Friday, 27 March 2009

The aids-epidemic in Africa: the pope is (partly) right

The pope may not be right all the time, according to Luc Bonneux (epidemiologist), but he has a point when he criticises the blind faith in condoms with which we are trying to tackle the African aids-epidemic:

'To my great amazement there are six Belgian parties that are going to ask the pope for an explanation. As if the man is going to take much notice of that. Belgian politics is the synonym for ridicule in the world at the moment… The faith in condoms is only there to be used by the white humanitarian worker. I will repeat the difficult facts… Epidemiology knows a difference between theoretical and practical efficacy. Condoms over steal dildos in a lab work a treat, but over the excited flesh of inexperienced couples there is a lot that goes wrong. Condoms have never been good contraceptives. The chance of becoming pregnant is 6% after one year. If one can become pregnant, one can get HIV. In experienced couples in steady relationships where the man is HIV-positive through contaminated blood-products there is a chance of 1% that the female partner becomes positive after 1 year of consistent condom use. Add a little alcohol, lack of experience, more hormones than common sense, and the chance to be contaminated will increase to several percents. Linking safe sex to condoms is, excuse the word, dangerous claptrap.

Epidemiology also knows a difference between population-strategy and high-risk strategy. With a high-risk strategy a limited group with a big problem is singled out. That in itself means very little for the whole population because the little group is necessarily a minority. The whole of the population only benefits with a population strategy. Condoms are useful for high-risk groups, certainly prostitutes. A healthy sexual way of life, graphically summarised by Mieke Vogels (Green politician) as ‘first blabla, then boomboom’, is good for the whole population.

The first articles on the aids-epidemic in Africa were published 26 years ago. Since then we have seen no evidence of substantial influence on that aids-epidemic. That is partly due to the fact that science has been replaced by ideology. While the moral arrogance of the ayatollahs forces the pope’s to fade, science has failed in showing any effects of condoms on the epidemic. That is not because of a lack of possibilities: the effect of circumcision has been shown. Why did HIV not spread through the whole population anywhere outside Africa? HIV spreads through trios: a contaminated partner is needed to get it and a second partner is necessary to transmit the virus. No trio, no transmission: HIV spreads only by multiple, simultaneous sexual partnerships, not by monogamy and hardly by serial monogamy (successive partners).

Sex with multiple partners at the same time and sex which crosses the generations is the motor of the epidemic in Africa. Young women are financially supported by ‘rich uncles’, promiscuous businessmen, in exchange for sex. That supplies murderous dynamics. Elsewhere experimental youths are protected by their youth, but not in Africa. Those ‘rich uncles’ sow the virus in youth communities and there it spreads through simultaneous partnerships. African women contaminate themselves primarily through steady partnerships. In that kind of relationships condoms are not used, partly because women like to become pregnant. The driving force behind the heterosexual epidemic in Africa is not really a shortage of condoms. Women there are the victim of adultery and ‘rich uncle’-pimps. African women find that as great as you, but they have no choice. African men are like you monogamous with a liking to adultery, if they can get away with it. The drama is that African men get away with it because of the lack of women-rights. A Catholic pope as moral authority has a lot to say about that.

The pope is terribly mistaken when he equals sex to procreation. Where children no longer die the woman is condemned by too high fertility. Intimate sex is a unique aspect of the human species, the carrier of monogamous relationships. Loving sex creates a powerful bond between the parents and through that protects their children. With their disgusting stand against loving sex successive popes haven lost a lot of moral credit in confusing times. But poor and unschooled people find worthiness and hope in religion. HIV-prevention must make a coalition with moral leaders. Experience in life is needed to choose a life partner, and so we must not start on sex too early. It is unhealthy to have sex as recreational sport, or to cheat on one’s partner. Whoever contaminates his wife through adultery is a bastard, whoever misuses his power to force young girls to sex is a pig. That goes here and in Africa. It is astonishing and sad that 26 years ago, that simple, clear, human message, supported by everyone with leadership, would have been able to prevent millions of transmissions.'

I suppose the article speaks for itself… Change the culture of adultery and how women feel about themselves and cheating men and all is well. But of course there is no-one who wants to admit that the pope is even partly right. Certainly in the west it is not fashionable to link the religious to politics, only if you are a weirdo like Bush. Although it seems like we should to tackle aids in Africa.

This article was translated from De Standaard and the original can be found here:

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

On the Belgian Youth Book-week

‘The Youth Book-week has taken off. Today is the beginning of a three-day event with more than a thousand participants, teachers and library-people. The question: what do we give our off-spring to read?
It is all a little confusing: the Youth Book-week lasts more than two weeks. And The Day of literary education’ lasts three days in turn.
But that is because there is a lot to tell. Dispersed over three days, there are close to a hundred seminars and workshops. All concentrated around the question: are we going the right way about the literary education of our youth? What can we do differently?
The organisers of Canon Cultureel (with the support of Locus and make it a book festival. As the focal point they flew over British success-writer Anthony Horowitz to Gent. Beside him there are Kader Abdolah, comic strip illustrator Conz, writing games doctor Jan Van Looy, and poet Peter Holvoet-Hansen.
In a cynical mood one might consider this three-day event as totally superfluous. At the end of last year the curriculum and goals for ‘reading comprehension’ and ‘listening comprehension’ were tested. They turned out quite alright. They found themselves at least on the same level as they were five years before.
89% of all students reached the norm for ‘reading comprehension’. Girls even turned out a little better – but the weak sex is always the strongest, that is a well-known fact. ‘Listening comprehension’ was also very good: 87% reached the norm there. Continue on the same road, one might think, never change a winning education team.
But it is not that simple. How come that the numbers of the French Community are higher [than the Flemish]? And even though we do well in European rankings, we cannot forget that goals and norms are minimal criteria.
But foremost: there seems to be a gap between families where Dutch is traditionally spoken and families where that is not the case. Of all children who are educated in a different language at home, only 70% reaches the norm for ‘reading comprehension’. For ‘listening comprehension’ it is even more worrying: only 55% reaches the norm. The minimum.
So we have to do our best more? Research shows that reading to our children and telling them stories diminishes dramatically once kindergarten is over. So we could try to do more of that.
Or we could try something else. That is what Caroline Janssen will profess during the next three days. As professor of Arabic Language and Culture at the University of Gent she is not an expert on educational matters or reading. Her ideas (‘fantasy’, she calls them herself) are also not limited by an existing framework. And just because of that they are so refreshing.
‘Literature in school is an inherent part of the various language subjects,’ is her starting point. ‘In the classes Dutch, English and French, students get the most important works of those languages to savour. Because of that we are looking through too small a spectrum. If we only touch upon authors of the same culture it is as if the surrounding cultures do not exist. In schools with a diverse population it could be worthwhile to offer something of other cultures.’
That of course demands another type of organisation. Instead of fixing literature in the language subjects it could become part of a subject ‘world-education’. ‘Such a subject does not exist yet,’ says Janssen, ‘but it could be one in which the student learns to understand other cultures. What are their realities? What are their goals? How do people live in other religions? It could be something like ‘Antics’. We have that as well, no?’
Examples are there by the bunch. [Janssen’s] group put together a bundle of ‘broken hearts in Oriental cultures’, texts about heartache from Mesopotamia to Japan. All cultures equally beside one another, linked by heartache.
‘There are loads of African, English-Indian texts at our disposal,’ says Janssen. ‘A novel like The Yacoubian of Alaa al-Aswani has a lot of potential. It tells the history of a building in Cairo, but on the side touches upon themes like corruption, sex or recent history.’’

I see Janssen’s point, but I think such a subject of ‘world-education’ would pass its aim or would not reach the aim that is assigned to it. The problem now, in my view, is that literature, arts, music and political history are not connected. Political history, in the best case, we get in the history class. I say ‘in the best case’, because, in Flanders at least, we get Western European history, which touches upon the most important things like the Greeks and Romans (no Celts, I’m afraid due to lack of time), the Germanic invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire, the development of cities and trade, medieval structures, the establishment of Islam, the discovery of America and the times of trade and colonisation, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution/Restoration, the 19th century and its Industrial Revolution, WWI (the establishment of the Soviet Union) and WWII (the Warsaw Pact), the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union. But, of course, all those different countries, have their own history, like France has its history before and after the French Revolution which made a large impact on Europe as well. The history class of course is not long enough to touch upon all those countries and their own history, but it is just that that shaped their arts, literature and music. After the political history, we get arts and music in the Aesthetics class. But this class, is only 1 hour per week and is only given during the last two years of education (16 to 18). It needs to cover all arts (painting, sculpting, graphics, photography, architecture…) and music from the Classic period, through the Middle Ages to modern times (installations). Celts, again, are not really touched upon, although a case could be made for Celtic knot-work in manuscripts from the early Middle Ages and on buildings, because this type of art lives on in for example Welsh love-spoons that are still given for weddings in Wales and no doubt modern artists of those parts have had those influences… Suffice to say that the class is a little short for all that. Even if the teacher knows what he is talking about and that is not always the case (as the class can be given by anyone), then still, to cover everything that is In the Louvre in Paris (and there is no music involved) one hour a week is a little short.

