Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Tess of the D'urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy Review

Somewhere in the countryside of rural England, John Durbeyfield, a common man, is walking home. The local clergyman passes by and addresses him cordially as "Sir John" and he is thereafter informed of his connection to an extinct aristocracy. Meanwhile, his eldest daughter Tess Durbeyfield is on her way to a local village dance dressed in her best white attire. By chance, three young men (brothers) happen to be passing through. The elder two are practical, pragmatic, and dry, but the youngest is bright with youth and insists on stopping to dance. He takes the first girl he sees as a partner, and just as he is about to take his turn with the gorgeous Tess, he is called away for the sake of time. Tess returns to her impoverished home (complete with a large family of children) and learns of the "joyous" news: her father is a d'Urberville.

Despite this newly discovered connection, Tess insists that the family move on as usual but when their horse and only source of income dies, she reluctantly follows her mother's advice and undertakes the journey to search out the only other living (and conveniently wealthy) d'Urbervilles left. She arrives at a magnificent house, where she comes in contact with her handsome and strangely charming "cousin" Alec d'Urberville. He arranges for her to receive a job at the mansion, all the while keeping an eager eye on her. Inexperienced, vulnerable, and completely unused to the world beyond her little village, Tess resists his strange attraction to her having no idea where his motives really lay. She's unable to recognize the signs around her that point to trouble and is soon lured by Alec into a trap and raped by him.

Tess returns home distraught, confused, and ashamed after refusing any financial help from Alec because of her disgust. She eventually gives birth to his child, who dies during infancy and is unable to be properly baptized or buried because of its illegitimacy. Deeply hurt and depressed, Tess leaves her home again to make a fresh start and earn money as a milkmaid. It is there that she meets the young and handsome Angel Clare, who she immediately remembers as the boy she almost danced with a long time ago. The two form an immediate bond and Tess falls in love with him despite all her attempts to resist him. In a society where virtue, purity, and morality are the pillars of desirability in a woman, Tess is a haunted victim of her past. Now she faces losing the man she truly loves by risking the truth, and she must discover whether the future can hold happiness for someone so plagued by the misery of the past.

I read this book two years ago and after finishing it I was immediately convinced that I would despise it forever. The book is bleak and dark; not in the twisted and cruel way Wuthering Heights was but in a pensively sorrowful way. Somehow I felt like Tess was not a good heroine. I mentally accused her of being weak and essentially brainless. Even then, however, I wasn't able to put it down. I left it alone for a few years, but recently reread it and realized just how beautiful a novel it really was. Yes, it is frustrating to read. Every reader wants to place the blame on someone. The bleakness that permeates Tess's existence makes the audience despise humanity; women for being so easily led and men for being heartless and manipulative creatures. Yet, this is exactly what was intended.

Thomas Hardy reversed the gender roles during a time period in which women were the lustful and tempting seed of evil and men were the pure, entrapped lambs. Tess's life is filled with contradictions and complexities that create controversy in her views of happiness and morality. She is hard pressed from all sides. On one hand, her mother scolds her for being too open and truthful and on the other she is being tormented for hiding her past. Tess is the perfect protagonist; a complex character who evolves as the novel unravels with each page. By the end, the reader finds that the more corrupt Tess becomes by worldly standards, the more virtuous we hold her in our minds.

It is the complexity of the characters in the novel that creates the intrigue. Tess is not the only person to analyze; every major and minor character is multi-faceted and essential to the telling of her story. Nothing is coincidental. In the midst of this strange "love story", the reader discovers a poignant social commentary by Thomas Hardy that will turn the wheels of your mind. It is absolutely captivating.

Oh, and there is also an AMAZING BBC adaptation to accompany it for anyone interested. Absolutely breathtaking. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wuthering Heights 2011 (or 2012?) Review


I've finally seen it! For years now, the newest adaptation of Wuthering Heights has been disappearing, resurfacing, and then disappearing again. However, around the time I found out that Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre would be released in 2011, I also discovered that Wuthering Heights was back in business, being directed by none other than Andrea Arnold. I awaited the films release with curious anticipation, wondering what Arnold would bring to a novel that has been relentlessly adapted on screen for decades.

