Emily M. DeArdo



Book Talk: The Bronte Sisters

booksEmily DeArdoComment

Every so often, I need to talk Books with Y'all. So gather round and enter the literary salon! 

(This post contains affiliate links) 

After the Schulyer Sisters. And after the Austen sisters....there were the Bronte Sisters. 

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte, painted by their brother Branwell. 

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte, painted by their brother Branwell. 

Now, generally, I sort of dislike Charlotte Bronte, most of all because Charlotte didn't like Jane. Not literally. I mean, it wasn't like a Mean Girls episode, given that Jane died a year after Charlotte was born. But Charlotte didn't like Jane's writing, and that sort of makes me not like her. 

She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. 

--A letter of Charlotte Bronte's to W.S. Williams

I mean, what? The passions are perfectly unknown to her?! A distant recognition of feelings? WHAAAAAA. 

Charlotte Bronte. Shut it. 


That being said: The thing I never really understood here was that Charlotte and Jane write about very different things. Charlotte Bronte embraced Gothic Literature conventions, while Jane spoofed it. (If you want to read more about this, go here and here and here--these were part of a series on my old blog that I'm going to move over here, soon, so keep an eye out if Lit is Your Thing.) Jane knew what she was good at writing, and she stuck with that--she wrote about what she knew. Charlotte definitely included autobiographical content in her novels, but I don't think she had a crazy wife in an attic. Or a nun haunting her. There's definitely a mixture of "fact" and "fiction" in her novels. Again, that's not a problem. But I sense that Charlotte may have been a little....I dunno, intimidated? Jealous? Who knows. 

As a reader, you go to the novelists for two different things. I go to Jane because I just love Jane--but I love the realism of her stories, the characters, the delicious irony and humor and wit. If I want "It was a dark and stormy night", I read Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.  Or, if you really want to read a ghost story with a slighty-more-than-slightly-nuts heroine, read Villette, which some people argue is a better novel that Jane Eyre. I dunno. I have issues with Jane Eyre, but Lucy Snowe, the heroine of Villette, is just.....well, nuts. That's really all you can say about her.  Villette is slightly nuts anyway, and is loaded with anti-Catholic sentiment, which is yet another reason I don't like Charlotte. She had a very large bee in her bonnet about Catholics, which I don't really understand. (Her father was a Church of England pastor, so maybe that had something to do with it?) 

Charlotte was the only one of the sisters to marry. She married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholas, in 1854.  Sadly, she died during her only pregnancy, aged 39, less than a year after their wedding. We're not sure how she died--it could've been severe hyperemesis gravidarum, tuberculosis, typhus, or something else. 

As for the other two sisters: both of them were within the gothic/feminine gothic sub-genre. Anne, the youngest of the Bronte children, wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is pretty enjoyable. We do have a crazy spouse, but this time it's much more relatable crazy--and in my mind, a scarier crazy: the heroine (Helen) has an alcoholic husband. There's a strong morality streak, but it's not overbearing. In fact, I sort of think that Jane would've liked this novel. It has hints of Mansfield Park in it. 

Anne's first novel, Agnes Grey, is sort of meh. Tenant is a lot better. Anne died of tuberculosis (we think) when she was 29. 

Emily wrote poetry and one novel, the famous Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights is not for everyone, but I enjoy it for its pure escapism tendencies.  And there's some really lovely writing in it. Emily also died of tuberculosis, when she was 30. 

Have you read any of the Brontes? Which novel is your favorite? Least favorite? 



"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance": Jane Austen and Married Soulmates

Uncategorized, Jane AustenEmily DeArdo2 Comments

"'Well,' said Charlotte, 'I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness, as if she were to be studying his character for a twelve-month. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.'"

--Pride and Prejudice

The idea of "soulmates" is definitely a modern one. For the majority of human history, people viewed marriage under a much less romantic lens. 

