In BBC The Reading Group, we bring together listeners, students of English, literature teachers and other contributors from the world of books to share their enthusiasm for reading.
We look at one of the classic romantic novels of English literature, Jane Eyre. A Reading Group member visits the British Library to find out more about the prolific Bronte sisters.
Listen to the BBC The Reading Group Part 4 programme:
ANNOUNCER: You’re listening to “The Reading Group” from the BBC World Service. In this series we bring together listeners, students of English, literature teachers and other contributors from the world of books to share their enthusiasm for reading. We hope that following this series will encourage your own interest in reading books in English as a foreign language.
Gary (Presenter): Hello. In The Reading Group today we open one of the classic texts of English literature.
Insert 1 – Annemarit reads extract from Jane Eyre
Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had. He and I, the parson and clerk were alone present. When we got back from church I went into the kitchen in the main house where Mary was cooking the dinner and John cleaning the knives and I said, “Mary, I’ve been married to Mr Rochester this morning.”
Gary: Some familiar lines from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. A Reading Group member takes us to the British Library to see the author’s own handwritten manuscript.
But first, for those of you who are keen to send us your reading recommendations, we have some tips on how to write a book review.
With me in the Reading Group studio is Jenny Hartley.
Jenny: Hello. I’ve been teaching at Roehampton University for many years, courses on Women’s’ Writing and reviewing books by women, particularly about the 2nd World War.
Gary: What’s the purpose of a book review?
Jenny: Like many people I read reviews to see what I might want to read myself and to see what is attracting attention at the moment.
Gary: What should the reviewer include?
Jenny: A good reviewer should give us a sense of what sort of book it is – is it fiction, non-fiction, funny, tragic, short, long, that kind of thing. And then we need to know a bit of what it’s about, when and where it’s set, and a bit about the story and the characters. And I think also we want to know a bit about the author – that increasingly is the case, whether they are alive or dead, what kind of life they had, perhaps where they lived. And then very important is to give a sense of yourself, the reviewer, your responses, say what you liked and disliked about the book. And that really does bring a review to life. You’ve got to say why you think that book is worth reading.
Gary: So you’re selling the book as the reviewer. What sort of things should a reviewer leave out of a book review?
Jenny: Well, in my view they should definitely leave out the ending. This is a personal opinion, and I feel very strongly that you should avoid giving away the plot as much as you can. I get very annoyed if I read a review and they’ve given away the plot. And, I have to say, even the backs of some books you have to be careful about, because they give too much away.
Gary: Well, later in the programme, one of our Reading Group reporters is going to see an original manuscript copy of a book she loves, and she’s written a review of the book for us. Have a listen Jenny, and then I’ll ask you to tell us what you think about the review.
Insert 2 – Review of Jane Eyre
Annemarit (Reporter): My Review of Jane Eyre
The book, written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847, tells about the life of Jane Eyre, a poor orphan of sharp wit who lived in the mid-nineteenth century. After having lived with her wicked aunt and later on at Lowoods Institution, she becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with Mr. Rochester. On their wedding day the secrets of Mr. Rochester’s past are revealed and Jane flies from Thornfield Hall. She gets into contact with the clergyman St. John Rivers and his sisters, which turn out to be her cousins. At the moment that Jane comes under a lot of pressure to marry St. John Rivers she feels strongly that she has to listen to her heart and go back to Thornfield Hall once more. When she arrives at Thornfield Hall she finds the place burned down and Mr. Rochester blinded from an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the last person from the flames.
The reader gets good insights into the fascinating personality of Jane Eyre, who has a strong character and independent spirit.
The book is also interesting to read from a historical point of view. Charlotte Bronte has succeeded very well in giving good insights into the lifestyle, norms and values, the differences in classes and the way in which people communicated with each other one hundred and fifty years ago.
Another strength of the book is its recognizability. Even though the setting of the story is in the nineteenth century, the language, as well as the matters which keep the main characters occupied, are similar to today’s and not too much culturally bounded, which makes it very suitable for foreign readers to be carried away with.
Gary: Jenny, what did you think of Annemarit’s review?
Jenny: Well, I think she’s done really well. She’s given us lots to go on, and her big plus point is that she gives us some very good reasons why we might want to read Jane Eyre, particularly the last things she says, when she says you get carried away by this book. For my taste though, I think she gives way too much of the plot, because if you think one of the things that the author is doing is very skilfully making us wait and playing with our expectations and wishes and so on, and it’s one of the things that we admire about an author and we go to them for, is that excitement, and so I think it’s important that we preserve that and we pass that on as a treat for the readers, but certainly we’ve got to tempt them to read and I think this review does that very nicely.
Gary: Jenny Hartley, thank you very much for joining us in our Reading Group.
Now it’s time for another of our special on-location reports.
Insert 3 – Charlotte Bronte / British Library package Annemarit (Reporter):
I’ve come to the British Library in London, one of the greatest libraries in the world, to report for The Reading Group.