Now back to literature: literature class is part of the respective language subject, as Janssen said. Even if the teacher knows what he talks about, which is not always sure in my opinion, it is foremost important that the student knows the structure of the language, can talk, write and understand before he goes on to reading more lyrical things. Yet, of course, reading is also understanding. But, good literature, adult literature, is not read by 13-year-olds. On top of that, English, French and German are taught as foreign languages, so 13-year-olds are not able to read good things like Dumas, as their level is not up to scratch. Although, of course, there are writers which are even used in education for French children, like De La Fontaine and his fables, La Ligue des rats being one of them. Or for 15-year-olds it should be interesting to read some fairy-tales of Perrault, for example: short and good for vocabulary. I personally got, as a first taste of real French literature, a poem of François Villon: La ballade das pendus (the ballad of the hanged). For those who (do not) know their French literature, François Villon was a medieval poet… Tell me, a 13-year-old who has only been learning French for the last two years with maybe two hours a week on primary school level and with no knowledge of Latin, or a very limited one, what is the chance that he is able to understand medieval French? The chance is even smaller than a student who has been learning English for two years, two hours a week, is able to understand Shakespeare or Chaucer… Not… Structure is strange, vocabulary too difficult, and words strangely spelt… Fontaine was touched upon in the smallish ‘history of French literature’-part of the class, but not used. Although he is much more entertaining than hanged people, and much more easily comprehensible. Perrault was also touched upon. Not so easy to understand, and a little longer, but comprehensible nonetheless, if only for the fact that everyone knows what happens to Red Ridinghood or Le Petit Chaperon Rouge.

Further on in secondary education, books have to be read. Two a year. For every language subject. Mostly, for the foreign languages, the class starts with reading the same book… My first French book was a disaster. I didn’t finish it because I found it amazingly boring, dumb, badly written. Not that my knowledge of French was great, but I still remember that it was a ‘story’ in detective style, with a finger that was missing… I couldn’t give a damn about what was happening… It totally couldn’t appeal to me. I was not at all captured by detective stories and certainly not by bad uninteresting ones. It was only later that Agatha Christie appealed to me when I saw David Suchet play Poirot. Anyway, bad impressions last a long time. After that we got a list… A big disappointment, as big as the list. During the third, fourth, fifth and sixth year of secondary school (so for the whole period I had to choose a book from a reading list) I never encountered one that took my fancy, apart from once! It is sad to see that there was no Dumas, no Hugo (for the ones that actually were able to read him), no Molière, no Corneille, no Racine, no Fontaine, no Perrault, no great names on those lists. More unfortunate however, was the fact that there were no subjects apart from psychological problems, anorexia, incest, violence, abortion, rape, sexual abuse, and of course, the unavoidable, the Holocaust (mainly then about helpless Jewish children which the French have a great trauma about). Nothing against the Holocaust, the trauma it caused in society made it forever a subject in literature and art, but if half of the booklist every year consists out of that subject you really have done with it! In all those years, I read one good book: Un Allé Simple by Didier Van Cauwelaert. A story about a Moroccan boy, abducted by gypsies and arrested as an illegal immigrant on the eve of his engagement party. He is assigned someone to make sure he gets on the plain and stays on the other side. A man who has problems of his own (can’t recall what just, but I think something to do with his marriage). The two find each other in the book, a little like in the film Le Huitième Jour where a man gets out of his hole by the character of a boy/man with Down-syndrome and his ever positive look on life and the world in general. Twice I went to ask the respective teacher to read something else than was on the list: once Molière’s Avare and once I was offered another book of Van Cauwelaert which was equally interesting (a story about a family told by the father who had just died in his caravan that stood in the garden in order for him to be able to live with his mistress). For the rest, we busied ourselves with - apart from the usual grammar and exercises (which are indispensible for a good structural conception, the effects of the lack of it being illustrated by the English’ knowledge of French and other languages) - texts out of the textbook. Let’s say that they were not the most interesting and most useful ones… I do not consider an interview with the CEO of Club Med interesting and useful for a 17-year-old. And texts about judicial things like inheritances and other legal stuff are also not really to the interest of a teenager. Songs were also part of the curriculum, but although there are French singers as Gainsbourg, Brel, and other chansonniers that sang meaningful texts we got boring things of Jean-Jacques Goldman (the equivalent of Barry Manilow). For a teenager that is really not on. Two plays we did: Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Patient) of Molière at 15, which was not read in class, but only seen on stage at school. It is clear that Molière, for such a low level, must be read slowly before seeing it. Otherwise half of the text is not understood… Admittedly we did actually read excerpts, but in my view that is not enough. In the last year we did Le Rhinocéros (The Rhinoceros) of Ionesco, a Romanian-French absurd playwright. A little the same concept as Becket. I still cannot make out if the teacher actually knew what it was about, I still can’t (maybe because of the lack of explanation), but we went to see the play during our three-day trip to Paris (which made it a little clearer), which was crammed with art and architecture from morning to evening. Even for a routine art-looker-on like me (because my parents took me to most major exhibitions they wanted to go to (Magritte, Delvaux, Memling in Bruges, and others), and even to the world exhibition of modern art: the Biennale in Venice which they still go to every two years) it was just too much. I still remember the first day: leaving at 6 o’clock in the morning from Leuven (25km to the east of Brussels, on the E40), to Paris, there at about noon or 1 o’clock, see La Défense (the ‘newly’ built mainly business area of Paris, started in the 70s or 80s?), then moving on to the Musée d’Orsay (museum for the arts of the 19th century) and then off to the Centre Pompidou (centre for modern art). That was at about 6 o’clock in the afternoon. I have to say, already in the Musée d’Orsay, I couldn’t be arsed… The interest was there, but just not the energy… I would have loved to look at all those paintings and sculptures maybe even the most of my group of about 100 students, but I just didn’t have the energy. By the time we entered Centre Pompidou and I saw the fountain of Tinguely and his wife Niki de Saint-Phalle for about the fifth time in my life, I couldn’t find the energy to admire it again. I cannot remember anything from that point on. Although we still went around Paris until 11 at night, we went to eat spaghetti in some place, and we must have admired the Eiffel Tower from the Bateaux Mouche, but really from 6 in the morning until 11 in the evening… Overload. The next day, we went to the house of Rodin, which made an impression, I have to say. And then we were allowed to go round a little by ourselves, if I can recall rightly. All this, of course, is useless if one has not had some art history class or understanding. Fortunately, through my music education of about 7 years, I did have a conception of art history. Also through all the exhibitions my parents took me to (I am still thankful for that) I had an understanding of the Flemish Primitives, medieval art, the Renaissance, Baroque painters as Rubens and later ones as Rembrandt (although my father finds him absolutely ghastly), the 18th century, and the 19th century with Delacroix and David, Monet and the impressionists, and the later fashions as surrealism, expressionism and modern installation, abstract art and conceptual art. My classmates though, did not have all that and I doubt whether they were able to place things somewhere and see them in their context and not only see the outside. And so was and is it with books. How can students be taught something serious if it is not put into a framework?

This was as far as the French class went. The Dutch class was of course easier, concerning literature at least, as we were part of that same culture we were going to read about… Although, Flemish students do not only read Flemish books. Fortunately… I say fortunately because there is not a lot of greatness in the Flemish part of Dutch language literature. As we have long been dominated in Belgium by the French-speaking (and no hard feelings here, because I find that that problem drags itself on too long) one of the first real prose works was Hendrik Conscience’s Lion of Flanders (1838) (probably unknown by everyone who does not speak Dutch, or even is aware of the Flemish existing, if there is a case for that). After that a lot of other works, by other writers have been published, but I have the impression we never got out of the ‘poor little Flemish oppressed person’-mode. Not at least for most of the 19th century. Novels were about poor farmers, the Flemish cause (in true 19th century style), the Germanic ideal (as featured in Wagner’s operas and the Germans’ return to the supernatural and the old culture of fairies and magic). After WWII there was of course the trauma of collaboration, colonisation and the blacks that were murdered in the Belgian Congo. On the Dutch side, there was a lot more to be read, but of course, the Netherlands are not Flanders and so the East Indies is a new subject for a Flemish teenager. I savoured it through Couperus and Multatuli, but I don’t know if anyone else was really interested in it… It is striking how different the world perception of those two countries is in the 19th century: the Dutch are occupied with the bourgeois part of society that lives in the cities (in true English and German style), while the Flemish are occupied with the poor farmer who needs to fight against society to be allowed to live… A vast difference. When Hardy was writing about his sad characters, Zola in France was doing the same, Emants was doing that as well in the Netherlands and 20 years after, Buysse wrote a play about a poor family of farmers that was laughed at by French-speaking land-owners (there are the Walloons, or nasty French-speaking Flemish again)… In the 90s, Claus still wrote about the trauma of collaboration during WWII in a style worse than death… I once tried one book of his, after one of Saramago’s… With every Nobel Prize impending shortlist the Flemish made themselves strong about Claus being in the running. It of course never happened and it will never happen because the man is dead by ‘euthanasia’ or helped suicide because he did not want to end up totally senile after having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although he is dead and one should never speak ill of the dead, I would have considered it an insult for every writer who has won the Nobel Prize if he had been awarded it. Because his style is absolutely beyond all imagination. If he had been part of a bigger market, he would not have been awarded the right to publish… The contrast was heaven-wide with Saramago's book... The height of Flemish literature in the 90s was a contraption of Tom Lanoye, a reworking and 'translation' of the kings’ dramas of Shakespeare (as if those masterpieces need reworking). A twelve hour long (true!!) piece of theatre, that was put on stage during one whole day (with several breaks I hope and suppose) and where prince Edward (which number I cannot recall) every five minutes says ‘fucking’. This is no joke. We read an excerpt in class of it. When the teacher asked us what we thought of it, she fortunately picked me. I said I was mortified, Shakespeare revolved in his grave (we were just reading or had just read Romeo and Juliet in the English class). She sadly thought it was brilliant… Mr Lanoye clearly did not fathom English culture and certainly not Elizabethan culture for that matter. Shakespeare might have invented the word ‘ass’, but the word ‘fuck’ was certainly not used to put in between words every five seconds! But there were other authors, Flemish ones, that were not so bad: Louis Paul Boon, for example, I enjoyed reading. He was mostly concerned with social issues, being a communist, but wrote in true sixties style: with his own spelling and sometimes in patchwork format. He wrote about the vile side of society, but with style. Unlike the sad dwelling on the past of Claus, he was able to capture the attention of the reader for repulsive acts of incest, murder, paedophilia, voyeurism and social deterioration. He went inside the minds of people like that and found out why they did it and how those acts shaped the rest of the lives of the others who were involved in them, he did not dwell on the thing that happened itself… Willem Elschot is another of the ones who made it with absurd stories of people in the 20s and 30s who want to get somewhere but somehow can’t because of their own weaknesses. In a style that is easy to read and imaginative alike.