This is sort of addendum to a post I wrote yesterday about marriage in the Church; but it's also something I've been thinking about for awhile, ever since I had a conversation with a friend about Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. 

My friend's position was that Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins was a failing of the book; Why would Charlotte marry a man that she doesn't really like? That's just ridiculous! Jane messed up. 

But what Pride and Prejudice--and to extent, almost all of Jane's books--illustrates is that women didn't, generally, marry for love. It was nice if you could do it. But single women were really limited in what they could do, without a husband. They couldn't own property. They had really no say in a court of law. If they weren't married, their fathers were in charge. If their fathers were dead, then their brothers were in charge. If you did marry for love, you were Super Special--and possibly, super odd. 

Jane knew, very vividly, what this was like. She made the decision not to marry for anything other than love, but that meant that she was at the mercy of her brothers, after her father died. Fortunately, the Austen men were good sorts of men, and took good care of Jane, her sister Cassandra, and her mother.  They were lucky, and Jane knew it; you can see it in her fiction. The Dashwoods' brother is not nearly as kind to his sisters. 

 Charlotte Lucas is older than Lizzie (who is almost 21), which plays a part in her deciding to marry Mr. Collins. She's probably feeling the need to get married soon, before all the guys are taken. With a husband, she's off her father and brothers' hands. She's provided for; she has some station in the world. Even though she's the daughter of a knight, she won't inherit anything at Lucas Lodge. It will all go to her brothers. Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice both show what happens when an estate is "entailed away from the female line." The reason Mrs. Bennet wants Lizzie to marry Mr. Collins is so the house can stay in the family--when Mr. Bennet dies, as he says, Mr. Collins could "throw [them] all out, if he chooses." Yes, that's right--Mrs. Bennet, and all of her unmarried daughters, would be out of their house, if the new owner so chose to do that. 

Marianne, Elinor, and Margaret Dashwood are essentially being helped by another male relative, Sir John Middleton. The money their father left them and their mother is quite a small sum, and they lost their home, Norland. They weren't poor, but without Sir John's help, they very well might have been. And keep in mind that women couldn't really "earn" a living. Look at Miss Bates in Emma. She and her mother aren't Dickensian, but they're also not really genteel, either. They're poor enough that Emma takes them food and clothes and things like that. 

Fanny Price's family could be Dickensian. They are very clearly poor. Her father wastes any money he gets, and it's only because Mrs. Price begs her sister, Lady Bertram, to take Fanny, that Fanny has any chance. Mrs. Price "married for love", and it's not a recommendation she makes to her daughter. She would like to see Fanny marry Henry Crawford. 

In Jane Austen's England, love was a secondary question.  It's lucky that all of Jane's heroines do end happily--but the risk of that not happening is very close, all the time. None of them, except Emma, is independently wealthy. Emma is the only one who could really choose to stay single. Marianne, Margaret, Elinor, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, Fanny, Harriet, and Anne all have to either get married, or be dependent on the whims of their male relations. 

Emma and Sir John Knightley

Emma and Sir John Knightley

It's important, when reading Jane, or the Brontes,  Dickens, or even Outlander, to remember that their world is not our world. There was a very different code that governed lives and society.  In Outlander, Jamie says that a good husband is one who doesn't beat or starve his wife. That's what's a "good" husband in 18th century Scotland is. Jane Eyre's pluck is sort of risky--she could very easily have alienated, instead of entranced, Mr. Rochester. And if Lizzy and Darcy's feelings for each other hadn't changed, Lizzy would've been in a pickle, as she says, somewhat laughingly, to Jane: "I may in time meet with another Mr. Collins!" 

There's also the question of class, which is raised in P&P. "He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman's daughter, thus far we are equal," Lizzy says to Lady Catherine near the end of P&P. "But who is your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts?" Lady C shoots back. Lizzie's father may be a gentleman, but the fact that her one uncle is a lawyer, and one is in trade, doesn't bode well for Lizzie's social standing. 