As an avid Jane Eyre loyalist, I'll be the first to admit that Wuthering Heights never was and probably never will be my cup of tea. I've read the book many times and have yet to discover why so many exalt it so highly, but that hasn't stopped me from seeing a few adaptations and enjoying them. The '39 was the first one I was ever acquainted it, and I liked it well enough. The '09 was my favorite. The "Ralph Fiennes" was acceptable because Ralph Fiennes was Heathcliff (and who wouldn't love that?). The rest  either went unwatched or were too miserable to really mention.

From the moment of its announcement, the filmmakers succeeded in shadowing the 2011 adaptation in a veil of mystery. Facts about the plot and the characters remained evasive and no one really knew how the movie would end up; we merely prayed for dear life that it wouldn't be butchered. We were, however, presented with three bold facts. Andrea Arnold would be the director. Kaya Scoledario would become Cathy Earnshaw/Linton. But perhaps the greatest and most controversial decision the filmmakers made was deciding to cast an unknown black actor (James Howson) as Heathcliff, the leading man. With so many questions surrounding the project, my interest was heightened. I was merely disappointed, however, when it was announced that the film wouldn't be released in the US until 2012. In fact, it's been months since its release in Europe and yet the United States has only seen Arnold's Wuthering Heights at a few film festivals here and there.

The official US release date is still relatively unknown. Most likely the film won't be going to mega-movie theaters, but I'm sure it'll sneak its way onto a few art house limited release screens. My impatience will always get the best of me, however, and so I've managed to see the movie ahead of time. This is going to be a long review containing a fair amount of spoilers, so beware.


The casting of the movie was perhaps the most debatable aspect in everyone's eyes. I think everyone wondered if Arnold really knew what she was doing. What might throw a dutiful Wuthering Heights purist off initially is the fact that the larger portion of the film is devoted to Cathy and Heathcliff's adolescent years. Newcomers Shannon Beer (Cathy) and Solomon Glave (Heathcliff) are really the stars of the show because, in essence, it is their movie. It's strange really, seeing young Cathy and Heathcliff for most of the movie, and I'll be the first to admit that I never really got quite used to that hitch in the plot, but the fourteen-year-old actors were the highlight of the film. Beer and Glave both delivered superb performances for such young actors. The audience really comes to terms with the fact that there was chemistry between Cathy and Heathcliff from childhood.

Soon enough Kaya and James Howson (the unknown black actor) stepped in to play the adult Cathy and Heathcliff after Cathy marries Edgar Linton and Heathcliff comes back from his mysterious and long travels. From subsequent research, I ought to warn you that Heathcliff's voice was not actually Howson's. According to various reports and interviews with Howson himself, he was voiced over by someone else and he merely lent his looks for the part. Other problems also arise with the casting of the two adult leads, namely the fact that they seem completely unrelated to the actors who played the adolescents. Scodelario looks and acts like a person wholly unconnected to Beer's Cathy, and the same thing may be said for Howson and Glave. Assessed individually, the acting wasn't bad at all, but collectively there was something missing.

I know what most of you are thinking. "What is your opinion on the black Heathcliff deal?" In all honesty, it really didn't bother me. In fact, it was almost natural. I personally don't understand what all the hoopla was about in the first place. Of course, most people don't necessarily envision a black Heathcliff when they're reading the novel, but it's rare in any adaptation that the "envisioned" actor gets casted.


Screenplay: This is the area in which I have my biggest qualms. The screenplay was practically nonexistent in this film. Words were extremely few. When imagining an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, anyone who has read the novel will immediately picture, "I am Heathcliff" and "I cannot live without my soul", and yet most of the lines that every fan looks for are nowhere to be found in this adaptation. There's little verbal conversation between the characters, but there is a lot of eye contact and sensuality which kind of serves as its own tangible screenplay. It doesn't take the audience long to realize that this isn't an omniscient approach to the novel, but rather a version of Wuthering Heights seen completely through the eyes of Heathcliff. <-- That was something I wasn't prepared for, and in the end I'm not sure whether it doomed or benefited the film.

