the show just Juliet. (Sidenote: the novel Juliet by Anne Fortier is incredible, and it outlines the historical relevance of the story of the star-crossed lovers really well.) While watching the ballet, I started to realize that Romeo and Juliet is in fact, at its core, the tale of a young girl growing up (Care for a bildungsroman anyone?!). When we first see Juliet, during the ballet, she is bubbly, a little immature and so cute! She flits around her nurse, dances in excited circles, and cannot contain her juvenile cheer. When she meets her Romeo, there is a moment when everything freezes, their eyes lock, there is un coup de foudre. Then she gets scared and skitters away, trying to avoid the man, the fire, that threatens her innocence. But love gives her strength; she’s more rigid and stiff with Paris than she was with Romeo, and maybe she feels the difference too because she listens to Romeo from her window and she dances with him in the orchard. Now, she is really floating.

She’s almost a completely different woman after love touches her, and the third and final act (after the wedding) is so much about her and her interiority. The morning after her wedding night, she is jubilant with her Romeo – she glows as her white dress shimmers, her raven hair is finally down and it flows around them both. This is in fact the parting that is both sweet and sorrowful. Only this Romeo, this husband, can hold her so high in the air, and I have never seen human toes move so rapidly. She skims but does not touch the ground. Until her Romeo, her lover who is banished into exile, leaves and she literally folds up and crumples to the floor. She is a swan sinking, an angel who has touched heaven but is then dragged down to earth. When Friar Lawrence gives her the sleeping draught, we sense her uncertainty and anxiety in her stilted, short movements. We do not see Romeo visit the true apothecary – instead we follow his wife into the tomb.

And then, tragedy truly strikes. Romeo drinks his sweet poison, and in his last moments of life and vitality, Juliet awakens. In a twist on Shakespeare’s ending, Juliet sees her Romeo again and she is back to being bubbly and uncontainable. She is full of hope, and only we know, with Romeo, in the most heart wrenching case of dramatic irony, that happiness is not to be (See what I did there with that reference to Hamlet?!). Romeo begins to wilt and fade, and then all of a sudden (another coup de foudre, perhaps?) he is gone and it is almost as though Juliet cannot move any longer. Her spark has died, the force and bravery she used to defy her parents and choose her own love story has run out, and she clings to him, resting her whole body on top of him. Such is the end of their story.

Everything was so powerful and moving about this adaptation of a story that has been endlessly remade. The narrative felt new, and I appreciated new aspects of the story that I had never noticed before, like Juliet’s development in particular. There was also a figure lurking in the background of this adaptation: a man or woman shrouded in a grey cloak. This character’s identity was never explained, but my best guess (or actually that of my ballet-going companion) is that he represents death coming for the characters we’d grown so attached to. Either that or he is a reference to Shakespeare, the man who would write the story and allow the National Ballet of Canada to touch our hearts.

Romeo and Juliet

May your love never be star-crossed,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Victorian Soul Wants the Victorian Epic

I apologize for the serious delay in posts over the last little while. I would make up a few excuses about my hectic schedule and busy lifestyle if the reason for my absence wasn’t so perfect and valid – I have been reading a literary text that I just can’t think of very much to say or write about. I don’t want that statement to reflect poorly on the text that I’m reading, but I will reveal to you what novel it is that I’m talking about…but is it a novel really?!?! I’m not even sure, and that’s part of the problem!

I’m reading Watchmen and it’s the first graphic novel I’ve ever even opened the cover of, to be honest. I have a copy of the graphic novel because it was recommended and loaned to me by someone I was initially just trying to impress, but who I also respect immensely and who actually knows quite a lot about my taste and assured me that I would like it. And I do…sort of. It’s not that I don’t find the story fascinating or engaging – it’s dynamic and fast-paced and the world is vast and detailed and so well thought-out and portrayed. The characters are pretty cool; I’ve always loved the X-Men and Batman and Spiderman, so I do enjoy a good superhero narrative every now and then. I was totally sucked in during the chapter depicting Dr. Manhattan’s life and history (I was actually back to my normal reading speed during that section of the text), and I’ve always been a fan of stories that incorporate several narrative styles and points-of-view. I think the work very effectively bounces from one strand of the plot to another and from one genre to another. It’s a powerful, groundbreaking literary work and I won’t deny that!