In an "ideal" marriage, everything would match--fortune, social standing, breeding, etc. That doesn't mean that they'll be happy together; look at Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. But the important thing to remember is that the idea of "soulmates" isn't something that was common for most of human history, as we can see in the history of the period, as well as in the fiction. 

Edmund and Fanny 

Edmund and Fanny 




Seven Quick Takes No. 84

7 Quick Takes, books, familyEmily DeArdo1 Comment


Another Friday, another Quick Takes! Here's what I've been writing about this week:Persuasion: The Last Entry in the Jane Re-Read; Sort of Knitting; Daybook with a Side of Sinus Trouble; Why I'm a Dominican; and  my August Real Housekeeping piece went live!


To follow up on that last one--the sinuses are getting better. I think. Since I caught it early I didn't really have a lot of symptoms, per se. Only things that I, with my crazy knowledge and Spidey Sense, really picked up on. But it's always better to be early than late, when it comes to this sort of stuff. I felt sort of off yesterday so I took it easy, catching up on Netflix and reading. I'm on the second to last Pink Carnation novel and I'm still reading What Matters In Jane Austen and Middlemarch, but I've also started A God In Ruins


CCD starts this week, which I can't really believe. We used to start in September, so we are starting earlier than usual, but really, it's almost September? Most of the kids have gone back to school here already; in fact, I think they all have. I can't think of any districts that wait to start until next week. I think the football season starts next week, though I'm not sure, because I no longer have siblings in band. Your schedule was basically determined by the band performance/travel/practice/competition/Band Camp schedule. My high school's band was pretty good. I wasn't in it, but my brother and sister were, and they performed in the Macy's, Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Rose Bowl, and other parades I'm probably forgetting. Even though I took clarinet lessons as a kid, I was always much more of an indoor girl. (Seriously--marching in rain, snow, wet? NO THANK YOU.)


One of the movies in my Netflix queue was Apocalypse Now, which I'd never seen, so naturally I had to watch it. It was intriguing; the end, especially, at Kurtz's compound, was really well done. I wasn't over or underwhelmed. It sort of fit the expectations that I had for it. Martin Sheen did a great job. I also started watching Cleopatra. What was it with these epics in the 50s and 60s, that they feel the need to start with Tedious Narration, and have all these long, drawn-out sequences? People! Come on! No wonder the movie was so expensive to make. I didn't finish it yet, though, so I should probably withhold judgment. I've also got Three Coins in a Fountain, Cinema Paradiso, and From Here to Eternity in the queue. 


I have bought, officially, one Christmas present for the upcoming season. I always get my dad more or less the same sorts of things, and my brother and sister have birthdays in the fall, so I don't get their Christmas gifts until after their birthdays. Since my sister lives in Texas, anything I get her for Christmas has to be easy to fit in her luggage, if she comes home, or easily mailable, if she can't come home (she's a nurse, so her schedule isn't exactly at her disposal, and she makes more money if she works the holidays, so she doesn't really mind working them, if she can't get out of them.). Gifts for my friends are a whole other story. 

I really love Christmas, so I don't mind thinking about it early. 


I'm ready for Fall. Since I was about 16, I guess, I've been ready for fall by the middle of August. I don't know why, in particular. But I got the September Southern Living today, and Reese Witherspoon is in it, wearing all sorts o adorable fall clothes, and I just wanted it to be fall. Football! Hockey! Leaves! Sweaters! My fireplace! Candles! All that stuff! 

(And no, I'm not a pumpkin freak, like so many other people are. I mean, I like them, but not in my coffee or my doughnuts or in my candles....)

I mean, look at these clothes!

Seriously? (And I can't get rid of the "ad" at the bottom, but come on, these clothes, people) I ooooove that cardigan in the bottom right photo. I'm sort of a cardigan freak. And the blue sweater in the cover photo? To die for. Blue, in case you haven't noticed from the design around here, is my favorite color. As another Southern Belle, Shelby, said in Steel Magnolias, "Pink is my signature color." Well, here it's not pink. It's blue. 