The English class was altogether different from the time we were 17… Before we were reduced to read little texts or dialogues and make endless exercises on the tenses. But all that changed when we ended up in the one-before-last year of secondary school. All of a sudden the textbook was interesting: articles about phobias and their background, English society, sleep (REM and non-REM), sleeping positions, statistics on education, short-stories… But foremost we had a teacher who knew what she talked about when she taught us books and poetry (because she was also our Dutch teacher at that time): a woman named Vanh. . If she ever recognises herself here, she will be pleased to see that my English has dramatically improved (partly due to my husband), that she was the one who at last featured a good book list for English, and that it was her who consequently triggered my love for books. Everything was on that list: Agatha Christie (all!), Hardy, Orwell, Dickens (all or nearly), Wilde, Eliot, Brontë (Charlotte, Emily and Anne). You name it, it was on it. The year after, we had to read all the same book: Huxley’s Brave New World. My conclusion out of the contrast between the booklists for French and English is that there is mainly one reason why only certain books are taught and why there exist only certain lists: because, like you and me, the teacher has a taste, and the teacher has a level, the teacher has to read the books that are on the list, and foremost the teacher cannot afford to be put right by a smarter student. The impressive booklist we got for English that year, which counted at least three pages with codes of difficulty on it and the number of pages (in contrast with the French, one or two in big print) implies a teacher who likes to read, enjoys it, and feels confident enough to get challenged by her own students. I in the end stayed modest and took as my first book A Christmas Carol by Dickens, which appealed but might have been a little difficult to capture Dickens’ true style. Anyway, my second off that list was Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray which did appeal thoroughly to me (although during my exam I said that the book was mainly about idleness, meaning vanity, but idleness sounded the same as the Dutch word ijdel, years after I realised why my teacher smiled when I said that word… ), my third was Greene's Mr Fischer or the Bomb Party. My parents were sensible enough to give me Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and the good impression lasted. ‘Hey, I can understand this’, rather than the French ‘ugh’. I graduated from secondary school in 2000 and then I went on to study Germanic Languages, Dutch and German (no English as I wasn’t confident enough). German books went down well (one of the most cultured peoples in Europe), but sadly I wasn’t able to continue my studies due to personal problems. I had a disgust for reading for a while because of the overload in university, but in 2005 I picked up Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo in the original French (!) version. I have loved him ever since and in the meantime have finished his trilogy of the musketeers: The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years Later and The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I cannot see how it is possible that an author like that, who is not terribly difficult - unlike Hugo I admit (whom I have tried and successfully finished his fantastic masterpiece Les Misérables) – was not on any booklist. Admittedly, his books are long. But is it not more important to leave people the choice than to thrust things they do not like upon them? In all those four years I did not finish one book for school for French off those lists, with the one exception stated above. I just could not spend my time on them. If they had allowed me Dumas, it would certainly have tickled my fancy. All three English books I finished and read more in my spare time. But of course, the teacher should be prepared to spend his time on those books. Unlike the English teacher Vanh. , the French teachers were apparently not so keen on reading great authors. Hugo, I can imagine, is too difficult, but still for the French speaking teenagers there could be something in that. Dumas is totally not difficult. I could read him before I went to uni in 2000 and I was bad at French. I started on Monte Cristo, but then my courses started and I was obliged to quit because there were other books to read. Why not allow students funny things by Fontaine, or even excerpts from Dumas? Perrault? In stead of dwelling on anorexia and rape? The life of a teenager is depressing enough without being made aware of other people’s problems as well… But all those books were thin ones… Not for nothing I expect?

So in order to feature, like Janssen says, other cultures, it is essential that teachers are interested in other cultures and their texts. It is totally useless to have some Chinese students, Moroccan students, Turkish students and so forth, in a class and a teacher teaching them texts that are an inherent part of their culture, with the students knowing the surrounding culture better than the teacher… Another possibility is of course to have the students teach the other students, but then we are reduced to the cultures present in the school or class and students are no teachers. In Brussels such presentation by students could be ok because of the variety of nationalities, but I doubt whether in other areas we would not be largely reduced to Flemish texts. Texts, as Janssen says, are part of a culture and as such that culture must be understood in order to teach those texts. It is totally useless to teach Buddhist texts by someone who doesn’t have a clue. For the English, just think about everything that has been written about Victorian literature. That is only about one part of English literature. If the English were to understand everything straight away because they are ultimately of the same basic culture as the English 200 years ago, all that shouldn’t have been written. Yet it is, so there is something to understand. What is the chance that someone of a foreign culture will understand Victorian literature to the full if no explanation is given? It is totally useless for that matter to have literature taught by someone who doesn’t have a clue, or even worse, by someone who thrusts his own (ghastly) taste upon his students. The list of Vanh. might have been canonic, but at least there was everything from Austen to the twentieth century on there. What was sure was that it was good, whatever you chose. As such, she accomplished her task as a teacher: to know, to offer and hopefully to convince. The French teachers might have known, but certainly did not offer and they did not convince me. I was convinced by Dumas in 2005. The German teacher did her best, even with the low level she reached in four years, two of which with one hour a week and the two last with three hours a week (only because I was in the Modern Languages section). We read one book with her, which was equally bad as the French one and I couldn’t be arsed to read it. As I was a good student with straight 10s (out of 10) all the time, or at least 9s, I could afford what I did: to refuse to answer the questions for homework and get 1 out of 20 for my opinion that was the only thing I really had written myself. I copied the rest from my friend, like two other classmates. With the difference of course that I had a reason not to do that homework: I could read Goethe and was not going to be coerced into reading a book I did not like about a poor handicapped boy. I told her straight in my opinion. I offered to make whichever punishment she wanted to inflict upon my friend myself. She took my point, punished the others for their laziness and acquitted my friend who only supplied her homework to copy by me (entirely) because I wanted to have something to give the teacher. She and I knew that I could afford to have the marks of my next test halved. The others had been lazy. During the next great summer holidays, I read Goethe’s Leiden des Jungen Werthers and no problem. Absolutely beautiful writing. Too difficult for a first book for the rest. My teacher knew that as well and was aware of what I and my friend could read and could see my point and why I did not want to read the book she supplied. I accepted the 1 out of 20 and had still great marks with the next report…
So, what needs to happen in order to have our children read more and better? To link political/societal history, art history and music in a class of maybe indeed ‘world-education’, but taught by someone who knows his stuff. If then, the language teachers would do one project a year about one book and its different facets, we might get somewhere. Allusions can be addressed, additional texts or excerpts can be read (if not too difficult), style in itself can be addressed, and foremost, the greater themes linked with society and morals could be looked at. As such the students would get offered a way of reading and would not be left to their own fantasy. Foreign texts (not part of the studied language subjects) could be taught In the mother tongue, in maybe a separate class, but also by a properly trained teacher. For Chinese books, it is interesting to look for example at Chinese society, history (Maoist revolution, the cultural revolution) and its effects now. For Scandinavian books it is interesting to look at the Swedish oppression of Norway, the fascist regimes in WWII, their way of life, their belief in trolls. There seems to be a very strange quietness or openness/vastness in all their books. Why? Offer the students a way of understanding literature and they will be able to link what was taught to them with other arts and architecture. The vast side of early romanticism features in Friedrich’s German paintings and Doré’s engravings. The early historic novel like Scott’s Ivanhoe is not limited to literature, but that principle also features in neo-gothic architecture of prisons and town halls like Manchester's. The realism of Dickens features in paintings of the time. The links are endless, and all that came out of and influenced politicians' choices. The philosophy of Enlightenment influenced the French Revolution, which in turn, brought on the Romantic movement. If that were taught in schools, savouring art and history would be much easier for students, also in the future, but for this concept we need teachers who are prepared to study and not only to teach. And schools must be prepared to offer those teachers and their students the proper material.

The article from De Standaard was faithfully translated from this link:

Saturday, 21 March 2009

A review of the Belgian Newspaper De Standaard on Tess that just made its debut on national television

They are not pleased, to say the least…

'Speaking of failure! Tess of the d’Urbervilles may well be a beautiful novel by Thomas Hardy, and the BBC may well have a good reputation for costume drama, in this case the two did not find each other. The first episode of this four part series was the weakest we have ever seen in the genre.