It’s also absolutely gorgeous! Some of the drawings are just breathtaking, and I’m wondering if anyone has manufactured Watchmen wallpaper yet because I think a lot of the scenes would look pretty fantastic on the wall of my room – like when Dr. Manhattan disintegrates…there’s nothing like a full body explosion to brighten up someone’s living space! Basically, I like the illustrations a lot…but I also hate them with a passion. They confuse me, I’m not used to them and I have absolutely no idea what to even do with them as I’m reading! Do I look at them first? Do I read the text first? Do I scrutinize every detail or do I skim them? The colours are so vivid and vibrant that I can’t not look at the pictures, but then I become distracted from the actual dialogue or narration that’s happening and I sometimes have to start all over again. It’s frustrating and strange, but probably not altogether bad. Yes, I have my Master’s in English, but nobody likes a literary snob so I would never suggest that a novel with pictures isn’t a novel…it’s just not the sort of novel I’m used to.

I’m a Victorianist (my diploma doesn’t actually say that, but I’m giving myself the title anyway) and so I’m more comfortable with books that have barely any white space on their pages, let alone elaborate, coloured illustrations. I’m used to words, words, words on every blank surface – even the copies of Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop that I own that feature illustrations don’t include them in the page count. I’m used to using my imagination to determine what a particular setting looks like – when I was a child and I entered the wardrobe with Lucy for example, I had to figure out what Narnia looked like for myself. In the case of Watchmen, I feel like there isn’t much room for interpretation; you can’t debate how a character looks or how elaborate their costume is because everything is given to you, in fluorescent yellows and blues, in deep reds and purples. It’s gorgeous, like I said, but it’s also unlike any reading experience I’ve ever had.

The graphic novel isn’t telling me what exact shade of blue Dr. Manhattan’s skin is. It isn’t telling me what Rorschach’s “face” looks like. It’s showing me instead. And, I’ve learned in creative writing classes enough times that showing is always better than telling, and even great novels full of words and words and words will do that. I guess I just wonder where the room is for my imagination. I wonder how to throw myself into a text that doesn’t leave any space for me on its pages.

I will persevere though, because there’s too much that’s revolutionary for me in this experience not to. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with two reviews from the archives of some Victorian novels I am particularly fond of, not least because they’re heavy and dense and entirely black and white on every page!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


 The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

This was a surprisingly moving and interesting read! I was almost immediately intrigued by the unique storyline and the very distinct setting, and all of the characters are so well described and articulated. Many of the scenes are disturbing, strange and unsettling (I am thinking of the chapter when Gregory acts as Lyndall’s nurse), but these moments add to the intricacies and complexities of a plot that is unlike any that I have encountered in my extensive reading of Victorian literature. Lyndall is an absolutely fascinating character, and many of her longer quotations and ideas about gender equality and social hierarchies are poignant and thought-provoking, but I was also very intrigued by several of the minor characters, most particularly Em and the description of her relationship with Gregory. There is something deeply emotional about the interactions between the characters and about the struggles they each encounter in their lives (especially Waldo whose childhood is very difficult and whose moments of religious contemplation are very well-articulated and profound) and I thought the ending of the novel, specifically the last image of Em and Waldo, was extremely affective and a beautiful conclusion to an unexpectedly touching text.

 Our Mutual Friend

by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend may actually be my favourite novel. Speaking as an aspiring writer and after finishing the novel for a second time, I can truthfully say that I have never read a more brilliantly, carefully and impressively articulated literary text. Dickens is a remarkable author (this fact is generally accepted), but it is amazing that he was able to create such a vast, intricate, complex story at the end of his career. There is not a single sentence that is out of place in this massive work. Every single description of London, the Thames River and the surrounding areas is conveyed expertly. Every single dialogue is articulated to perfection, and every single character (from shallow Veneering to troubled and doubled John Harmon/Rokesmith) has a voice of his/her own and speaks distinctly and vividly. The story is absolutely immense and it would take a lifetime to analyse every detail, but I am convinced that an astute reader, that the proper reader, could enter the pages of Our Mutual Friend endlessly and still appreciate and enjoy every word and lengthy description. I feel as though I have made so many friends within this novel’s pages (although I’d rather be a Lizzie Hexam than a Bella Wilfer, I even respect Bella for her innocence and eventual honesty) and I look forward to getting to know them better when I (probably sooner rather than later and inevitably) read the novel again.