Cinematography: The camerawork was without a doubt the film's greatest strength. With Andrea Arnold running the show, I knew that this version of Wuthering Heights would be all about appealing to visual emotion. The dark, mysterious, gloomy, and yet strangely beautiful English moors are the real main character in the movie. In fact, the scenery gets more screen time than anything. We see wind whistling through sultry wildflowers, tall grass being swept by enormous gusts, and lots of nature, bugs, and mud. There is a strange but refreshing kind of tangibility that pulls the audience into the film and expresses the emotions of the characters.

Soundtrack: There isn't one. At the end of the movie you get a minute song from Mumford & Sons (it's a good song) and that's it.


Unfortunately, there are a lot of those. Overall, I found the movie too quiet. There was no dialogue, and as much as I enjoy subtlety, too much of it can quickly shift the audience into a state of boredom (which was the case with me). As sensual as the cinematography was, there was no physical sensuality between the characters, save one moment when Heathcliff and Cathy wrestle in the mud. There is no kissing, there is no reckless passion. There are merely plants and animals and shots of humans in between. If their was one word I could use to sum up the two hour film, it would be "nostalgic."

Could this version really be called Wuthering Heights? Not really. It's merely a film that shares a few circumstantial similarities with a novel of the same name. If you're looking for faithfulness, you won't really find it. But if you're looking for raw cinematography, or just rawness period, then this might be the version you've been searching for. If you're a true purist, I would almost bet that you won't like it.

The one redeeming thing I can say about this adaptation, however, is the fact that it reached me in a way no other adaptation was able to do. For years, all I've only been able to visualize Wuthering Heights as an unrealistically harsh tale about the twisted love between two strangely narcissistic characters. I was always Heathcliff's severest critic because I was never able to understand how someone who supposedly loved so deeply could be so corroded by brutality. Through the raw, realistic, and untamed wildness of Arnold's cinematography and the blatant glances of cruelty seen in this version, I was able to understand what draws readers en masse to Wuthering Heights. In a world so eaten away with gloominess, pain, and bitterness, the fact that such a solemn and lasting passion could grow between Cathy and Heathcliff is the sole thing worth reading for. Sure, their love is dirtied by the outside forces of the world in which they live, but Heathcliff and Cathy have literally only one another.

Therefore, I can say that some obvious good came out of this adaptation in my personal experience. I have no idea what it will do for the rest of you. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Turning Pages

Hello there lit lovers! I'm reporting to you from the coziest spot on my bed. I've been home sick for three days (a living testament of how stress can wreak havoc on your immune system) and when you sum up the hours I've been sleeping it probably amounts to about one and a half of those days (the flu is no joke). Today is the first day my brain has been remotely capable of putting words together worthy of being posted. Fortunately, I'm at the age where my mother is still my primary caretaker. I dread the college days ahead when I'll have to learn how to cope without her maternal nursing abilities. 

The positive (if there is one) about being sick is the ample amount of time you receive to read and watch TV before you're driven insane by cabin fever, so of course I've been pouring through some Jane Eyre adaptations and rereading some of my favorites. My bookshelves are my best friends during sickness, and fond memories also help me weather the storm. 

What I didn't realize, strangely enough, is that there are so many books I have yet to share with you and review for you. Jane Eyre takes up about half of my posts and the other half is strangely vacant. So in the middle of February, I've decided to make a new years resolution (better late than never). This year will be focused on getting new books to your attention. There are some great novels sitting on my bed right now that you might have never read or haven't read in a long time, and they're all worth a look. 

Whenever I have time, I'll be introducing you guys to some of my personal favorites and those posts will be followed by reviews of any adaptations those books happened inspire. Just to know what you're looking forward to, some of these books include: The Count of Monte Cristo, Far from the Madding Crowd, Frankenstein, and A Room with a View and even old childhood favorites such as The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and The Wind in the Willows. See any new faces? Recognize any old friends? Well then keep yourselves posted because it's going to be a lovely ride and a marvelous adventure! ;)

--Ari (aka Bonnie)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Grace's Jane Austen Literary Garden Party

Hello there, fellow bloggers! I'm incredibly sorry for my lengthy and mysterious absence. It's not so mysterious, really. I'm entering the back stretch of junior year, which means juggling my classes, preparing for ominously approaching AP exams, making the beginning arrangements for my first prom, etc. The list could go on. Happy February, by the way. I'll be turning seventeen on the twenty-eighth (which is just another thing to mark on my cluttered calendar).