Tess is the story of a fallen woman. Gemma Arterton was reasonable in her role, but not more than that.

The script of David Nicholls that told the story in its big lines, allowed little psychological depth. Hans Matheson as the villainous Alec could not force himself to the foreground either. Both characters excelled in stereotypical mimics.

It is surprising how the BBC sometimes succeeds in digging out a refined result from the dusty attics of the costume drama tradition, like in their recent series Cranford, and how sometimes they succeed in making it ever so bland.

Tess showed the pastoral landscape of Wessex, with green hills and white maidens, but had us never savour the dust. Even the mud was photogenic. For an adaptation of a naturalist novel that is dubious.

We had to figure out the tragedy of Tess, who gives birth to the child of a castle squire, from one sad weeping fit with her mother. The camera films all from a safe distance, without really plunging into the characters. Only the feast-scene with the workers seemed to bring a little more reality, but that was all past in one breath.

The lowest point was the scene of rape. Not that it should have been (more) realistic, but there happened something which was not going to be easily symbolised with a little floating mist. Then the scene with the strawberry prior to that (Tess bites into a strawberry hanging from the hand of Alec, a sexual metaphor) was of a higher level.

The latter is called ‘poetic adaptation’. Television, in the last twenty years, has moved on, and Nicholls could have done more with Tess (and soon with The Return of the Native). (vbp)

Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Each Tuesday night on Eén at 8.40. Number of viewers: 793 160.' (where a good show as the news fetches about 1 million).

De Standaard gave a score of only 3/10…

I do think that the journalist of De Standaard was off the mark when he took the scene with the strawberry as an example of a higher level of filming. It is even sadder, as that scene was in the book and so the writer stole it from the original. With the rest, and there I do agree with the journalist, Nicholls did not know what to do. BBC, you can do better.

(The article was faithfully translated from the website of De Standaard and can still be found there today.)

Monday, 9 March 2009

The Treatment of Bertha Rochester in a True Contemporary Context

People always seem to land in the same position when it comes to interpreting Rochester’s treatment of his wife. Readers of Jane Eyre seem to be biased towards Rochester treating Bertha well, in comparison to the care that was available then, because they presume that care for the mentally ill was the same all through the past up until the invention of medication and modern ways of dealing with psychiatric patients. They seem to think that Bethlem, as it was from the 1800s to the 1830s like Norris described it, was the standard all through the 19th century or that psychiatric patients were not able to be treated, or kept calm at least, without medication (which is of course available now), and so had to be restrained or confined. Yet there have been a number of asylums like the York Retreat that professed ‘non-restraint’ and ‘moral treatment’. Did they never confine or mechanically restrain people? Was this all a sham, as some professors and people in the field claim, or was it serious? And what with really violent people? I will attempt to throw a glance at what were the practices of non-restraint, not only the theory, but what actually went on in the asylums where that was professed.

Firstly it needs to be said that the conditions in which mad people were kept in the early 1900s are not at all the same as the conditions in the 1840s when Jane Eyre was written and to what its initial public was obviously used to hearing (because issues got debated in the press) (Roberts). Roberts writes, on his site dedicated to care for the mentally ill and part of the University of Middlesex, about the 19th century in general: ‘The early period of state asylums was custodial, out of it developed a period of therapeutic optimism that reached its height in the 1840s, and declined into therapeutic pessimism in the second half of the nineteenth century.’ It seems that there was a high in the 1840s of therapeutic optimism, so what did that mean? Roberts writes: ‘The optimistic period in the history of asylums runs from about 1830 to around 1860. It was at its height in the 1840s. Asylums built under the 1808 and 1828 County Asylums Act tended to be left to the management of doctors. As the theories and techniques of managing lunatics in asylums developed, so did the belief that this asylum treatment itself was the correct, scientific way to cure lunacy.’ The only way was up, as it seems. What’s more is that the period 1830s to the 1840s is particularly important to Brontë and her opinions as that was the time of her teenage years in which opinions are formed. It is especially acknowledged in research concerning political participation. (J. Gimpel, J. Lay, J. Schuknecht, Cultivating Democracy). Issues that were debated in the prss must then certainly have found their to Brontë and her perception of lunacy and its proper treatment. About therapeutic pessimism, Roberts writes: ‘The pessimistic period in asylum history developed during the second half of the nineteenth century. Medical theory was strongly influenced by social darwinist beliefs that insanity is the end product of an incurable degenerative disease carried in the victim's inherited biology, and the experience of asylums, and reanalysis of their statistics, undermined the earlier beliefs in their therapeutic value. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the pessimistic period in asylum history ran gently into a backwater period. Most progress in mental health policy took place outside the asylums, in specialist hospitals like the Maudsley, or in outpatient departments, and the asylums became the quiet back wards where chronic patients live.’ During the second half of the 19th century social darwinism had taken over. Degeneration was a natural social process and intervening in it (by treating patients in an attempt to cure them f.i.) harms the natural process and is ultimately harmful to society (Roberts). Thus, from an enlightened time of treating the mentally ill, asylum care went backwards, back to the days before treatment. Scientific research in the psychiatric field continued but only in very restricted circles. The reform of humane treatment did not last also partly due to the problem of overcrowding (University of Alabama) as more and more people were admitted to asylums because they were deemed mentally ill (Roberts). Peace could no longer be maintained, keepers were overstretched and as a result reduced to confining patients again. (University of Alabama)

It is obvious that something went on from the end of the 18th century to about the middle of the 19th, this in connection with the Enlightenment which brought a new way of thinking (Edginton). Particularly the case of King George III (of England) who was mad himself, raised awareness for the insane (Roberts), as people did not want to picture their beloved king in a straightjacket. The first to start a more humane approach to asylum care were the Quakers, led by Tuke, who founded the York Retreat in 1796. They decided to found an asylum after the death of one of their members in the conventional York Asylum (Bewley for RCPsych) and speedily took it over by force (Roberts). Bewley writes about their approach: ‘The views of the original promoters of this establishment shed some light on the psychological, moral and medical treatment available to the mentally ill at that time. Although they were aware that abuses existed in many asylums, they expected that there would be people from whose practice they might learn and by whose instructions they might be guided in the main principles of their moral and medical treatment. The system at that time generally adopted relied on the principle of fear to govern the insane. The practical consequence deduced from this was that attendants should initially relate to patients with an appearance of austerity and perhaps the display of personal strength; in some cases of violent excitement, force would be the most suitable method of control. At the beginning the Retreat assented to the general correctness of these views and although they were modified by the good sense and feeling of the management committee, they were acted upon to an extent that we can hardly contemplate without surprise today.’ In other words, the Quakers acknowledged that the mentally ill which they wanted to care for, were usually governed by fear (of their keepers) and their initial approach should be similar. Yet, they moved towards a more humane treatment by modifying the rules. So we can conclude that they did not from one moment to another remove all restraint and hoped for the best, which would be very unrealistic indeed. Beside that, there was the problem for the Quakers that they were the first in England, and that they had to make their own policy and philosophy. On top of that they did not have experience and needed to learn, but renew at the same time. So the likelihood of restraints being removed at once without regard for side-issues is very small indeed and could be a romantic view of it. However, the method of non-restraint when it was finally established should not be taken lightly as it still works today (not least in the York Retreat itself).

Further on in the same article Bewley writes about treatments they used in order to calm people. It shouldn’t be thought that their only ‘therapies’ consisted in cleanliness, order, useful occupation, religious service and education. They did use calming medication (as laudanum), although that was largely limited to agreeable patients before the invention of the injection needle, and they used baths cold and hot. A case note from Thomas Prichard, who managed Northampton Lunatic Asylum from 1838, describes the case of a 31 year old railroad labourer who attacked his wife, bit her and was confined in a pauper asylum and was transferred to Northampton having worn a straightjacket for a week prior to that. Prichard deemed ‘restraint unnecessary’ and advised to have the man treated with ‘digitalis, antimony tartrate and calomel’. He also had to be kept quiet and cool, and should get a ‘low diet’. Digitalis is now used against heart failure and problems with heart rhythm, but due to its toxicity, it causes, in too high doses, ‘nausea, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhea, abdominal pain, wild hallucinations, delirium, and severe headache’ (Lacassie). Admittedly it can cause death, but provided the fact that its medicinal effectiveness was already addressed in 1785 by Erasmus Darwin and William Withering (College of Physicians, An Account of the Successful Use of Foxglove in Some Dropsies and in Pulmonary Consumption, London, 1785), it can be considered that doctors knew which doses were lethal and how much one should give to the patient in order to purge, which was a common practice, and which no doubt had a calming effect (only down to the lack of energy). Antimony tartrate or Antimonium Tartaricum is a substance still used in Homeopathy today (Séror). It causes nausea, headaches, drowsiness, weakness of circulation and is now used for things as bronchitis, but was then used in order to relieve certain symptoms of insanity. (Talcott, Compendium Mental Diseases and their Modern Treatment, 1901). Calomel or mercury chloride was a laxative, used for the same purpose as digitalis. Although it has now been phased out of use because of its toxic nature, back then it was widely used for medicinal purposes, also for pneumonia (University of Alabama). Whatever may have been the merits of the medication the railroad worker admitted to Northampton got, two days after his admission and necessarily the application of his medication, he asked to work in the garden and did that for more than an hour. By the 13th of August 1838, a mere twelve days after his admission on the 1st of that month, he worked in the garden every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. The same man was discharged ‘recovered’ 2 months after admission. The same man had, as stated above, bitten his wife, but also escaped confinement, knocked down his keeper, scaled two high walls and then banged his head against a bridge. (Thomas Prichard and the non-restraint movement at the Northhampton Asylum, C. Haw and G. Yorston for the Psychiatric Bulletin, 2004). It needs to be asked of course how long the man was ‘recovered’ and how long it was before he was back into care, but by restraining him there would probably have been no way he would ever have ‘recovered’.