Green Eyes = Happy Hearts

I wasn’t going to write a review of the book I just finished reading, Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet, but the subject matter of the novel was strangely similar to a certain short story I wrote after first year university. If you’ve read the other pages on this site (specifically The Story of the Green Heart), you know that the character I created for this story has emerald green eyes – and okay, you should be able to tell by now that green eyes are my favourite.

So, long story not so short, I picked up Sundays at Tiffany’s hoping for a cute, sweet, chick-flicky read while I was filling this blog with reviews from my previously and dramatically mentioned “personal archive”. I wasn’t expecting too much – I’m a fan of Audrey Hepburn and the classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (which ironically isn’t explicitly or repeatedly mentioned in the novel at all), and I had a hunch that this lovely little book would fulfill my desire for something light and fun. Then, I read this sentence on one of the first pages:

“That day his bright green eyes watched me gaze at the sundae…”

Let’s be honest, I was pretty excited about the ice cream reference, but I was also stunned by the mention of my favourite eyes on earth! And, needless to say, from that moment I was hooked…mainly on the male character Michael.

The premise of the story (which I’ve rightfully said is in the same vein as, although not identical to, my own story) is absolutely adorable and probably one of the things I’ve always wished would happen in my life. A girl’s childhood imaginary friend, who happens to be an incredibly handsome, rugged, dark-haired, green-eyed man, becomes real, like actual flesh and blood. Spoiler alert (but not really, because come on, it is a romance after all!), they fall madly in love after she grows up. Maybe this sounds a tad cheesy, maybe it is and I’m just a sucker for true, undying love, but I thought the novel was sweet (seriously, it’s the literary equivalent of a melty chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream on top – it’s literary comfort food!) and very touching! It’s a teeny little book (only just under 300 pages) but there are some surprisingly heartwarming moments – Jane and Michael, when she is both young and old, have some endearing conversations and interactions, and you can sense the love between them, and the unshakeable connection, and the unconquerable loyalty that transcends space, matter and time. This novel is a testament to the power and satisfaction of falling in love with your best friend!

I’ve been known to become obsessed with a romance here and there. I loved every single one of the Sophie Kinsella novels I’ve read (Sidenote: I’ve Got Your Number is my absolute favourite and stay tuned for my review of Wedding Night, which will come once I start reading it, hopefully by the end of this summer.), and I have dreamt about dashing male leads like Henry DeTamble (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Julian Laurence Ashford (Overseas) and Dexter Mayhew (One Day). Although Michael of Sundays at Tiffany’s may not quite be up there with these favourite men that I’ve loved for years (the novel is just too short to get to know Michael well enough), I liked him a lot.

I would recommend this novel for scorching days at the beach or cold winter nights by a fireplace with a steaming hot chocolate and jingle bells. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face and make you believe in magic!

I’ll leave you also with a brief review from the archive, of another more contemporary novel, with a narrator I grew very attached to and haven’t been able to forget.

Yours in Mutual Fondness for True Love,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 

the novel and some related pretty things
the novel and some related pretty things

 The Gargoyle

by Andrew Davidson

This book was absolutely fabulous and so moving! I had been wanting to read it for such a long time, but I admit that I was slightly nervous about the storyline. I was not afraid of being upset or emotionally affected by the subject matter which features both a devastating car crash and detailed descriptions of treatment for severe burn wounds, as I was so interested in learning more about these sorts of ailments and the physical and mental battles of their victims. I was a bit wary that the explanations would be too violent, detailed and graphic for my tastes, though. I am so glad that I decided to finally pick up the novel, however, because I have never encountered a more interesting and compelling narrator! I was so drawn to the narrator’s voice and style; this is undoubtedly one of the most memorable novels that I’ve ever read simply because the narrator’s experiences (and his manner of expressing and detailing these experiences) are so unique! I was also lucky enough to purchase a copy of the novel that included an article by Andrew Davidson that I found fascinating. He describes the fact that Marianne Engel (one of the main characters in the text) appeared to him and spoke to him directly, telling him her story and urging him to document it. I thought that was just the most amazing story (especially because I am an aspiring writer and I often visualize and speak to my own characters) and it proves what a one of a kind, passionate writer Andrew Davidson is. This novel had a profound effect on me and I won’t soon forget it!

