Friday, September 5, 2014

Jane Eryehead

I know I haven't posted anything in a long while, but I’ve been reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Or is it Charlotte Bronte by Jane Eyre? Hard to tell from some of these book covers), and it's a long book, and I have old eyes. Having seen all of Dickens’s movies and mini-series (Not to mention reading his books, chapter-by-chapter, as he wrote them. "Ellen Tiernan" was the name he used for me to protect his name from being associated with mine when his infidelities were eventually reported in his biographies), I figured I’d seen all the primary brutal-childhoods-of-19th-Century-orphans, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Smike in Nicholas Nickleby, Judy Garland at Metro in the 1930s, etc., etc.. But Dickens’s pathetic orphans are always enlivened by his wit and humor. And however bad being an orphan must be, it's still got to be better than having my mother. How I remember walking past the orphanage when I was a little girl, and envying them. Miss Bronte doesn’t seem to find any humor in - well - anything. So, here’s my impression of the early chapters of Jane Eyre.

Shallow soundstage set with a cyclorama backdrop at 20th Century Fox in Hollywood? Don't be silly. It's Joan Fontaine on a Yorkshire moor. Is that Basil Rathbone in the background, chasing a big dog?

Book 1. My Wretched Childhood.

Chapter 1. Today’s Beatings.

My cousin, being a large, strapping, not to say morbidly obese, boy of fourteen, and having arrived home from a stroll past the lone flower in the "Garden," and the single tree in the "Woods" of our Yorkshire neighborhood moors, took a deep breath and began giving me my afternoon beating, employing a thick wooden cudgel for the irksome task. I was a particularly weak, grossly unattractive and sickly weakling of a ten year old girl at the time, so my cousin was obliged to beat me two or three times a day, for my own good.

Nanny and Bessie the Mean Maid explained to me that it was my own fault for being so ugly. "If you were only a pretty child, like your cousin Georgiana, we should feel some natural sympathy for your plight, friendless and alone, trapped in a household where all, even the dog, hate you, and given beatings more often than meals," said Bessie, as she kicked me, "But you are so very, very ugly, such an offense to the eye, that we have no choice but to beat you severely every few hours, in hopes that the bruisings and swellings will conceal your more repulsive features from view."

"Burn her arms with coals from the fire!" said Nanny, lovingly.

"Jane Eyre" and Little Liz Taylor, pretending to have rotten childhoods.

Chapter 2. Mrs. Reed Punishes Me.

Mrs. Reed was in a foul temper. Apparently, though I had spent the night locked in my late uncle’s coffin with his corpse, my endless screams of terror had been loud enough to penetrate the oaken coffin lid and disturb the thoughts of my Aunt, Mrs. Reed, as she counted her late husband’s money and ate bon-bons, until I passed out from the lack of Oxygen. She had me dragged before her by Bessie.

"Jane," said my stern aunt, "Your screaming all night has vexed me sorely."

"I am most sorry, Auntie dear, but you had me locked in a small coffin with the corpse of the last human being who ever loved me, and I was very much afraid."

"Do not sass me back, you young beggar. First you force your plump, handsome cousin to beat you for your ugliness, and now you dare answer me back, exposing all those ugly holes in your gums where we’ve knocked out your teeth? How dare you? You must be punished for this."

"Auntie, you are most unpleasant, and I hate you."

"Is that the gratitude you show me? I am all that stands between you and the workhouse."

"At the workhouse, I’d eat better."

"That is it, young mistress. You do not like it here? You shall go to school. Tomorrow, after your three cousins, plus Nanny, Bessie the Mean Maid and I, have all beaten you farewell, you will be shipped off to the Lowood School For Masochists, where they will put an end to all this mollycoddling you’ve enjoyed here." Then Auntie hung me upside down with chains over the dinner table for the rest of the night, where I could watch them eat dinner. Fortunately, I had eaten a small, damp sponge I'd stolen from the kitchen two weeks before, so I wasn't as hungry as usual.

Not, I think, one of my weddings, though I could be mistaken.
(Little Johnny Abbott, the least famous person in this photo, once appeared on the same bill with Little Dougie, who's even less famous.) Abbott is playing "Bernstein," Welles is playing Mr. C. F. Kane, and Joan is playing the sled.
Chapter 3. Lowood School.

At school, I quickly learned what actual unkindness is, and realized how gentle my auntie and my cousins, and Nanny and Bessie the Mean Maid, had been to me in the past.

"Miss Eyre," said Mr. Sadism, the horrid headmaster, "It was reported to me that you were shivering during the night, contrary to our rules. Is this true?"

"Well, sir, you obliged me to sleep naked out on the roof during the blizzard last night. I was very chilly indeed."

"You dare answer me back, you repulsive troll of a girl? You shall be hooked up to the battery electrodes and taught a shocking lesson in manners. But first, religious instruction. Read this aloud, Miss Eyre," he said, holding open his large, wood-covered Bible for me.

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Love thy neighbor as thyself," I read.

"Correct, you hideous young crone. And now, to make sure it sinks in, I shall impress you with the Bible," he said, as he began striking me over the head with the wooden Bible, drawing blood on its sharp-edged cover jewels...


And people thought the characters in The 120 Days of Sodom were somewhat unpleasant.

Well, cheers, darlings. And for a more-cheerful time, read my new book, Tallyho, Tallulah!

What my book would look like if it weren't funny.