The same article examined the records of the first 50 cases brought to the asylum. 70% of patients brought in had had a history of violence towards others and 22% had harmed themselves or attempted suicide. 18% of patients had been restrained in a previous institution (it needs to be noted that only 74% of patients came from a ‘previous institution’, namely workhouse or other asylum (68%), infirmary (4%) or gaol (jail) (2%) and that 10% was not indicated and 6% came from home) and 16% was brought to Northampton in restraints. Only In 14% of cases restraints were taken off on admission while 8% over all was temporarily restrained in the asylum. Seen that 70% had a history of violence it is remarkable that only 30% was violent in Northampton and that only 8% was temporarily restrained there (Haw and Yorston). Thomas Prichard said that his system was one ‘of kind and preventative treatment, in which all excitement is as much as possible avoided, and no care omitted’ (Northampton Record Office, 1840). It is imaginable that the more excitement provided, the more risk there is that the patient will get violent. However it needs to be noted that both researchers remarked that it is possible that not all restraint was recorded. But even then there is more than a 50% gap between the patients of those 50 that were restrained before and the people of those 50% that were restrained in Northampton. It seems highly unlikely that in more than 50% of cases the restraint would not have been recorded, while in other cases that was done.

Prichard noted another ‘remarkable’ case, even for his conception:

A servant, 31 years of age, was admitted to Northampton on the 30th of August 1838 with ulcers in the lumbar region, legs and ankles because of being strapped to a bed. After her first attack of insanity she was sent to the local infirmary where they had treated her with bleeding and blisters, but that had not made anything better. She destroyed her clothes. Prichard decided to take restraints away and noted: ‘continued in the state about a week during which time she was very bad destroying her bed continuously, tearing clothes to pieces and talking in a most incoherent manner to herself. [She was] treated with both shower baths and laxatives and bathing the head, under this other improved when tonic mixture was given and she rapidly recovered her reason.’ In February 1839, he wrote on the same case, that ‘it had been a very interesting [one]’ and that she had filled the vacant post of a nurse ‘for the last two weeks’ (!). In March 1839 he discharged her and hired her as a nurse!

Of course not all things went like that. Despite the non-restraint policy, naturally restraint was sometimes necessary. But it was kept to a definite minimum. For controlling aggressive behaviour the man used solitary confinement, low rations and shower baths, however in rare cases he did use restraint. (Robinson, 1859).

Another great man in the movement of non-restraint was John Conolly. In her article John Conolly and the treatment of mental illness in early Victorian England, Haw discusses the possible medication Victorian psychiatrists had at their disposal. It needs to be acknowledged that we are not considering true ‘psychiatric’ medication that tackles the disorders themselves, because those drugs like anti-depressants were 20th century inventions. Also the principles of medicine were totally different at the time. Haw writes: ‘Patients were frequently subjected to a wide variety of drastic purgatives and emetics, such as croton oil, castor oil, extract of rhubarb and aloes (Esquirol, 1845). Constipation was commonly believed to exacerbate insanity, hence alienists were preoccupied with the state of their patients’ bowels and the desirability of producing daily bowel actions (Esquirol, 1845; Rush, 1812).’ Haw argues, like I thought, that ‘dehydration and electrolyte inbalances might have exhausted an excited schizophrenic or manic patient into a state of temporary quietness and thus appear to have alleviated their condition.’ But Conolly was more cautious and did not approve of ‘drastic purgation’. Beside purgation that was considered ‘wholesome’, there were of course also sedatives that could be used: opiates like morphia salts, hyoscyamine, although the latter is extremely poisonous, but it would not be the first extremely toxic medication… Those sedatives were used to make patients sleep when they were excited (Haw). Surprisingly, or maybe not so, Conolly preferred the latter (Haw), but still found ‘a copious draught of cold water often a better sedative than any medicine’ (Report of the Resident Physician at the Hanwell Asylum, 1840). She does conclude that toxic drugs were often used in psychiatry then, but Conolly did have the wariness to remark that antimony and digitalis seemed ‘to lower the strength of the lunatic beyond expectation, but without significant improvement in the mental state (Report, 1840).

Drugs were of course not the only means of treatment. There were a number of other methods that were applied like bleeding, blisters, calming in general, the whirling chair, warm baths and giant rocking horses in the courtyard. Because physicians were obsessed with physical causes of mental illness, they bled certain areas that were deemed the cause of mental discomfort. Blisters, moxas (burns caused by a Japanese burning herb) and setons (the application of a thread through a fold of skin) were applied with the aim of counter-irritation (Haw), Conolly did use blisters occasionally, but never moxas or setons (Haw). Depression was thought to result from a debility in the gastric system and so small blisters and leeches were applied to the epigastrium and a bland diet was prescribed (Haw). Furthermore Conolly and Esquirol asserted that madness was the result of an over-excited brain and they believed that shaving the head and applying a paste containing antimony or cold packs (bladders with powdered ice) was wholesome. Shower baths were also deemed calming and Conolly reported that patients were calm for days or even months after one (Haw). Morison used the douche, but Conolly did not like it as it was too much of a punishment (Haw). While he disapproved of the whirling chair which rotated at high speed so as to shock people out of their delusions, Conolly calmed patients down with warm baths in order to soothe them to sleep. Equally sleep-inducing were supposed to be the giant rocking horses for the patients in the courtyards on which several patients at the time could take place. (Haw)

When Conolly visited the Lincoln Asylum in 1839, where non-restraint was already practiced by Hill, he decided to do away with all restraint in Hanwell as well and managed that in three months (Haw). However, the ideal situation that was present in Lincoln with its mere 150 patients, was not there in Hanwell as that was an asylum with 800 inmates. To achieve his goal he increased the number of keepers from 1 per 25 patients to 1 for 18 patients and increased the wages to £25 a year. (Haw)

In order to calm patients down, Conolly decided on seclusion which would remove all irritating sources from an excited brain. To prevent misuse by the attendants he ordered them to meticulously record any use of the padded rooms, which he had specially constructed, and they at all times had to inform a member of the medical staff (Haw). He noted about the absence of restraint that ‘the wards are less noisy, frantic behaviour and manic paroxysms are less frequent, patients are more cheerful and cleaner.’ (Conolly, reprinted 1973)

There were of course patients who were not correctible in their violence or destructiveness. Women who were continually destroying their clothes, he did not restrain, however, but just supplied them with stronger dresses and a leather belt with a lock (Haw). For epileptic patients that were fastened to their beds at night for fear of fits - he did not continue practicing that because he found it unsafe - he made their beds lower and padded the rooms (Haw). But it did not stop with non-restraint and moral management. He improved the wards’ hygiene, lighting and heating in winter. He kept the patients equally hygienic and warm. The food was of better quality and of a bigger amount. Employment was provided. Even leisure activities were supplied in the form of dances, dinners, tea parties and seasonal activities (on a grand scale, for several hundreds of patients!). He also trained the nurses in order to improve their care to his patients and ended up (after some doubt on their part) with a loyal workforce (Haw). Nevertheless, even he could not fail to see that a large number of patients never recovered: ‘the consequences [of non-restraint] may not be that a much greater number of perfect recoveries are effected, for recovery is impossible in a majority of cases of insanity, but the actual number of the insane thus kept in the living and intellectual world, and enjoying a great share of happiness, is immensely increased.’ In the end Conolly was saddled with a lot of chronic patients that indeed did not recover. Though Haw does comment on the ‘occupational therapy’ being certainly in a modern view exploiting, she does put it in its Victorian context of literal ‘usefulness’. She concludes further: ‘We can usefully apply Conolly’s healthy scepticism over physical and drug remedies for mental illness to today’s treatments, although we now have the benefit of the double-blind technique by which to judge a treatment’s efficacy.’

