Well, you might belong to another time

... but you have to carry on [photo from Downton Abbey courtesy of weheartit.com]

… but you have to carry on [photo from Downton Abbey courtesy of weheartit.com. Mary’s wearing the dress that made me gasp in season 1]

Ever felt like you were born in the wrong decade?

I have, for my entire life.

Some examples:

  • Remember Victoria magazines? I was obsessed. (SIDENOTE: Was there a mania for all things Victorian in the mid-90s? Was it just me? Can anyone confirm?)
  • Growing up, our family would occasionally skip the evening church service on Sundays and watch Road to Avonlea and eat tuna melts on English muffins in the family room. One of my fondest memories.
  • When I was 12, I wrote a letter to myself to open when I got engaged, and the letter contained “wedding ideas.” One of the ideas was to have an old-fashioned “Victorian” wedding. The 12-year-old me would be very pleased to know that I did!
At the 1864 B&B where our wedding was held

At the 1864 B&B where our wedding was held [photo courtesy of Destiny Dawn photography]

  • Some of my favourite movies growing up were Little Women and Ever After. They still are, actually. My first head-over-heels celebrity crush was Christian Bale as Laurie.
  • When I was in eighth grade, I read both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and I’ve never recovered. They remain two of my all-time favourite novels.
  • The Encarta Encyclopedia CD-ROM introduced me to David Bowie, Grandmaster Flash, and Creedance Clearwater Revival.
  • In grade four, our teacher showed us Fiddler on the Roof. My friend and I would put handkerchiefs on our head and pretend to be poor and Jewish and Russian circa 1905.
  • In seventh grade, our music teacher introduced us to Les Miserables. I wanted to be Eponine (even though she dies) and I wanted to marry a fiery revolutionary like Enjolras (in my fantasy, they both lived).
  • In ninth grade, I got really obsessed with disco music, for some reason, and big band swing. That developed into an obsession with classic rock, and I’ve never recovered from that either.
  • I still believe that if you listen to Tommy with a candle burning, you’ll see your entire future.
  • Downton Abbey. Enough said.

THE DRESS [photo of Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey]

THE DRESS that made me gasp in season 4 [photo of Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey]

There’s nothing I love more than losing myself in a good period piece, whether a book or a film, and “living” in a different time. Everything is simpler, whether it’s Regency England or the height of the Jazz Age. The fashion is gorgeous. The manners are courtly. People sat around drinking tea and being genial. Our modern world is crass and impersonal and ugly by comparison.

Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris, 2011 [photo courtesy of google image search]

Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris, 2011 [photo courtesy of google image search]

Feeling nostalgic for a past you never lived in is handled beautifully in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard (CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD). Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, is obsessed with the 1920s (can you blame him?) He travels back in time to his favourite decade every night at midnight, and has the good fortune to meet such legends as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He also falls in love with Pablo Picasso’s beautiful mistress Adriana.

In one scene, Gil tries to explain to Adriana why he’s so fascinated with the 1920s and she just doesn’t get it. To her, it’s the norm. There’s nothing special about her decade. It would be like if someone from the future came and tried to tell us why 2014 is so amazing. She idolizes the 1890s Belle Epoque, and when the two time travel to the 1890s and meet Gauguin, Degas, etc., the famous men of that time believe the greatest decade was the Renaissance.

Gil eventually comes to the conclusion that everyone feels nostalgic about an era not their own and it’s better to accept the present for what it is rather than completely romanticize the past.

you were made for a simpler time [photo of Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in Downton Abbey courtesy of [pinterest]

you were made for a simpler time [photo of Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in Downton Abbey courtesy of [pinterest]

My best friend and I made a similar discovery recently while discussing our favourite show and shared obsession, Downton Abbey. We were talking about how we yearned to live in the 1900s-early 1920s … but with one caveat: we would have to be fabulously rich, like the Crawley’s. And we wouldn’t have been, realistically. She would’ve been in service in England and I would’ve been a farmer’s wife in northern Holland. No ball gowns and lady’s maids for us!

So yeah, I’ll still romanticize the past for its fashion, music, and manners, but then I’ll remind myself how much I love modern medicine, being able to vote, and having a career!


Reinventing Jane


Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson in BBC's adaptation of Jane Eyre


After reading this article, about how new adaptations of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are being made to appeal to Twihards, I have just two questions:

  1. Can’t everyone just leave the Brontë sisters alone?
  2. Must this Twilight insanity phenomenon influence every aspect of culture, leaving nothing sucked dry (see what I did there?)?

