Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Intricacies of Accents

Today is the first day in what seems like a rather long time that I've put up a post. With my entire extended family coming to visit and taking up all the available space in my house on friday and the 4th of July being celebrated monday, I found my hands full. The blog and literature itself was far from my thoughts as I chased my little cousins around and tried to keep them the least bit subdued.

Now with my company gone and the house once again under the peaceful dominion of my father, mother, and I, the computer is back under my control and I am now overflowing with the need to write once again. Today's post is not lit related, however. It's rather an interest that's overtaken me particularly in the past two months.

I've been working on a book for the the past year now. The first draft has been finished and with second now underway, I have to devote a lot more time to research than I did before. The book is an in-depth analysis of Jane Eyre from quite a different perspective, but I find myself running into trouble when entering the fictional world. The worst of those troubles is geography. The book is, of course, set in a fictional home near a nonexistent town, but we know that it must have been based on SOMETHING.

Charlotte Bronte was born in the county Yorkshire. She was then sent to a school in Lancashire, and settled in to a parsonage on the moors of Yorkshire. The problem with this is that from what I've gathered in my research, each place has a distinctively different accent. In fact, Lancashire is a different county altogether from what I see on the maps of England. As an American, I would hate to fall into the common trap that so many of those unfamiliar with Yorkshire fall into and assume that all the accents are the same. I did extensive research on Yorkshire inflection and am told that because Yorkshire is the largest county in the UK, it in turn has the largest variations in accent. Which then was Charlotte Bronte envisioning when she wrote Jane Eyre?

There also seems to be some discrepancy between the place that Charlotte lived and the place she described in the novel. For years, filmmakers have chosen to use Derbyshire as the setting for numerous Jane Eyre adaptions in order to evoke the setting that Charlotte painted in the book. Was it perhaps possible that Charlotte envisioned the novel to be set in the county below hers? But then that would discredit the idea that Lowood was based on the Charlotte's school in Lancashire, would it not?

After studying the actual sound of the accents of each place, I found that the Yorkshire accent that I had imagined when reading the novel was one commonly used in Sheffield (particularly for the character of Rochester). I imagined Jane having a sweeter more "country" accent influenced by Lancashire. For Rochester I had imagined a more severe and rough inflection perhaps a bit muddled by travel. My particular emphasis goes on Rochester's accent in this analysis.

When I say I want a "roughness" in Rochester's inflection, I mean that I love the bluntness of the vowels.  For example, in the latest adaption of the novel, the actors put greater emphasis on the northern English accent. There seems to be a great emphasis on the "o" and "u" sound. For example "you mOOst accept me as your hOOsband" and instead of "good luck" I hear more stress on the "u" so it sounds like "good look." There also seems to be a higher inflection at the end of sentences than in southern England. Does any of this make sense to you?

What is a girl to do? I know that many of you tuning into this Blog are from the UK. Can I get a bit of help??


  1. Wow, you're certainly giving it a lot of thought - I'm thoroughly impressed. Unfortunately I'm not from the UK and I can't say that I paid attention to the accent of the characters in my head (haha) it was just a general British one. And while I've heard the different accents you mentioned (like good look instead of good luck - which makes me cringe, btw) I've never been able to identify which part of England they're from or whatever. Sorry =\ But good luck with what you're doing!

  2. Ha ha details are rather important to me in this case. At first I thought that the accents of all northerners were rather the same. The only differences in accents were mentally divided into "northern British accent" and "southern British accent." After studying I'm actually beginning to see the variations. The accent of those from Leeds (which is in Yorkshire) is considerably different from those in Sheffield (also in Yorkshire, but southern). Then you have the numerous other places such as Liverpoole and Manchester that are more influenced by the Scottish and's all very intriguing really! But I just ranted incessantly, so I'm ending my comment now (giggle). Thank you for your good wishes! :)

  3. Very interesting. I have never tried to read a book silently with a different accent than my own because that would be difficult to do. When I am reading to my husband, I do try an accent but usually if it is one of the "hick" characters since I just use my usual American accent with all the others. I try to make them sound soft or stern (St. John is always stern). If there is a more country character, I somehow, without completely realizing it slip into a southern drawl since that just comes naturally to me.

    For instance, When I read Jane Eyre's Husband to my husband, when it came to the character of Abel Poole, I made him sound like he was from the back woods of Tennessee :). I have done that with every book. The innkeeper at the end of Jane Eyre also got a hick

  4. Ha ha we all have our different quirks when reading. I'm was enrolled in drama at my school and we spent a whole semester focusing on learning accents. These included the "remedial" northern and southern british accents. I was already familiar with them before, but after my classes I learned to speak them pretty well. Now my family and I have made a sort of bonding experience. I read English lit to them in my accents to both entertain them and keep in practice.

