April 30, 2011

Why Don't We Write Letters Anymore? Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters

April 30, 2011 2
I consider the extinction of letter writing one of the great downfalls of technological advancement. I love reading journals and collections of letters. I recently picked up a very nice hard cover edition of Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters for less than $5 at a used bookstore. Anne Sexton wrote and published poetry in the 1960s. A suburban housewife and mother, she began writing poetry as a form of therapy. Anne, along with other poets such as Sylvia Plath, is often referred to as a confessional poet. This kind of poetry deals with intimate, and sometimes painful, details of the poets life such as mental illness, marriage, divorce, and sexuality.
Born on November 9, 1928, Anne was actually my grandmother’s age. Sadly, after a life long battle with mental illness she committed suicide in 1974, shortly before her 46th birthday. Her letters paint an interesting picture of the roller coaster ride she lived on. Through her written voice, the reader can tell when Anne is feeling “normal”, manic, disjointed, needy, depressed, and medicated. I have always felt that there is a thin line between genius and insanity. So, the fact that so many famous writers seemed to have suffered from mental illness, most commonly bi-polar disorder, absolutely fascinates me. Anne’s case is no exception.
She corresponded with many different individuals over the years including other writers and, even, a monk. It seems that many of these exchanges started out with an intensity on both sides, but inevitably the “friendship” would slowly dissolve as Anne became too needy. She expected these individuals to be her therapist, poetic sounding board, and lover all via a letter exchange.
Her letters were often witty, passionate, and raw. Anne was a horrific speller, used unconventional punctuation and typed most of her letters. In a letter to Tillie Olson, another writer, she says: I wish my letters could look like a poem…your writing is so tiny and perfect that it looks as if a fairy with a pink pen and rubies in her hair had sat down to write to me. And I…I must look like a rather stout man who sits by a very respectable black typewriter.”
Some of my other favorite excerpts:
“I wish I were nineteen. Not that it’s better or worse to be me at 36 but it gives you so much more time to grow. Inside I’m only thirteen and outside I have wrinkles and a family and many who depend on me.”
 “how does one go to sleep without pills? how does one live with the knowledge that death, their special death, is waiting silently in their body to overtake them at some undetermined time? how can this be done if there is no God? how does one not get struck by lightning when everyone knows it could and just might strike YOU? or tornadoes that suck you right up into a cloud?
Sleep without pills? impossible. take pills! death? have fantasies of killing myself and thus being the powerful one. God? spend half time wooing Catholics who will pray for you in case it’s true. Spend other half knowing there certainly is no God. Spend fantasy time thinking that there is life after death, because surely my parents, for instance, are not dead, they are, good God!, just buried. Lightning? wear sneakers, stay off phone. Tornado? retire to cellar to look at washing machine and interesting junk in cellar.”
* Oddly enough, Anne’s advice on lightning was exactly that of my Grandmother’s … which cracked me up!!
A Self Portrait Rendered by Anne
“Your traveling Button will now walk somehow down the stairs and out of her tears.”

"Lonliness is a terrible thing and to be alone with people can be pretty horrible."

On suicide: “There are those that are killed and the few that kill and then the other kind, those that do both at once.” At one point in a letter to Anne Clark, a friend who was also a therapist, she is again writing about the concept of suicide and then suddenly says: “Sandy and Les are coming over for a drink. I shall now go out to new kitchen and prepare shrimp and cocktail sauce.” What a contrast.
In a letter to her daughter Joy she says: “You went to the library yourself. Gee whiz I am happy … now you will be free in a way you have never been free. I mean now you can go to the library and find a friend anytime … long ago, when I was your age, I loved most to go to the library alone. To me it is one of the most important steps in growing up. JUST as special, I think, as getting breasts and all that kind of thing.”
“I hoard books. They are people who do not leave.”

 “Letters are false really-they are [sometimes] expressions of the way you wish you were instead of the way you are…(poems might come under the same category).”

"Oh, I really believe in God - it's Christ that boggles the mind."

“But you got only praise. But I know, praise can be heavy too. Yes. I understand.”
The collection was edited by Anne's daughter, Linda, and Anne's friend, Lois Ames. Between letters some biographical information is provided to allow for better comprehension of the letters, but I am still left wanting to know more details. I plan to read her biography and then after that I plan to examine her poems. I think it important to have an understanding of Anne the person before delving into her poetry since her style is so autobiographical in nature.

April 26, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte...Final Thoughts...