Chris Fletcher (literary curator): What I have here is one of quite a large number of manuscripts of the Bronte children and this is a manuscript of a tale called The Foundling which was written by Charlotte Bronte at the age of 17. And opening the pages, we can see a title page, and here we have The Foundling, tale of our own times by Captain Tree. And down at the bottom here we have the very florid signature of Charlotte Bronte. Clearly the very format of this is suggesting that at the age of 17 Charlotte was envisaging herself as a published author. I turn the page over, and for this purpose you are going to require a magnifying glass, and that’s where it begins.
Annemarit: Oh, I can’t believe this. This page is written in very small letters and it does need a looking glass to read it. She has written it herself, has she?
Sally Brown (literary curator):
Yes, she has written it herself in her miniscule print. The Bronte children all adopted this tiny print when they were writing their poems and stories, partly I think because it was a kind of secret occupation and they wanted to keep it secret. Partly they wanted to write it in miniscule print to look almost like a real little book. And their father was very worried about them, that they might go blind writing as they often did by candlelight – they would all sit around in the evening and write at the table. And he was seriously worried and once berated Charlotte for it and he said that she would do damage to her eyes if she continued, but they persisted.
Chris: Here we have one of 3 fairly substantial manuscript volumes, which turning the pages we see remarkably neat writing, very careful, with occasionally notes here scribbled in the margins which are actually notes of printers because this is one of 3 manuscript volumes of Jane Eyre which Charlotte Bronte sent to publishers in London. Again, although she wrote it very quickly you can see that it’s beautifully neat.
Sally: It is very neat for the reasons Chris has explained, because it’s a first copy sent to the printers. She submitted Jane Eyre to the publishers Smith Elder and Co, to whom she’d originally submitted her first novel, The Professor. They turned down The Professor but at the same time they’d been very kind about it. So she sent Jane Eyre to them and they immediately saw its potential and it was published to great acclaim.
Annemarit: Do you know to what extent the publisher changed the manuscript?
Sally: I don’t think the publisher made any changes. She made her own changes, the ones that you can see here where she changed her mind about a word or a phrase or whatever. I don’t think that they changed it at all. I think they were absolutely enchanted by it. This is of course a highly romantic tale, which is one of the reasons why it was so successful. It’s extremely gripping. You simply can’t put it down. It’s very well paced and the characters are very appealing and of course it has an extremely happy ending, and that all contributed to its success, but partly of course it’s just brilliantly written.
Gary: Annemarit van der Made was enjoying some precious manuscripts at the British Library with literary curators Sally Brown and Chris Fletcher.
Now, to end the programme, teacher and author, Gillian Lazar, continues a series of talks in which she considers the reader as a detective.
Insert 4 – Gillian
Gillian: If you are a detective investigating a crime, your job is to find out what happened, and if possible, why? If you read a novel, you may find yourself asking exactly the same questions – what happened and why? But both the ‘what happened’ and the ‘why’ may be difficult to answer.
Let’s begin with the ‘what happened’. This is the sequence of events that make up the plot of the novel. But quite often, that sequence of events is not told in the order in which it happened.
Writers may be in the middle of describing one set of events when they suddenly provide a flashback to another. Or, chapters that follow each other may tell of two different incidents, which only link up with each other much later on. Yet somehow, from this disrupted chronology, the reader has to reconstruct a logical sequence of events- what happened and why? Then there’s the question of ‘why’. Does one event cause another? Does one event result from another? There may not be any clear answers to these questions in the novel, and so the reader, like the detective, has to come up with the answers. And there are a few strategies that readers can use to help them.
Firstly, a good reader is practised at making predictions about what is going to happen in a novel. We can begin with the title of the novel, the blurb, the opening paragraphs – what anticipation do they create? As we read we modify our predictions in the light of new events that occur. By making predictions, we are actively asking ‘what will happen next?’ so that later on we can better answer the question ‘what happened?’
Another strategy we can use to follow the plot of the novel is to be on the look out for certain linguistic clues, words and phrases which signal the sequence in which events occur, for example: then, next, the following day, three weeks before, suddenly. Paying attention to such words can help us to reconstruct what happened. And as we read, it may even be useful to mark and label the events on a horizontal line, a time line. You may find that the time line fills up in a seemingly random order – the order in which the events in the novel are reported. But by the end of your reading, you will have a chronological record of the sequence of events and how they are linked.
Another way of making sure we do not lose the plot is to write a brief summary of the events in the novel. If this seems too formal, then simply thinking about it is enough – ask yourself what happened first, and after that and next? And if you are not sure you may need to go back and re-read key parts of the novel. Checking the details carefully – just like a good detective.
Gary: Gillian Lazar, thank you.
If you’re thinking about joining a Book Club or about starting a reading group with your friends, then make sure you tune in next time, when one of our guests is the author of a book that promises to tell you everything you need to know.
ANNOUNCER: And that brings us to the end of today’s programme. If you’d like to share your reading experiences, you can join our BBC Learning English group on Facebook. We’ll have topics on the Discussion board linked to the subjects covered in The Reading Group programmes. So, until next time, happy reading!
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