Apparently, Emily’s gothic tale of dangerous, obsessive love has been experiencing an increase in sales due to its mention in the Twilight series and a revamped cover with a sticker that reads: Bella & Edward’s favourite book!   Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad kids are reading (even if they are reading low culture), and that it’s making them turn to the Brontë sisters.  My issue is with how they’re getting there — from a vampire’s recommendation.  I suppose my problem is that I suffer from true Old Lady Syndrome, which is why I haven’t touched the Twilight series, the Harry Potter series, and snobbishly disdain anything with that kind of collective hysteria.  Pop culture phenomena always makes me bristle and embrace the eclectic, the bizarre, the underrated.  When those things become unearthed and re-marketed for mass consumption, I feel as though I’ve been betrayed.  

I forget how I came to read Jane Eyre, but I was probably in grade 8.  As a somewhat pretentious adolescent, I was hungry for a good old-fashioned classic after the joys of reading Pride and Prejudice.  I remember the precise scene where I decided I had found my new favourite book: when Mr. Rochester dresses up as an old gypsy come to read the fortunes of his high society house guests, and Jane’s, and then his identity is revealed.  I remember my heart actually thumping loudly in excitement and fantasizing about Mr. Rochester, even more than I fantasized about the stuffy Mr. Darcy and his wet shirt clinging to his body (our teacher showed us BBC’s Pride and Prejudice as a graduation treat!)

 I have read Jane Eyre countless times since then and it is by far my most favourite book in the entire world.  Each time I read it, something new strikes me, a new dimension is added.  The last time I read it, in third-year Victorian Lit. class, I was shocked by the pre-feminist implications of the novel’s conclusion and the fact that Jane only returns to Rochester when he is blind and physically handicapped. Rereading it now, I’m finding all sorts of comments on the class system and Jane’s peculiar position outside the margins of society.

So strong is my loyalty to the story that I’m automatically nervous whenever a new adaptation is made to a novel I treasure.  Since I’m not a big fan of Wuthering Heights in the first place, I’m not overly concerned that the role of Heathcliff is being played by Ed Westwick of Gossip Girl fame in the newest adaptation.  The 1992 version, starring Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes, was pretty terrible and didn’t make me like the book any more.

However, since she is Charlotte’s sister, I cannot help but feel protective over Emily’s work and its latest bastardization to cater to Twihards and their disposable incomes.

Ladies, drool over your new Heathcliff!


The best adaptation of Jane Eyre I’ve ever seen is the BBC’s, starring an appropriately plain Ruth Wilson as Jane and an unconventionally sexy Toby Stephens as Rochester. If anyone has the rights to classic British literature, it’s the British, and they usually get it right, as is evident in their long, yet mostly accurate, adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  The new Jane Eyre will star very pretty, very young (and very un-Jane Eyre-like) Mia Wasikowska and a ridiculously handsome Michael Fassbender whom I haven’t seen in anything else.

Will he live up to Toby Stephens' Rochester?


Too pretty to be plain Jane Eyre?


Needless to say, I’m very nervous about this adaptation, as I am with the untitled Dominic Murphy film project about the “imaginative worlds invented by the Brontës as adolescents.” According to Murphy’s producer Mike Downey:

“There is a whole younger audience out there that is ripe to enjoy these darker versions of what is generally served up, and the response from funders has been very upbeat, especially in the light of the recent success of Twilight”

I’m throwing up my hands, Stephenie Meyer.  If your terribly written, yet extremely successful series is going to lead sheep teens to my beloved classics, so be it.  If anything, it will give them their first taste of literature so good that it has stood the test of time.

Friday Link Love: stop motion film + sexy authors edition

Happy Friday, everyone.

Friday’s are usually pretty quiet here at the office, so I usually make myself busy with checking out the blogrolls and other projects.  This morning, I wrote my sponsor child in the Philippines a letter, sorted out some OSAP details, and sent out a query letter.  Shhhhhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone!  I’m also in the homestretch of my NaNoWriMo novel (or, as Rikki says, Nanaimo novel!) and at 43,000/50,000 words, I have nowhere else to go.  In a desperate attempt for some online inspiration, I’ve found the following things to stir my imagination.


Video Love

I love stop motion!  Which reminds me of these …

This has been making the rounds on the Internets lately, and what kind of (sometimes) book blogger would I be if I didn’t link to it too?

More stop motion loveliness.  I love this lyric:  She pours a daydream in a cup / A spoon of sugar sweetens up … 

I must, must, MUST see this movie!!!  It’s inspiring much of the feel of my next novel (yep, already thinking of the next one because I’m a glutton for punishment) Visually stunning and so fantastical!  And Jude Law, Johnny “Sexiest Man Alive” Depp, Christopher Plummer, Colin Farrell, Terry Gilliam, and the late, talented Heath Ledger? Yes, please!