It should also be mentioned that animals were used in a therapeutic way! The first to introduce them was Tuke (again). By 1813 be had put in his airing courts rabbits, hawks, poultry and seagulls (although it is not clear what the rabbits actually thought about that). Conolly had ‘various tame animals’ in his wards and ducks and ‘other aquatic fowl’ in his yards by 1847. In Bethlem, by 1860 they had birds, cats, canaries, squirrels and greyhounds. (Allderidge)

In connection with non-restraint, there was the moral management-approach which tried to ‘increase the conscience and will of patients and thus to combat insanity by increasing self-control’ (Haw). In his article The Well-Ordered Body: The Quest for Sanity through nineteenth-century Asylum Architecture, Edginton makes a link between the philosophy of the day concerning curing insanity and the architecture of the asylums that had to provide a space for it, as Tuke said it. Moral management could not be applied without a place that allowed such things as Classification, Routine, Discipline and Contact with the Landscape, without which moral management was non-existent. Classification, Routine and Discipline were needed to make a copy of the normal and natural (the sane) in order to put the abnormal (the insane) in it. The cheerful, agreeable aspect, the wholesomeness of the site, the sense of space, the temperature and the comfort would be able to pass from the outside, where it was sensed, to the inside (the mind). Thus a well-ordered asylum would produce well-ordered minds (Edginton). Patients were classified according to class, gender, behaviour, type of insanity: ‘Those who are violent, require to be separated from the more tranquil, and to be prevented, by some means, from offensive conduct, towards their fellow sufferers. Hence, the patients are arranged according to classes, as much as may be, according to the degree in which they approach rational or orderly conduct.’ (Tuke, Practical Hints on the Construction and Economy of Pauper Lunatic Asylums, W. Alexander, 1815). That is as far as the importance of classification goes. The healing aspects of nature, though, were present in the construction of the places themselves: great window space, verandas, large day rooms, gardens, sports facilities as bowls, tennis and cricket and a farm. Edginton remarked that from all windows one had a view of the landscape/nature. Even when there were walls around the airing courts, the places where the windows were were elevated enough so as to look over them. Windows were cleverly constructed so people would not jump out of them: they only opened 6 inches top and bottom, they consisted out of little panes and they were four feet from the floor. They were always directed south and they had an uninterrupted view of the landscape. The asylums did not have fences, but instead a ditch with a wall on the other side so the lunatics could not escape (a so-called ha-ha), but did have an uninterrupted view of the landscape and did not feel ‘locked in’ by a fence or wall. (Sennett) That design was an effect of the ways people wanted to cure insanity and it was apparent in the design of lunatic asylums by the 1840s. While Wakefield (1818) and Cornwall (1820) were built like the asylums installed in buildings that were not purpose-built (prisons or similar buildings like convents) with a few alterations as to view and space, by the 1880s asylums were built according to gaiety (Edginton, a view also shared by Roberts and Rutherford who examined the influence of Moorfields Bethlem built in 1815 with a corridor plan ending in two pavilions). The concept of moral management had first been identified in the Retreat of Tuke: the realisation of the humanity of the insane or their incompleteness as rational individuals; the need for non-medical or the psychological aspects of treatment; the treatment of the insane as children and the asylum organisation as a family; the use of nature as a means of calming insanity. (Edginton) Thus, together with the classification, routine and discipline provided, the design of the asylum itself became a therapy to make the insane sane. (Edginton)

The Audit of Violence of the National Healthcare Commission between 2003 and 2005 in the UK asked about violence on psychiatric wards. 50% of staff of all levels of 203 wards was questioned and for each ward there were 20 patients asked their opinion. The examined wards were mainly acute wards, but also included elderly, learning disability and secure wards. 35% of patients claimed that they were ‘winded up’ by staff or nurses. In the same audit, patients and visitors were asked what they felt ‘triggered’ violence on the ward. Amongst the most common were: substance misuse: the use of alcohol, illegal drugs, or withdrawal from them; staff: (low) staff levels, skills, experience, but also attitudes (patronising), over custodial, interaction with patients, nature or absence of intervention; space and over-crowding: bed numbers, ward/unit layout, proximity of other people, lack of privacy; medication and treatment: side effects, compliance, changes to regimen; frustration: lack of activities, noise levels, being away from family and friends, lack of visitors; smoking: lack of cigarettes, overcrowded smoking areas, annoyance about smoking behaviour of others; excessive noise: radios, shouting people, squeaking doors, ringing door bells, noises made by others late at night; intimidation by other patients; theft; temperature. It is obvious that the same problems existed in the asylums in the 19th century: patronising staff, not enough staff, too many people, lack of privacy, too much noise, squeaking doors, ringing bells etc… Although the medication and treatment should be left to one side as that is not comparable. If all these are kept to a minimum by the layout of the building, the organisation of the asylum, and the training of the staff, it seems totally plausible to me to be able to keep violence to a minimum. The question about what triggers violence is particularly important if we acknowledge that no patient (or visitor, because they were also asked) puts it down to themselves (or the patients). Of course, people are not aware of the fact that a squeaking door should not irritate you that much that you should become violent, but in eradicating the squeaking door one takes away the cause of the violence in the first place which would be a lot harder if one were to try to take away the irritation at once. Conolly and the others of the non-restraint movement tried to diminish causes of irritation so much by achieving quietness, kind nurses, and low numbers of patients, that it can indeed become credible that non-restraint did work without medication. That is at least what the audit was partly concerned with as they did not ask the staff what triggered the violence but the patients and visitors.

Having seen the types of treatment doctors used in an attempt to cure and calm patients, and having seen the non-restraint policy, we should consider Bertha’s position. Non-restraint and moral management were not a hoax as it seems. It can be said that it is written about seriously in psychiatric magazines, and not least the Royal College of Psychiatrists does not see it as a hoax, but as a system that worked though not cured. Although we can make objections to some of its methods, we should acknowledge, in this context, that that was the best they could do with the knowledge and medication available to them. If there was such an emphasis on healthy wards, kind attendants and non-restraint (which apparently did work due to organisation and diminishing of the causes of irritation), even if it did not cure, is it then to be considered that Rochester did the best he could in confining his wife in the half dark for 10 years, 24 hours a day, and restraining her with a rope under the eyes of Wood, Briggs, Mason and Jane? In my view the non-restraint asylums were definitely better than the ones criticised by the Commisioners and Bethlem which chained people to the floor, although that was largely over by the time Brontë wrote Jane Eyre. Restraint in Bethlem had largely been abolished in the 1840s and was totally abandoned in the 1850s (source: Bethlem itself). What is better? To sit 24 hours a day in the same place with nothing to occupy you and maybe still have blisters applied, be leeched and even beaten, or to occasionally be made calm by (from a modern point of view unorthodox) treatment after which you sleep, become (temporarily) better and can get usefully occupied? Even from a modern point of view the non-restraint policy is just that slight bit better than the conventional way of handling lunatics, because it at least supplied them freedom. In the 19th century, from 1830 on, it was the best that was possible. Harriet Martineau’s article in The Lancet of June 1834 can be considered as a little too romantic in feel, but not as untrue. In that context it is obvious that Rochester did not care. He paid Grace Poole about the tenfold of Conolly’s attendants that were very well paid, in order to keep his wife a secret, not to give her good care.

The intriguing question still remains, however, which was the actual ‘retreat’ Brontë based the name ‘Grimsby Retreat’ on. The Guardian and the Rowntree organisation both claim it is the York Retreat, and Stanford University puts the same on its fact sheet for Jane Eyre and moral madness, basing its factsheet on Showalter (1985) and Sutherland (1997). Yet, there was another non-restraint asylum in Lincoln, the capital of Lincolnshire, the same county as Grimsby is in and 34 miles from there.


Thomas Bewley, Madness to Mental Illness, A History of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2008, a publication of the RCPsych

Camilla Haw & Graeme Yorston, Thomas Prichard and the Non-Restraint movement at the Northampton Asylum, 2004 for the Psychiatric Bulletin

Camilla Haw, John Conolly and the treatment of mental illness in early Victorian England, 1989 for the Psychiatric Bulletin

The National Audit of Violence, 2003-2005, Royal College of Psychiatrists and Healthcare Commission.

Barry Edginton, The Well-Ordered Body: The Quest for Sanity through nineteenth-century Asylum Architecture, 1993, for the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine and the European Society for the History of Psychiatry

Patricia H. Allderidge, A cat, surpassing in beauty, and other therapeutic animals, 1991, for the Psychiatric Bulletin

Selden Harris Talcott, Compendium Mental Diseases and their Modern Treatment, 1901

Factsheet Jane Eyre and Moral Madness, Stanford University

Andrew Roberts, Mental Health History Timeline, for Middlesex University

Thursday, 5 March 2009

On three of the BBC’s costume dramas and their genre: Jane Eyre 2006, Tess of the d’Urbervilles 2008 and Pride and Prejudice 1995

A new entry… This time considering the new costume drama coming on BBC in the Autumn of this year: Emma.