(Yes, shades of Sleeping Beauty, right?) 

I love this photo I took at Disney World. This is what goes along with it: 



And finally....

I have an audition tonight. Hope it goes well!

The Great Jane Re-Read: Mansfield Park

books, Jane AustenEmily DeArdo2 Comments
Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read! Join me! @emily_m_deardo
Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read! Join me! @emily_m_deardo

This week's contender: Mansfield Park.

I've written about Mansfield Park on the blog here.  It was also the topic of my senior thesis for my undergrad English degree, in which I wrote about how Fanny was a model of femininity to be embraced, not ignored. One of these days I'll upload it to the Internets and share it.

My favorite movie version is the 1999 one.

Previous entries in the series: Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility,

So, let's talk about Fanny and Co. 

Full disclosure: I've always liked Fanny. The very first time I read the book, I liked her immediately. In the margins of my Oxford World Classic's copy, I noted that she was like Cinderella to her family, or, in more contemporary terms, a Matilda. No one really appreciates her or notices she's there, except for Edmund, and he's pretty thick. (I like him, but he is so thick. It drives me crazy when he's mooning about Mary to Fanny when Fanny clearly in in love with him!) Lionel Trilling famously noted that no one could like Fanny, but I've found his view disproved by people I've met. It's actually Emma I have a hard time liking, which jives with Jane's assertion that she'd created a heroine that "no one but myself will much like."

Fanny and her family in Portsmouth.    

Fanny and her family in Portsmouth. 


Part of the problem with MP, I think, is that it comes right after Pride and Prejudice. But I don't think that was accidental. Jane noted that she found P&P "too light and bright and sparkling" in parts, and MP definitely isn't those things. It's still classic Jane--it has brilliant moments and it's an excellent story--but there isn't the witty repartee of Elizabeth and Darcy, or the humor of the Bennet parents. MP deals much more closely with larger ideas of morality, family ties, what we owe other people, and growing up. 

So tell me what you think of Fanny in the comments. I'm really intrigued to know how you view her! 

I don't think Mary Crawford is evil. I think she has a lot of problems, which we might be able to say are because of the way she grew up, but I think Mary and Henry didn't learn to respect people, to see them as people, with their own dignity. They see them as things to use, as means to an end. Mary "loves" Edmund because he seems pliable, and might come into a fortune. Henry "loves" Fanny because she's a mystery to him. But neither of them really understand love, truthfully. They use people for their own entertainment (this is easily seen in Henry's interactions with Maria and Julia). 

Mary and Henry Crawford 

Mary and Henry Crawford 

More than any other novel of Jane's, Mansfield Park illustrates how virtue leads to happiness. Fanny, who will never be a "Miss Bertram", has a moral compass and deep-seated sense of goodness that her cousins (who can name all the principle rivers of Europe!) lack. It might be calibrated in Julia, but Maria has lost her chance for redemption at the end of the novel--in the 19th century, she's disgraced permanently. Julia is a lot like Kitty in P&P, in that once the bad influence of her sister is removed, she can be influenced for the better. 

Fanny's ability to remain true to herself, to what is really important--her self-respect, as opposed to her social and financial standing--is one of my favorite parts of the novel. When she returns to Portsmouth after refusing Henry's offer of marriage, Fanny sees how dire her family's poverty is. She realizes that she probably couldn't live like this, not after having lived at Mansfield and knowing that sort of life (and remember, Fanny doesn't even have the Mansfield experience of her cousins. She doesn't have the maids and the dresses and the fancy education and social whirl. But just living in that house, having enough food and being in a clean, neat environment, is more than she'll ever have with her parents.). But still, she manages to stick to her beliefs. No matter how much Henry may appear to have changed, she still can't make herself agree to marry him. She is not so simple as Henry believes she is. 

Edmund and Fanny. 

Edmund and Fanny. 