    But I do remember that before I was "practiced" in them, I too just read the book with no particular accent in mind. It doesn't really matter how you read a book as long as it comes alive for you I suppose! :)

  5. As I wasn't born and raised in the UK, I'm not really qualified to say anything about the difference between Yorkshire and Lancashire accents. I would say though, that when reading Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë does say that Thornfield is further south than where Jane is from - and that they travel past a city calle "S---" which could very well be Sheffield. So as far as I'm concerned, Derbyshire isn't a bad idea for where Thornfield is situated, and I loved how it was used in Jane Eyre's Husband. :)

  6. The more I research, the more I agree with Derbyshire as the appropriate place. Seeing that it's right below Yorkshire, it's possible that some of the culture could have sifted a little and made a little breathing room. I was also considering the idea that perhaps Thornfield was probably in Derbyshire, but that maybe when Jane ran away she went north to's all open for the imagination. :)

  7. You've got yourself a mammoth project there!
    Charlotte was tantalizingly vague about the geography in Jane Eyre. We know that Lowood was based on Charlotte's school in Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. Lowood is 50 miles from Gateshead Hall (which is, I believe, Stone Gappe Hall, North Yorkshire, 35 miles from Cowan Bridge). 70 miles separate Lowood and Thornfield. I believe that Thornfield is meant to be located in Charlotte's beloved Yorkshire. But, for the house itself, she seems to have been inspired by North Lees Hall in Hathersage, Deryshire. Other sources say Thornfield was based on Norton Conyers in Yorkshire. In any case, I still think that the SETTING for Thornfield was Yorkshire.
    When Jane flees from Thornfield, she goes as far as possible, travelling several days. She takes a southerly direction because she says that the county she ends up in is in the north midlands of England. Morton is 20 miles from "S--" that Traxy mentions, and that could well be Sheffield (good thinking, Traxy!) Morton is meant to be Hathersage (again!) in Derbyshire. In reality, Hathersage and Sheffield are about 12 miles apart using modern roads.
    I wouldn't pay too much mind to the fact that film producers seem to always shoot in Derbyshire. Haddon Hall is a popular choice because it is unspoilt by modernity and has the right Gothic look. Once in a central location, film-makers don't like to move around too much because of the expense.
    Finally, I'm not much help myself with the accents, being a Southerner! I know there are a myriad of accents and dialects in the area in question and, because of Charlotte's vagueness, you'll never be able to refine all the different nuances. Remember, an educated and well-travelled man like Rochester will have a more generic accent than an uneducated person who has lived all their life in the same place.
    Best wishes!

  8. I just had another thought: Gateshead is 100 miles away from Thornfield and in a different county (as we learn in the conversation between J and E when he gives her the ten pounds).
    And my theory about Milcote and Thornfield being in Yorkshire is just a theory - I don't have much evidence to support it as yet.

  9. Me again! Sorry!
    I've just found an online article which suggests that Millcote was Leeds!

  10. Don't apologize. I'm taking all this into account and you have some VERY good theories. I'm beginning to theorize that Gateshead was probably in mid-northwestern Yorkshire, Lowood set in Lancashire, and Thornfield probably set in mid-Yorkshire so that Jane might escape south to Derbyshire. Before I had the exact opposite theory that Jane might have ran away north to Yorkshire from northern Derbyshire...

    It is a rather large task. What I'm writing actually doesn't require this much detail, but I wanted it to be as precise as possible and upon starting the research I just got really into the subject.

    As for Rochester's accent, your points are what I was thinking exactly. Rochester is a well-learned man who has traveled and spoken different languages, so I imagined his accent being more educated and muddled. But then I also fancied that when he returns to Thornfield that perhaps the tint of his natural accent comes back to him. Either way, he could be interpreted differently. I know that neither of them have the REAL more extreme Yorkshire accent because Charlotte differentiates between their accent and the accent used by uneducated Yorks such as John and Mariah.

    Either way, I'll keep looking into it. Combining imagination with research is fun! Thank you for your help. I was actually hoping that you might comment on this post after hearing about all your travelling experiences and your knowledge of the land.

  11. You're welcome, Bonnie. It's quite fun doing the research. If I think of anything else, I'll let you know.
    How about enlisting the help of those on BronteBlog?

  12. Me again! I'm obsessed! Lol.
    More about Millcote. Jane says this in chapter ten:
    "Millcote, - shire; I brushed up my recollections of the map of England, yes, I saw it; both the shire and the town. -shire was seventy miles nearer London than the remote county where I now resided: that was a recommendation to me. I longed to go where there was life and movement: Millcote was a large manufacturing town on the banks of the A-; a busy place enough, doubtless: so much the better; it would be a complete change at least. Not that my fancy was much captivated by the idea of long chimneys and clouds of smoke.."
    That seems to fit Leeds very well. Leeds is about 56 miles from Cowan Bridge on today's roads, and is in a south-easterly direction. So "70 miles nearer London" fits. It is (or was) a large manufacturing town on the banks of the river Aire. And it used to have a George Inn, as mentioned in chapter 11.

  13. Your researching skills are absolutely inspired! Thank you so much for all your help. I think that after all your research, I'm going to go with the theory that Millcote was Leeds, making Thornfield in south-central Yorkshire and validating the theory that Jane ran south to Derbyshire and making it fully possible that Gateshead was northwesterly and Lowood was in Lancashire. :)

  14. I've just watched the DVD and I must say I really like the Northern accents used - the short 'a' in 'after' or 'master', or the pure 'o' vowel in 'most', as well as the 'oo' in 'husband'. I'm glad though that Charlotte didn't copy her sister Emily's technique of respelling (Joseph in _Wuthering Heights_). And thanks for providing a better sense of the geography of the novel!

  15. Thank YOU for dropping by. I hope to see more of you around. I too enjoyed how Charlotte didn't copy the language letter for letter. However, I also read another one of her novels, Shirley, and she puts a LOT of emphasis on the yorkshire accent in that book.