Quote love

Wine is sunlight, held together by water  — Galileo 

Well, darkness exists so the stars can shine, darling  —  Source Unknown (if someone knows the source, please let me know!  If this is a quote from One Tree Hill or something, I will kick a pigeon.  Just kidding.  I don’t advocate violence towards animals.  But I will feel terribly, terribly let down by the universe.)

Love is the extremely uncomfortable realization that something other than oneself is real  — Irish Murdoch

Sexy authors and historical figures love

Sir Isaac Brock. You know you can't resist that hand on the hip pose!

Andrew Sean Greer, author of "The Confessions of Max Tivoli," a very beautiful book

Neil Gaiman ftw!

Joseph Boyden: hot AND Canadian!

A young Nathaniel Hawthorne could give ME a scarlet letter ... *wink wink!*

Lord Byron: HE walks in beauty, like the night

And because I pretty much have to …

Listen to Wiretap. For Jonathan Goldstein.

Read Broken Pencil magazine. For Hal Niedzviecki.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  May your weekends be as busy or as lazy as you wish them to be.  Other than writing like the madwoman in the attic (rereading Jane Eyre for the billionth time; couldn’t resist!), I plan on having a schedule-free one.

then her soul sat on her lips and language flowed …

I will tell you all about my first day (or first few days, if I can’t find the time …) later, but right now, let me leave you with a quote from an old favourite that took my breath away today, even though I’ve probably read it a million times.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

… a beauty neither of fine color, nor long eyelash, nor penciled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance. Then her soul sat on her lips and language flowed
–from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Sisters Bronte

There’s been talk over the past few years of a movie called Bronte, starring Michelle Williams as one of the three Bronte sisters. 

There are two problems with this proposal.  The first is Michelle Williams.  Not that I have anything against her–in fact, I think she’s a brilliant actress, especially in Brokeback Mountain–but she’s American.  Just like a lot of Brits, I get uneasy and insulted if an American plays someone meant to be British.  The biggest offense was when Anne Hathoway played Jane Austen in Becoming Jane, a casting move no doubt meant to cater to a generation raised on Disney princesses. 

NB:  Not allowing American actors to play important British figures does not necessarily mean casting Keira Knightley in every historical movie ever, although I was very impressed with her in The Duchess 

The second and most deeply troubling problem is that I’m not the one calling the shots and writing, directing, and casting actresses for three writers I love passionately.  Having nearly finished The Tenant of Wildfell Fall, I can proudly say that I’ve read the work of each Bronte sister: Charlotte is my favourite if only for Jane Eyre, followed by Anne, followed by Emily, but that’s because I was disappointed with Wuthering Heights and found it to be more disturbing than romantic, which was my exact opposite feeling about Jane Eyre

And so I took it upon myself to dream-cast actresses–British actresses that is–to play the roles of my favourite writer sisters in a movie I expect will be moody and somewhat plodding, consisting of long montages of the three sisters and their troubled brother Branwell inventing stories of their made-up lands, Angria and Gondal as children and then sitting at desks, writing as adult women under male pseudonyms.

As Charlotte, the eldest Bronte sister, I would cast Samantha Morton.  samantha_morton

She was riveting in The Libertine and nearly stole the show away from the always-dynamic Johnny Depp.  Charlotte is probably the darkest, most complex Bronte sister whose deeply sensual sensibilities are in constant tension with her Protestant Englishness.  I can picture Morton very well as Charlotte, dressed in drab, “plain Jane” grey and watching as her more vivacious younger sisters follow in her footsteps and borrow from her gothic-influenced, often moralizing work.  It would be interesting to see her plot out one of the most important novels of all time–integral in both British literary studies and early “feminist” studies–and come up with the inspiration for both Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. 

For the role of Emily Bronte, I would cast Emily Mortimer, who was heartbreaking in Lars and the Real Girl, in which she plays an American (therein lies the double-standard: Brits can play Americans quite seamlessly).

Emily Mortimer

I see Emily as the wildest of the Bronte sisters–if Wuthering Heights is any indication–and the least like Charlotte and Anne: a true middle child.  If we take Wuthering Heights, Emily’s only novel, and see it as a reflection of its author (which is very high-school English class of me, I know, but I can’t help it), then Emily is passionate without the religious constraint that checks the stories of her sisters, influenced by the gothic genre without a care, and heavily drawn to melodrama.  She was not to be outdone by Charlotte’s madwoman in the attic, setting a mansion on fire and throwing herself out of a window; the dramatic scenes between Cathy and Heathcliff are nothing short of fantastical. 