Not only do the Crawfords underestimate Fanny, but so does Edmund, who is, for most of the novel, her champion. Edmund never quite sees her as a mature woman in her own right, not until the end of the novel when he sees who Mary Crawford really is. Only once "the charm is broken" does he realize who Mary and Fanny really are, and the stark differences between them. 


what do you think of Mansfield Park? What characters resonate with you? Which characters repel you? And would you ever be in "Lover's Vows"? (I totally would love to do it.) 


The Great Jane Re-Read: Pride and Prejudice

Jane AustenEmily DeArdo1 Comment

Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read! Join me! @emily_m_deardo

(Other links in this series: Sense and Sensibility; Northanger Abbey)

I've written about Pride and Prejudice here and here.

And people, there is ONLY ONE P&P movie. ONLY ONE.

(If you want some video, click the second link above).

There is no other version. The Keira Knightley version does not exist in my world. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth, and Colin Firth is Darcy, and that is all.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the book!

  • P&P is, without a doubt, the Jane novel I've re-read the most. I used Mansfield Park (which is next!) a lot, obviously, when I was writing my thesis, but P&P has been read, straight through, the most. It's also, coincidentally, one of Jane's shorter novels. It's shorter than Sense and Sensibility,  and it's only 40 pages longer than Persuasion, so P&P is the second-shortest of her novels.
  • The action gets started right away, which is another reason I think it's shorter. It's concentrated, in a way. Bingley is introduced on the very first page--the narrative and characters are set, and we're off.

We're talking about Pride and Prejudice today in the Great Jane Re-Read! Join us! @emily_m_deardo

  • It's so hard to read the parts of this novel where Elizabeth believes Wickham (does anyone else feel this way?). After you've read it a few times you just want to yell, "RUN AWAY!" The first time you read it, of course, it's a sucker punch when Darcy's letter reveals him about halfway through the novel, and you cannot believe it.
  • I love the scenes of Darcy and Elizabeth at Rosings. It's just so obvious that they are more alike than they think.
  • We're talking about Pride and Prejudice on the blog! Come join in @emily_m_deardo

  • I wish we still wrote letters to people. Email is faster, no doubt, but the handwritten quality of letters is so delightful.
  • Georgiana Darcy is fun, isn't she? At least I think she's fun. I would love to know more about her, and I wish Lizzie had gotten to spend more time with her. Since this novel is so streamlined, we don't get the insight into the secondary characters that we do in some of the others.
  • Whenever I read about Darcy's library, I want to know what's in it. What do you think Darcy would like to read?
  • Jane told her family the fates of the other characters--both Kitty and Mary end up married, but I wonder what their husbands were like.
  • We're talking about Pride and Prejudice! Join us! @emily_m_deardo

  • And: Did Mr. Collins ever inherit Longbourn? Or did Mr. Bennet outlast him? (Probably not, but I can see how that would've mae Mrs. Bennet happy.)

Share your thoughts about P&P in the combox!

'To be very accomplished': Learning to draw

drawing, Jane AustenEmily DeArdo2 Comments

'It is amazing to me,' said Bingley, 'how young ladies can have the patience to be so very accomplished, as they all are.'

--Pride and Prejudice

I often joke that I was born in the wrong century. Not medically--in any other century I'd be dead--but socially. A lot of my skills are in the old-school definition of 'accomplishment', as Bingley talks about in Pride and Prejudice (and which we will be talking about on Thursday in the Jane Re-Read!). I can cook, knit, sew (cross-stitch and mend), play the piano, sing, etc.

'A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.'

'All this she must posses,' added Darcy, 'and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.'

--Pride and Prejudice

I certainly have the extensive reading down, but I've never been able to draw. Really. My brother could do it, and my grandfather, but not me. Art class in school was never a subject at which I excelled. As I got older, I thought I'd never be able to learn it.