A Little Fun is Always JNG Approved!

Hello again Everyone!

I’m going to keep this post extra short and snappy because…okay, I’ll be honest, I’ve got a bit of a new obsession that I’m having difficulty dragging myself away from! I mentioned that I’m a fan of all sorts of adaptations of my favourite novels, and I really mean that – I’m pretty open-minded and I think that if a contemporary author wants to write a modern, young adult adaptation of a well-known classic novel, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it is not a corruption of the story, and it’s actually a really useful approach to promoting literary masterpieces (and interest in literature, in general) among younger generations! (Sidenote: I read this really adorable teen fiction take on Jane Eyre, way back in my first year of university, called Jane by April Lindner and I liked it a lot! The author compared Mr. Rochester to Bruce Springsteen and let me tell you, I can’t think of two darker, more brooding and mysterious men! Nicely done, Ms. Lindner, I approve of this comparison!) I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with using new forms of social media to reinterpret and reconceptualize classic stories! So, when one of my friends mentioned a YouTube series called “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” to me and explained that it was a modern spin on Jane Austen’s much-lauded, much-loved, much-fantasized-about novel Pride and Prejudice, I was more than a little intrigued! (Who hasn’t daydreamed about Mr. Darcy, especially as portrayed by Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen? I mean, I’ve been pretty vocal about my preference for Charlotte Brontë, but even I admit that Darcy has his dashing moments!) I watched the whole series in a month, and it only took me that long because I wanted to drag it out and enjoy it and because I figured I had to do some work towards my MA, since I had gone to all the trouble to enroll in it! Anyway, the series was fantastic, hilarious and lovely, and when I found out the same production company was working on an adaptation of Austen’s novel Emma (which, scandalous admission, I kind of prefer to Pride and Prejudice because Mr. Knightley is swoon-worthy – see my Favourite Quotes page for one of his ridiculously sweet admissions to Emma from the novel – and Emma is feisty and full of personality!), I couldn’t wait to delve into it as well!

But, truth be told, I waited…a long time actually! I got so distracted with my MA (okay, so I technically decided to give it the proper attention it deserved) that I delayed watching the episodes of “Emma Approved” until just now! And there you have it, the new obsession! I have a relatively free weekend, which is unusual for me at the moment, so I’ve decided to watch every single episode…and fall in love with every single actor in it because all of the portrayals of the characters are spot on and so fun and fresh and exciting! I also love that Emma has become an entrepreneur, running her own matchmaking company – for someone who is a confirmed hopeless romantic and who believes that nothing can conquer life’s troubles more easily than true love, this seems like the most perfect premise for a YouTube series!

Point of this blog post: I think “Emma Approved” is an interesting, creative adaptation of Jane Austen’s work and I think it is definitely worth watching for any fan of Austen’s novel but also for people who aren’t so familiar with Austen’s catalogue and are looking for a witty, fun story to engross themselves in over the summer! And fun, even when it relates to and messes around with classic literature, now that’s something I always approve of!

(And yes, I realize that this post was neither short nor very snappy…you’ve caught me, I’m a compulsive liar about the length of anything I write! Thanks for reading anyway!)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Because I’m obsessed with this blog…

…I’ve decided to add a new page to this site!

Check out Janille N G’s Favourite Quotes, a compilation of short selections from novels, short stories, poems and works of theatre that I love!  This page is a work-in-progress — rest assured that I will continually add new quotes to it as I read!

Hopefully these little snippets will inspire you to turn to and read some of the literary masterpieces I’ve quoted from!