April 26, 2011 3
*This post may contain spoilers for those who have not read the novel, although, from what I can tell, there does not seem to be many who have never read Jane Eyre. J

Oh Jane Eyre (first published by Charlotte Bronte in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell) even now I am not sure that I completely understand what all the hype is about. The novel did become much more interesting after the first third. I liked the book. It was certainly better than I had expected it to be, but I am still not sure if I can list it as one of my absolute favorites. However, it goes without saying that Charlotte Bronte was a talented writer.
Some thoughts:
1.      Did anyone else have a hard time picturing Jane as just an 18-19 year old girl? She seemed to resonate in my head as more of a contemporary of Mr. Rochester’s generation and I had to keep reminding myself how young she really was.

2.      I really enjoyed the scene where Mr. Rochester posed as the fortune teller! I also liked how interested Jane seemed to be in "signs" and the meaning of dreams and such. For example: “When I was a little girl, only six years old, I one night heard Bessie Leaven say to Martha Abbott that she had been dreaming about a little child: and that to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to oneself or one’s kin.”

3.      It surprised me that Jane would travel back to see Mrs. Reed on her death bed. I am not sure that I would have been able to turn the other cheek and give the woman any satisfaction.

4.      Beautiful foreshadowing for what is about to happen to Jane and Rochester on their proposed wedding day: “It was not without a certain wild pleasure I ran before the wind, delivering my trouble of mind to the measureless air torrent thundering through space. Descending the laurel-walk, I faced the wreck of the chestnut-tree; it stood up, black and riven: the trunk, split down the centre, gasped ghastly. The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below; though community of vitality was destroyed-the sap could flow no more: their great boughs on each side were dead … as yet, however, they might be said to form one tree-a ruin, but an entire ruin.”

5.      If you were Jane, what would you have done upon the discovery of Mrs. Rochester? Would you have escaped in the night to nothing and no one or would you have stayed with Mr. Rochester, your love, although marriage was no longer an option? “What is better?-To have surrendered to temptation; listened to passion … fallen asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern climate … to have been now living in France, Mr. Rochester’s mistress … or to be a village schoolmistress, free and honest, in the breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?” I would have stayed with Rochester.

6.      Grace Poole…uh, how the heck did this woman retain her own sanity while being cloistered on the third floor providing care for a lunatic such as Mrs. Rochester? Wasn’t she scared out of her mind that she was going to end up dead herself? I don’t blame her for her propensity to drink gin in the evenings!

7.      Did I find any more similarities to Rebecca as I read on? Well, Grace Poole is odd, but she is definitely no Mrs. Danvers. There are many obvious plot differences and the more passionate love story of Jane and Rochester. Thornfield burns to the ground like Manderlay, but ultimately, Daphne du Maurier’s work felt much darker…it was much heavier on the “eerie” factor…much more suspenseful. Some of this was no doubt because Manderlay itself became a character, taking on a life of its own, while Thornfield remained just a setting and because Jane Eyre simply contained a much more hopeful tone than Rebecca.

8.      Did I find that Jane returned to her former feisty glory? Not exactly in the bold way that I had hoped for, but a certain fire laced with grace remained. Actually, I quite liked it.

Charlotte Bronte
 Favorite Quotes:
“The waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.” – Jane Eyre
“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” – Jane Eyre

April 22, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte...Initial Thoughts...

April 22, 2011 3
I have read about a third of Jane Eyre, the classic I never intended to read, and so far...so-so. The novel opens with Jane looking back on her life at age 10. Her parents are deceased and she has been living in the home of her Uncle Reed who, on his own death-bed, forced his wife to promise to continue to look after Jane. She is provided with material comforts, but is treated cruelly and starved for affection. She is reminded each and every day just how unwanted she is in the Reed's world. Ultimately, she is shipped off to a school for orphans. At least here, Jane meets companions and receives an education; however, the girls are often literally starving and there is a typhus outbreak that results in the death of many students. Eventually, the conditions at Lowood are exposed and improved. Jane excels academically and at age 18, she joins the cast of characters at the home of Mr. Rochester as governess.

Initially, I fell in love with Jane's feisty character (the scene where she stands up to Mrs. Reed!!!), but her time at Lowood appears to have dampened some of her original fire. Perhaps this is just a natural maturing. I became bored by much of the story in this first third. I was struck with a "blah" feeling that reminded me of Jane's simple, "blah" appearance. Is this where the term "plain Jane" originated from? However, things seem to finally be picking up. Someone has tried to burn Mr. Rochester alive by setting his bed on fire and there is much mystery surrounding one Grace Poole. The mention of Poole brings me to one of the reasons why I decided to read this novel in the first place: I had heard that it held similarities to Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. I found they both start rather slow, involve a mansion shrouded in mystery with an eerie portion of the home that isn't used and include a whack job character on the house staff. Also, in both cases, the narrators are reflecting on their past. Will the similarities end here? Will Jane return to her former feisty glory? Ok, I am intrigued enough to read on...
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