Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Meaning of Maundy (Jillian)

Every year at Holy Week, I've found myself asking the same, perhaps silly, question: what does "maundy", as in Maundy Thursday, actually mean? It has become a part of our church-language, but I'd never been apprised of its meaning. It didn't seem important. But, by golly, it is important!

Being the incorrigible logophile I am, I could no longer leave well enough alone, and so on Maundy Thursday 2011, I delved.

Maundy Thursday is the day of the Last Supper, and the night Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. According to merriam-webster, "maundy" comes from the Middle English word maunde from the ceremony of the English king or queen washing the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday. It is also connected to the Latin word mantadum, meaning commandment. John 13:34: "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another."

The Queen participated in the washing of feet today in Britain. This is also her 85th birthday. For more on this tradition, please visit the Telegraph!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jane Eyre 2011 in brief (Jillian)

Jane Eyre 2011 (Mia Wasikowska)

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT! While on the subject of Charlotte Brontë, I did see the current-most theatrical version of Jane Eyre, last week.

Things I liked:

1. The film begins with Jane’s trek across the moors and finding refuge in the cottage of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters.

2. Mia Wasikowska, despite her youth, is very good as the reserved but passionate Jane.

3. The character of the house keeper Mrs. Fairfax (Dame Judi Dench) is given more depth and more of a meaningful relationship with Jane.

4. The film is visually stunning with tricks of lights (i.e. fire light) and shadows. As Jane struggles across the wet, dark moor to the Rivers’ cottage, one light in a window draws her into safety.

Things I didn’t like:

1. Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is too handsome, and, quite frankly, too creepy. His is a complicated character – always in danger of being portrayed as either too mysterious and angry, or too masculine and cold – an uncomfortable contrast either way to Jane’s youth and lack of knowledge of the world. In the film, this contrast is made far more sexual than it needs to be.

2. It was hard to trust the nuances of their relationship. The film definitely shows Jane and Rochester falling in love but fails to truly answer those nagging depth-questions: Why does Jane love Mr. Rochester? Other than wanting to escape from his insane and mostly-inhuman wife, why does Mr. Rochester love Jane?

3. St. John Rivers does not lose his temper and threaten Jane with eternal damnation in the book.

4. There were moments where lines, lifted almost exactly from the book, were delivered awkwardly, as if the actors were reading them aloud in a literature class.

Over all, I am still very much devoted to the 2006 miniseries starring Tobey Stephens and Ruth Wilson. So much of the novel is better developed in that format – there is more space and time to deepen the story (the friendship into romance, the secrets, the riddles from Rochester’s past, questions of the future) in ways a two-hour feature film cannot. On the whole, Jane Eyre (2011) is a good film, and as novels-into-films go, the 2011 is very faithful to Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, but it has more shadows than spirit.

Jane Eyre 2006 (Ruth Wilson)

Getting to Know Charlotte (Jillian)

My latest literary endeavor is Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Having finally finished a long, grueling spell struggling with Charlotte’s Villette, I find I probably should have read her biography first to gather a better sense of her final novel.It's a great idea to get to know our favorite authors better - not merely in a sense of "how did they do that?" but to appreciate them for the creative people they are in ordinary lives, human beings who struggled instead of idols who leap out of the clay fully formed and automatically brilliant.

For those of you who are interested in branching out into Charlotte’s lesser-known works, I would urge you caution. Villette is a beautiful and profound work, a wonderful reflection of Charlotte’s experiences in Belgium. But the narrator and central character, Lucy Snowe, is a bit of an icy, indefinable ghost; at times Lucy, though she knows her own mind and her own sorrows, seems more of a captive witness to events rather than a strong participant. Though no less vivid than Jane Eyre, it was impossible at times to tell where Villette was going, if anywhere, and it took me about four months to finally finish it… reading other books along the way for occasional relief.

It is not to say that Villette is “bad”. It isn’t; it is rightly lauded as a masterpiece. It was also a profound challenge. Yet, that challenge inspired me to learn more about this mysterious, tragic writer, and see if following her journey can help me better appreciate her. Here are some interesting facts I have learned so far:

1. Charlotte had two older sisters who died of typhus when Charlotte was a little girl: Maria and Elizabeth. The circumstances of their deaths at a school in Yorkshire inspired the events in Jane Eyre wherein Jane’s only friend Helen dies during an epidemic.

2. Charlotte was private and had a quiet spirit, but when she set her mind to something, she was determined to carry it out. To quote Elizabeth: She was not one to take over-much about any project, while it remained uncertain – to speak about her labour, in any direction, while its result was uncertain.

3. Her hero was the Duke of Wellington, general of the Napoleanic wars and an important conservative political figure of the day.

4. She was terribly “short-sighted”, or near-sighted, and got by with the use of spectacles.

5. Charlotte and her equally famous sister Emily (Wuthering Heights) studied French and German at a Belgian school in 1842-43. Her experiences there would be the setting for her final work Villette.

6. One of Charlotte’s earliest pseudonyms was Charles Thunder. Later she would write under the name of Currer Bell; her sister Anne (Agnes Grey) was Acton Bell, and Emily was Ellis Bell.


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