Apparently the same writer who wrote the screen plays for Brontë’s Jane Eyre would be in charge of Emma’s script. Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles the last Autumn rama BBC one broadcast. I had a long discussion about the first and wrote a long letter to the BBC about the last (but received no reply yet). It seems to me that even the writer of Jane Eyre in 2006 mistook Rochester’s character. Beside that, in the beginning he was more rude than abrupt. In costume dramas it is important to be aware of the fact that there is a balance between being abrupt and plain rude! Rochester is direct and commandeering, but not rude. A (Victorian) gentleman would have known how to behave and would never have been so direct as Stephens played him in Jane and Rochester’s first scene. Ciaran Hinds in his Rochester made that distinction very well, better than Stephens. He was able to be abrupt without being rude. Like Elizabeth Bennet tells Mr Darcy at the end of Pride and Prejudice when they talk about the past: ‘… my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not.’ Elizabeth’s behaviour towards Darcy in the beginning might indeed be called rather abrupt and not really positive, indeed intended to vex a little, but it is not rude. When the writer of Jane and Rochester’s second conversation in 2006 which starts with Rochester coming into the library and saying: ‘Come here,’ makes Rochester command Jane ‘sit’, and Pilot sits, it can be called funny, but it is not at all authentic! In Brontë’s original it even says in the beginning: ‘Let Miss Eyre be seated.’ A far cry from ‘sit’… Rochester, at that moment, is supposed to be alone, desolate, closed to any positive feeling (symbolised in his black horse Mesrour and the riding cloak). In that, he continues ‘as a statue would’ and does not take much notice of Jane, Mrs Fairfax or Adèle and in that is vexing to Jane as she is summoned but is not seemingly required somehow. Yet, he keeps up the form of a gentleman and softens every time. Ciaran Hinds managed that very well, and credit should be awarded to the writer for the dialogues, but the writer in 2006 made Rochester an arrogant rude man, not a somewhat unpleasant person like Jane calls him in 1997. Rochester should be charming, yet somewhat unpleasant. That is what he is and that is his charm: the duality between the arrogance and command and civility, particular to the Byronic hero
What really irritated me in the 2006 adaptation was the bed scene after the cancelled wedding. We discussed it on the forum and it was concluded that it was probably a mix of imagination on Jane’s part and what really happened, however after watching it again I cannot say that that is definitely the case as a memory triggered by the dragon fly is accurate. Jane would have imagined what happened on the bed, but Rochester would really have asked to go to France with him. That may be, and it is possible that that was intended, but it begs the question why the writer absolutely wanted to add that scene. Was it to please the public or was it to add another dimension to the story? For me it does not give an extra point of view. It does not reveal anything new that could not be revealed in another way. It only elaborated on the theme of Jane still being in love with Rochester. Of course, we need to note that the writer decided to end each episode with a cliff-hanger. So episode three ends with the wedding being cancelled and episode four, instead of opening with Rochester’s monologue or something in that sense, opens with Jane on the moors. Everything concerning what happened after the wedding is done in flashback, which could be right, but of course limits the view of the public as to what happened. I can’t consider this as a good decision on the writer’s part because it takes out a vital part of the book! Other than for example flashbacks about Lowood, Gateshead or even Morton, I don’t find a flashback of what happened after the cancelled wedding a good decision. A flashback on Lowood or Gateshead would be appropriate for me because those phases of Jane’s life belong to the ‘real past’, by which I mean: they either take place in the far past of Jane’s childhood or they belong to the phase before Rochester, which makes Jane an adult to some extent and changes her perception. In Morton, Jane still grows, but only in knowing what she wants and doing it, not in anything particular like knowledge, body or passion. She only needs to bring the three together. As most of Lowood and Gateshead are in the distant past of Jane’s childhood, and childhood memories are always coloured because our perception is not as a child what it is as an adult, it would be clear to viewers that the memories that haunt Jane about Lowood and Gateshead are coloured and important to her to some extent, but less important than what is shown in real time in the adaptation. A flashback is useful for additional information as it is short and adds something to the character itself in terms of perception (how the character thinks and what determines his/her actions), but as it is considered as thought of that particular character it does not serve as additional information about the character that the flashback features, only what that character is in the thoughts of another. Rochester’s monologue in Brontë’s original has not got the function of enlightening the reader about the situation or about Jane’s thinking, but has a crucial function in the reader’s perception of Rochester’s mindset and the opinion about him afterwards. If one tells that in a flashback prone to fantasy, it destroys the whole set-up of Brontë. In a sense the monologue can be seen as a monologue in Shakespeare, the last lament of someone who is already condemned or dying. After that the curtain comes down, and so does it on the scene of Rochester: he will be left by Jane. Telling that in a flashback is seriously reducing the dramatic effect of it. More appropriate might have been a flashback in Rochester’s mind about it, not in Jane’s mind. By putting it in Jane’s mind, the writer made the impression that Jane is still thinking about Rochester passionately while in the original Jane did not even allow herself to say she loved him. That feeling was featured in 1997, not in 2006. Admittedly one cannot control dreams, but this was a daydream. It can be ordered not to take place. Jane did think about Rochester still, even in the original, but with different feelings as proper sexual passion not allowed.
Putting the daydream in a bedroom context, even if that were down to imagination on Jane’s part which is not at all clear, confuses in my opinion the viewer and does not add. Of course it does comply with the modern viewer's desire for passion on the screen, but it is inappropriate if the times it plays in, the story and the function of that monologue are considered. The monologue was put into the BBC-version of ’83 with Timothy Dalton. Although it is extremely long and more appropriate for reading than for film or stage, it can be shortened, like in the version of A&E of 1997. Admittedly Rochester turns out quite violent there and says things that are not in the book and he takes Jane to the same tree where he proposed and asks her to say she doesn’t love him (classic!), but it highlights Rochester’s conviction of his own (bad) ways in a short space of time without explicit words. Jane tries to reason with him in the book, but doesn’t seem to get through. In 1997 Jane does not reason, but Rochester’s conduct speaks for itself and it must be clear to all viewers that no reasoning will ever get through at that moment. Jane does not reason in 2006, she voluntarily surrenders herself to his kisses. Jane also feels fear in 1997, like the viewers, at his violence. In the original, Jane does not feel fear for him because he is violent (or at least not that bad), but feels more fear for his dark side (and seducing powers that she refers to as standing between her and the sun as an eclipse). The 1997-version makes a very odd balance between Rochester’s lament, his vulnerability, force and dominance. The viewer who feels that he is a filthy liar sees him desperately trying to convince Jane to stay. How? By chucking her luggage over the balustrade and by stating that he wanted to go to prison for her (congratulations man, what a sacrifice). It is his total humiliation in a way. In the original the humiliation is not present so strongly, but when the curtain comes down, the reader feels a very odd pity and ‘serves you right’ sensation (a little the same as Jane who is torn between his need for help and her need for morality), which is also present in 1997, but not at all in 2006. In 1997 Jane tells him that she leaves for what they have, to keep that pure, and indeed that is what that feeling after the closing of the curtain is about: Rochester is no good, yet is pitiable, but pitiable like King Lear who brought his situation onto himself and cannot possibly be rewarded for his false views, not like Jane herself who is the real victim in the whole situation. In 1983 that feeling was certainly present, but there the monologue was put in in its entirety and turned out quite long. So shortening and enforcing is quite appropriate to awaken the same feelings. Reducing it to a bed-scene I find not only cheap, but also disregarding what that speech means to Rochester’s character. By making Jane lie on a bed with him and kiss him (which Jane did not allow herself in the original), the writer rather raised questions for modern viewers as to why Jane left him if she is then lying on her bed, alone, crying at her thoughts. Essentially it is clear to Jane what she has to do once she learns Rochester has a wife: leave him. There is no other way, because she will not be strong enough to stay there with him around. By making her cry on that bed in 2006, they made Jane a modern woman with modern morals who regrets leaving him. The original Jane would not have allowed herself to do so because it would have been improper to love a man who was married… This was discussed, again, in 1997 and the importance of marriage for her was emphasised when she says: ‘How can I lie with you if I know I am not your wife?’ Rochester answers that they can say she is just that abroad and who will know? Jane exclaims: ‘Me!’ and then goes on stating that that would eat away at her conscience until she would be no more than his mistress who he would resent being with. That is indeed what it is about: no marriage, no relationship. Although Jane finds it hard to leave she does so consequently. In 1997 the writer even made her reproach Rochester that he thought it was easy for her (necessarily Rochester implied that she was only out to get her hands on his money, which is truly low of him). The reproach of Jane is not in the original of course, but it expresses a feeling that the reader has when he reads Rochester’s speech: ‘why do you think you are the great victim in this? What about her? She thought she was going to marry today and just found out that was not the case and you dare to make yourself the victim?’ Making Jane cry on a bed does make a point as far as her sorrow is concerned, but it does not at all make Rochester what he should be. Much more to the point is 1997 Jane who stays stoic through the whole thing and has taken her decision, whatever he might say…

When watching Tess of the d’Urbervilles I decided to read along. Before they broadcasted the adaptation they made a documentary about Hardy’s work. It was a good documentary as far as the influence of Hardy’s life on his work was featured. Yet, Tess of the d’Urbervilles stands in the tradition of Naturalism: a peculiar genre that grew out of the Realism of Balzac and Dickens (to a certain extent), and which mainly focuses on the lives of normal people trying to struggle against their own nature. A nature that shapes society (exploitation), shapes religion (the church), laws and morals; all of which results in the worst endings: degradation, suicide, murder and death. None of this was mentioned and astonishingly enough, or not so, Tess was largely reduced to the tragic tale of a girl who was raped (however that is not explicitly stated by Hardy, although it can be argued). The nature-images were beautiful, that needs to be said, but sadly the way in which the machinery and the surroundings in the section after the leaving of Angel were portrayed, was not at all faithful to the original. It should be a phase of desolation, loneliness and desperation, where life is regulated by the pace of machinery/human nature. Like Milton’s hell (which Alec alludes to literally!). It is a desolate and cold situation similar in feeling as the fist meeting of Rochester and Jane in the cold in Jane Eyre. To make the mistake totally complete the writer decided to put Alec on a white horse! Admittedly it worked very well in the greyish décor and set, different than the section on the dairy farm (with sunny green hills and blue skies with white cows and colourful attire), but even then it is totally inappropriate to put Alec on a white horse as he is not the ‘lord and saviour’ on the white steed! He is the very person in the first place who is ultimately responsible for the failed marriage (although the mother also has a great role in the initial situation because she did not tell Tess about the possible dangers a gentleman could pose, of course out of a naïve wish/certainty to have her daughter marry Alec). By making Alec of a dark complexion, Hardy even made a statement, already before he made Alec do something bad. Dark characters were considered as bad and mysterious, they could better be avoided: Rochester (Jane Eyre), Alec (Tess of the d’Urbervilles), Brian de Bois-Guilbert (Ivanhoe). In a certain sense they were antitheses for the Dark Lady, already a stock character In Shakespeare where Lady MacBeth and Cleopatra will lead both their men to their downfall. Byron carried that theme further with his heroes and Brontë made her Byronic hero repent. Hardy made Alec do what he was meant to do in the Victorian mind: lead Tess to her downfall, and himself as well. Get Tess so far that she murders him and is hanged for it. Not that Hardy agrees with the law, but the end is naturalistically inevitable. Putting Alec on a white horse was totally out of context, both in a literary critical sense and a conventional sense. Even more ridiculous was the mistake of putting in a hymn that was only translated to English in 1953. The text of it worked very well indeed, but anachronism does not have a place in the costume drama genre.