Bon appétit! 😉

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 

Salutations!

And thanks for joining me on this literary journey!

I’m beyond excited to finally be starting this blog and to have a chance to write about all the aspects of literature that I adore, from particular chapters to large chunks of classic novels, to specific characters, to film and other artistic adaptations and interpretations. My vision is to document my feelings as they develop – I’m planning to write regular posts, as I am in the process of reading a single work. I have a huge To-Read list (which you can see on my Goodreads profile – Sidenote: Information on how to find me on Instagram, Twitter and Goodreads can be found at the bottom of this page!), including novels, theatre, poetry, short story collections and graphic novels, in the two languages I speak, English and French. I’m also looking forward to writing some more creative posts, such as letters to literary characters I’m especially fond of and my own creative adaptations of literary works.

To begin, and before I start reading or writing about anything new, I want to share with you some reviews that are part of what I’ll rather pretentiously call my “personal archive”. Honestly, I’ve written a lot about my favourite books, in my private journals (okay, so not really a pretentious archive after all!), and I want to share some of these (often random and unpolished) thoughts with you.

As you can probably tell from reading the other two pages on this site (About the Girl with a Green Heart and The Story of the Green Heart), I’m moderately obsessed with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, but I’m also pretty obsessed (and I’m quite passionate in this obsession!) with her second novel, Shirley. So, I will leave you with a review of that awesome book, written after I read it last summer.

Until next time!

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


Shirley

by Charlotte Brontë

I find myself wondering why people believe (or rather agree with Charlotte Brontë’s own assertion on the first page) that this novel is not a romance. I think that it is one of the most romantic stories that I have ever encountered, full of feeling and replete with characters who express themselves passionately and vividly. The narrative is exquisitely rendered, but this is to be expected when reading a novel by any writer as accomplished and acclaimed as Charlotte Brontë. I have now read all of Charlotte Brontë’s novels, and I have to admit that I prefer Shirley to Villette and The Professor which strike me as slightly less sentimental and expressive. Of course, Jane Eyre will always be my favourite, if only because it had such a profound effect on me during a time when I was coming of age, much like the heroine, and because it was the first Charlotte Brontë novel I read. However, there are aspects of and sketches in Shirley that rival my favourite parts of Jane Eyre and I would argue that the depictions of some of the characters in Shirley are stronger than those of many personages in Jane Eyre. I think this is due in large part to Brontë’s use of third person narration; although many readers seem to feel a disconnect from the narrative because of this stylistic choice, I feel that the third person point-of-view allows for more successful and poignant descriptions of the main characters. It would be difficult for the reader of Shirley to be confused about any of the main characters’ intentions: the sentiments of both female leads (Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone) are explicitly described with much detail, but it is the description of the passions and interests of the two male protagonists (Robert and Louis Gérard Moore) that fascinated me most. Whereas in Jane Eyre, the reader is often called to question the accuracy of Jane’s (probably often biased) descriptions of Mr. Rochester’s actions, and moreover to scrutinize Rochester’s own narration of his past (after his unsuccessful second marriage), the reader cannot doubt the affections and preoccupations of Robert and Louis because they are so clearly articulated, as a result of the third person narrative style, and as a result of the inclusion of descriptions in Louis’ own hand in many places. There is too much about Shirley that touched and inspired me to document here, but I will say that I am now more than ever convinced that Charlotte Brontë was a master at creating strong, independent and assertive female characters. I have to disagree with readers that admonish Caroline for being weak and easily manipulated; her intense and forceful conversation with Mrs. Yorke (in the chapter entitled “An Evening Out”) contradicts this assessment. Furthermore, the titular character, Shirley, is nothing short of a feisty, strong-willed heroine; her statements to her uncle Sympson are proof of her self-respect and formidable confidence:

“‘Are you a young lady?’

‘I am a thousand times better: I am an honest woman, and as such I will be treated.'”

For all of these reasons, and many more, Shirley is absolutely one of my favourite Victorian novels and I think that Charlotte Brontë’s second literary attempt was an unequivocal success!

my beautiful Penguin edition of Shirley
my beautiful Penguin edition of Shirley