But then Melissa turned me on to Sketchbook Skool. This is an online art school, taught by professional artists and teachers. It's video-based, and each class lasts six weeks. I enrolled in "beginnings," and I'm in my last week of the course.   I have definitely learned to draw!

My first Sketchbook Skool assignment.

Learning to draw at Sketchbook Skool @emily_m_deardo

(I don't know why the second one is wonky...sorry guys!)

Anyway, yes, I am really happy with the progress I'm making. The classes have been so informative and I love the teachers. I'm enrolling in another class next week, because in 'beginnings' we haven't covered everything. We've done watercolors, pen, pencil, colored pencil, and we've learned a bit about technique, but I really need to work on perspective and depth in my drawings.

Learning to draw with Sketchbook Skool @emily_m_deardo

There are times when it's really frustrating--don't get me wrong. Some of my drawings are much better than others. But I see something good in every piece I do, so that's definitely a step forward.

SBS is a great example of how the Internet can be awesome. I never would've tried to do this if I hadn't gotten the recommendation from Melissa, and I never would've found these great teachers. I can move through the classes at my own pace, right tin my house. It's not something I have to leave my house to do, which is nice.

Summer is a great time for experimentation and learning new things--are you doing anything this summer like this? Or can you draw much better than I can? :)

The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey

books, Jane AustenEmily DeArdo4 Comments

Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read! Join me! @emily_m_deardo

(If you're new here, read the beginning of this post to get the ground rules/ideas.)

I wrote this about Northanger Abbey last year.

My favorite movie version is this one, from the BBC (click the photo for details):

OK, so let's talk about the book:

I really like Catherine--do you? I mean yes, she has some silly moments, but generally, she's not a bad kid, especially for one who has never been away from home before and is thrown into social situations she's never been in before. She's much more sensible than, say, Lydia Bennet! (Whom we'll talk about in the next installment.)

The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey @emily_m_deardo


I just wanted to throttle the Thorpes. I always feel that way, but this time it was with special vengeance. Isabella is just so silly and stupid! Not to mention money grubbing: "Oh, I love James! Oh, no I don't, his income is too small. Oh, wait, I love him again! Because no one else will have me, la!"

And John? How in the world does he think Catherine wants to marry him? He rivals Mr. Collins in his stupidity of women, but at least Mr. Collins was never as outright rude and coarse as John is.

General Tilney is a really interesting character, isn't he? He terrifies his daughter and obviously Henry has his own problems with him. He's not a model father, that's for sure, although I don't think any of the readers ascribe such villainous deeds to him as Catherine initially does. :)

Speaking of that, I love the scene when Catherine finds out that the papers are just laundry lists. It's sort of like Ralph in A Christmas Story: "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine? A crummy commercial?!"

The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey @emily_m_deardo

Have you read The Mysteries of Udolpho? It's still in print, amazingly--Oxford World Classics has an edition that I'm pretty sure is only still in print because of Northanger Abbey. It's not a bad read, if you're interested in digging deeper into Catherine's favorite genre.

The next time Jane will set a book in Bath will be Persuasion, her last completed novel, and the novel isn't entirely set there (much like NA isn't entirely set in Bath--it's funny that we have to wait so long to get to the titular abbey, right?). Anne Elliott is not quite as sanguine as Catherine is about being in Bath, that's for sure.

The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey @emily_m_deardo

Catherine's family seem so jolly, doesn't it? 10 children, but also her parents seem to be really down-to-earth, practical sort of people (Although I imagine you'd have to be, in order to have 10 children and not be completely nuts.). She might be--I'm just now considering this--the most practical mother in Jane's writing. Mrs. Bennet is not. Mrs. Dashwood sort of gets there by the end of the novel, but she has her moments of crazy. There is no Mrs. Woodhouse in Emma, nor is there a Mrs. Elliot in Persuasion, although Mrs. Elliot seemed to be a very lovely person, based on Anne's remembrances; but Sir Walter wasn't exactly a peach to live with. What do you think?