I also have to express my condolences for my failed attempt at Jane Austen January. I didn't have any time to spare to make it really special. But, to make up for it, I have officially decided to participate in the Jane Austen Literary Garden Party courtesy of Grace's Garden Walk. Grace probably doesn't know it, but I'm an avid fan of her blog and I always stop by to see what surprises she has for her followers. I encourage all of my Lit Lovers to join the party!

The first step in participating is the introduction, which is why I have broken my extended silence. Grace has provided a lovely little questionnaire to break the ice. So here we go. :)

{one} let us start by your telling a little bit about your own self. tell us a bit of your personality. perhaps, tell a bit of your interests and pastime. 
My real name is Ari. I'm a resident of the US and an aspiring writer. I'm a high school junior with fervent hopes of pursuing a career in screenwriting after college. Literature, music, and art are the loves of my life. I have a slight (okay, maybe not so slight) obsession with Jane Eyre. I'm a typical dreamer who prefers to have her nose in a piece of fiction. My imagination is my greatest strength, which is why I find the most comfort in writing, reading, drawing, or playing my piano. I adore finding beauty in the simplest of things; crinkled pages of books, thoughtful photographs, splashes of color, quotes of literature, etc. 

{two} what literary character {whether it be in a film or book} would you say, most describes your personality and mannerisms? 
I wish I could say Jane Eyre, but I'm not very practical, nor do I believe I have her extraordinary willpower. I think I am perhaps more like Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia series. On the exterior I might seem young and rather unassuming, but boldness, adventure, and the occasional glimpse of wisdom brims beneath the surface. Or perhaps Margaret Hale...

{three} what would you describe as the most lovely place to live in 1700's England? a cottage surrounded by woods or a mansion perhaps, to the same resemblance as Pemberley in Miss Austen's Pride and Prejudice.    
Pemberly (particularly the one in the '05 adaptation) has particular appeal to me, but I think I'd prefer Thornfield Hall. 

{four} list some of your favorite and least favorite literary works you have read. 
Favorites: Jane Eyre, North and South, To Kill a Mockingbird, the English Patient, the Chronicles of Narnia (every single one, though I believe the the first and last are my personal favorites).
Least Favorites: Emma, The Great Gatsby...

{five} what would you describe as a most admirable heroine? 
The most admirable heroine is a relatable one. A heroine is nothing without her flaws. She must learn from them, however, and truly progress and find herself.  

{six} if you could spend afternoon tea in the company of your favorite literary heroine, to whom would you spend it with? 
Despite the fact that Jane Eyre is my favorite, I would probably have to choose either Elizabeth Bennet or Margaret Hale. The conversation would be good. 

{seven} which is to your liking more :: tea or coffee?

{eight} which of Jane Austen's couples are your more fond of? 
Elizabeth and Darcy
Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth
Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood

{nine} what is one {a few} of your favorite literary quotes?  
I couldn't even begin to choose. But just because it's on my mind: 
"And it is you spirit--with will and energy, and virtue and purity--that I want, not alone this brittle frame." --Edward Rochester

 {ten} are you fond of dancing or singing or reading a good book?
I'm a horrible dancer, but the singing and reading sounds good.  

{eleven} and lastly, as this event is also hosted in celebration of my garden's second anniversary, would you mind explaining perhaps, how you stumbled upon my little plot of earth? 
Unfortunately, I don't really remember how I came across the blog. Most likely it was through a mutual follower. But, I can say that I was enamored with it from the moment I first saw it, and have been keeping a steady on it ever since. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Weekly Lit Quote (1/30/12)

"I take it that 'gentleman' is a term that only describes a person in his relation to others; but when we speak of him as 'a man,' we consider him not merely with regard to his fellow-men, but in relation to himself,--to life--to time--to eternity." 
                                                                                   --Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South)