As Anne, the youngest sister, I would cast a personal favourite and one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, Emily Blunt.

emily blunt

Anne, although adopting the religious moralizing tone employed by Charlotte, wrote in a sharp, snappy, conversational style that set her apart from her sisters.  Her Biblical references are overt and the didactic purposes all too obvious, yet her quick, dialogue-heavy novels make her an easier read than complex Charlotte and sweepingly romantic Emily.  While her sisters–and their characters–frequently give in to the natural impulses of passion and attraction, Anne turns away from it with the religious grounding of Helen Graham in her own work, and St.John Rivers in Charlotte’s.  I have yet to finish The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but I’m struck with how distinct each of the Bronte sisters were.

What is cinematic about the Bronte sisters is their clear literary genius, yet early and tragic deaths.  Branwell, the opium-eating brother, died at the age of 31 from what was believed to be tuberculosis.  Anne died at the age of 29 in 1849 of a culminating influenza, Emily in 1848 of tuberculosis at the age of 30, and Charlotte died in childbirth in 1855 at the age of 38.  If that doesn’t say film-worthy, I don’t know what does.

english language and literature

Here’s a survey I just completed about books.  I need help. 

1) What author do you own the most books by?

Virginia Woolf (I think I have every one, thanks to “The Selected Works”) and Jane Austen (I also have every single one, plus multiple copies)

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

 I have multiple copies of Caleb Williams by Godwin, Pride and Prejudice by Austen, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

It hurt my English major heart 

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, but that’s no secret!  I also love Lord Henry from The Picture of Dorian Gray and Fitzwilliam Darcy from P & P, but what woman doesn’t?
5) What book have you read the most times in your life?

Jane Eyre.  I’ve also read Mansfield Park countless times

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.  Ugh.

8 ) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  Also The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I seem to be stuck in the 19th century, thanks to Professor Gordon!

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?

Jane Eyre.  Or Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. 

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?

Barbara Gowdy.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

The Awakening.  I also think they should make a movie about the Bronte sisters, but I think they’re already doing that, hopefully with actual British actresses! . . . Also, Self by Yann Martel.  And Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay.  I already cast Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Blunt, Ellen Page and Laura Linney in the major roles.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

Mrs. Dalloway, but they did that.  You don’t make Virginia Woolf into a movie.  You just don’t.
13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

I’ve had some dreams where I’ve been the character in a book.  I also have lots of library/bookstore dreams, where every book I pick up is amazing and inspiring.  Kind of like a dream version of visiting The World’s Biggest Bookstore!
14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?

The Da Vinci Code.  And chick-lit, but it’s been awhile.

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

I’ve tried The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, to no avail. 

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?

I’ve only seen Romeo and Juliet staged at the Stratford Festival in high school 

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

The French, if we’re talking Victor Hugo.  I will take Les Miserables over Anna Karenina any day.

18) Roth or Updike?


19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

Sedaris.  Eggers is blechhhhhh . . .

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

Shakespeare.  Yeah, I said it. 

21) Austen or Eliot?

Austen, although I do enjoy Eliot once and awhile.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

Thanks to 4.5 years of English Language and Literature and Professional Writing, there are little to no gaps!  I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy, crime or horror, but that’s because of personal preference.  I also haven’t read a lot of non-fiction, biography/memoirs, or books by authors that aren’t North American or European.

23) What is your favorite novel?

Jane Eyre.  That’s no big secret!
24) Play?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, or The Taming of the Shrew.  I’ve acted in both of them; as Titania and Helena in the former, as Kate in the latter.  Probably my favourite character to play ever.  “If I be waspish, you’d best be ware my sting” . . . or something of that nature. 

25) Poem?

“Love Sonnet XVII” by Pablo Neruda:

I do not love you as if you were a salt rose, or topaz
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
So I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

26) Essay?

“That Sort of Woman” by Elissa Schappell in The Mrs. Dalloway Reader or “Street Haunting: A London Adventure” by Virginia Woolf.  Also everything in Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic

27) Short story?

“The Yellow Wall-paper” by C harlotte Perkins Gilman, or “The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas” by Ursula K. LeGuin.  Margaret Atwood also rocks a good short story

28) Work of non-fiction?

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.  Also Promiscuities and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

29) Who is your favorite writer?

Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen.  Charlotte Bronte and Babara Gowdy don’t quite make it because I only like one novel out of their entire repertoire 

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and the woman who writes the Twilight series

31) What is your desert island book?

Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, the whole series

32) And … what are you reading right now?

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.  I thought I’d give Anne a chance.

I want this book oh so badly

I want this book oh so badly