The BBC realised that in 1995 when they filmed their famous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The lake scene which a TV critic on ITV recently said about: ‘Man steps out of lake and TV is never the same again,’ was actually planned to be a nude-scene, but Firth had a problem with it (according to the director). So someone suggested to have him wear shorts of some kind, but this was rejected on the mere ground that shorts were anachronistic because men did not wear underwear in the times of Austen (also not, by the way, in the times Jane Eyre plays). So instead they made Darcy dive into the water fully clothed which branded the man and its actor for ever as a sex-symbol (an image that still haunts Firth today). Nonetheless it highlights the concern in 1995 for absolute accuracy, which was not at all present in Jane Eyre 2006, where Rochester sleeps in breeches and an open shirt (a type of shirt that did not exist) and did not cover himself up when Jane was with him. The concern for accuracy in 1995, even in a literary critical context, was also seen in the very consequent portrayal of Darcy and Bingley. Because there was no real adequate description of either they had to make their own Bingley and Darcy and made them, as Austen intended, two opposites: one fair/light brown and one dark. Bingley on a white horse and Darcy on a black one. Although in the beginning of the original it is mentioned that Bingley rides over to Longbourn on a black horse it can be seen as a hint that he has some fault, which does not show in his person. Indeed, the man has one fault, worse for himself than his friends, but which will also affect Jane: he is too dependent on others’ judgment. In that, he is not an intentional ‘homme fatale’ or does not plot to bring Jane down, but will have the same effect, until Darcy confesses. In 1995 they made Darcy dark by analogy, I believe, to the works of the time like Ivanhoe which features the bad guy Brian de Bois-Guilbert as dark and Cedric the Saxon, the good guy, as fair like Ivanhoe himself. Furthermore, 1995’s Darcy through his pride brings Lydia into trouble, which he recognises himself. Elizabeth is portrayed maybe as a ‘femme fatale’ to a certain extent. She indeed brings Darcy to his downfall, but a downfall that is favourable and not fatal. In a sense ‘homme fatale’ and ‘femme fatale’ duel for supremacy over each other (and maybe themselves), a ‘duel’ that is also featured in the original of Austen: both need to acknowledge their own fault and need to consider the effect of their conduct on others by considering the other's behaviour; both need to be humbled by the other to be able to come together. So to a certain extent they each bring about the other’s downfall, though not in a negative way.

In the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice the writer also added scenes, but they were important and added to the story. They did not destroy anything Austen put in the original, nor did they raise any questions. The lake-scene seems to be part of a larger wash/baptism-motif the writer put in the adaptation (a theme that is also not alien to other works as Jane Eyre). The lake scene is not a mere excuse for sexual tension and does not stand alone. When Jane is ill at Netherfield and Darcy is slowly falling in love with Elizabeth, the latter’s mother comes to visit her daughter and gives a few vexing remarks about Darcy and his opinion on country people and life, but more importantly on gentlemanly behaviour and generosity. The scene after, we see Lizzy walk through the garden, see a Great Dane and play with it. At the same moment Darcy sits in his bath and his servant walks in with a jug of water to pour over him. At the moment Darcy steps out of his bath he walks to the window and watches Elizabeth playing with the dog. It is as if, just after the nasty remarks of Elizabeth’s mother, he wants to ‘wash off’ all the ‘sins’ so to say and has an urge to be more like the dog Elizabeth is playing with (a motif that also occurs in Jane Eyre with Pilot and which was largely known to a Victorian reading public by way of paintings of prince Albert and Victoria, the latter of whom was portrayed as his favourite dog Eos). The washing/baptism-motif reoccurs when Elizabeth has refused Darcy’s first proposal and he writes the letter. There again he looks outside the window and later washes himself. When Elizabeth is in Derbyshire and will visit Pemberley, we see Darcy fencing and then saying ‘I will conquer this.’ While Lizzy is being made aware by the housekeeper of his real character, and not the façade he puts up, partly probably because he is as shy as his sister (which is a good quality for a woman but not for a man, as portrayed in Bingley who is much more agreeable because of his lively manners), Darcy is returning home and approaching Pemberley and the lake, like Elizabeth at that same moment is in the process of approaching the real Fitzwilliam Darcy . At the same moment, the same second, that Elizabeth is admiring his portrait in the gallery with a more open mind to the man himself, Darcy is stripping off and swims in the lake. And when they finally meet each other on the lawn, totally unexpected, there is not only surprise, but also awkwardness, rebirth, and a totally different man as the music indicates when Lizzy looks at the painting. The same as in the original, yet even with a deeper meaning for Darcy himself. The revelation the reader gets in the original, both of Lizzy’s mistake and Darcy’s real character, is present for the viewer in that whole set-up. When we meet the sister Georgiana afterwards, it is suddenly clear what Darcy’s character is like for real, not what his façade is/was, Austen’s original alike.

The scene after features Darcy staring in the camera (to Elizabeth, who is playing). The song she sings is even appropriate as it is Voi Che Sapete from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (‘You who know’ from The Marriage of Figaro).

The text:

Voi che sapete che cosa è amor
donne, vedete s'io l'ho nel cor
Quello ch'io provo, vi ridiró
E per me nuovo, capir not so
Sento un affetto pien di desir,
ch'ora è diletto, ch'ora è martir!
Gelo, e poi sento l'alma avvampar
e in un momento torno a gelar;
ricerco un bene fuori di me,
non so ch'il tiene, non so cos'è.
Sospiro e gemo senza voler,
palpito e tremo senza saper.
Non trovo pace notte ne di,
ma pur mi piace languir così.

The translation:

You who know what love is,
Ladies, look if I have it in my heart.
What I feel, I will repeat to you
And (as it is) new to me, I cannot understand.
I feel an affection full of desire,
That now is a delight, that now is martyrdom!
I freeze and then I feel my soul burn
And in a moment I freeze again;
I seek a good outside of me,
I don’t know what it contains and I don’t know what it is.
I sigh and groan without wanting to,
I throb and tremble without knowing it.
I cannot find peace night or day
But it is even pleasure to me to languish like this.

Then the first verses are repeated. Bearing in mind that Elizabeth is now ending the song, and it is translated in English, we can suppose that the writer put it in knowing what it said! If we see the staring of Darcy in that context, it is very very appropriate what Lizzy is singing there and we can also totally comprehend what Darcy is thinking, and has felt for the last months! Indeed, the poor man froze and then had his soul burn, sighed and shook at the sight of her and then he walks around half-naked (to the standards then) in his grounds and meets the woman of his life, thus almost literally revealing himself to her (as in the aria); as in the aria, he wishes Lizzy and the viewer to judge by his behaviour and the description of his feelings whether he loves. It is as if the writer of the adaptation even took the verses ‘Ricerco un bene fuori di me, non so ch’il tiene, non so cos’è’ literally for Darcy as he literally looks outside the window for solace.

The writer took the notion that the banks of the stream at Pemberley were ‘neither formal nor falsely adorned’ and the allegorical aspect of that passage in the original (as to Darcy’s real person), to the extreme, associating Darcy through the whole adaptation with water and embedding him in nature. The free, vast and healing nature of the pre-Victorian era and Enlightenment was taken as a theme of redemption that Darcy must address for himself until he can unite with his Elizabeth who loves nature and who does not conceal herself behind a good/bad façade (unlike Bingley’s sisters). Darcy in the original was not really deeply touched upon until the end and they needed to change that because otherwise the adaptation would have ended up with a long tale about what happened before which is not good for an interesting film. Like the monologue of Rochester that passage of Pride and Prejudice is also more suited for reading than stage/film. Yet, this writer, in opposition to the writers of Tess and Jane Eyre got through to Darcy and managed to write his words, and his part bringing pride, conceit, concern for society rules, civility, rebellion and shyness together in a curious combination that is only revealed after but is present from the start in both the original and the adaptation. The writer did not make Darcy rude for the viewer, but made him shy. Something that can be mistaken for pride by some, who will obviously have to change their opinion along with Lizzy in the end. What is certainly to be noted, is that in the whole adaptation, even after the proposal, there is no kissing, touching hands, whatever. Only in the very last minute does the adaptation end with a very very very prudish kiss. This totally according to the times of Austen. In Austen there is no place for fleshly passion, so it should not be in the adaptation. The same goes for most Victorian work. And so in making an adaptation one should be careful with that kind of thing. The beauty of Austen lies not in passion of any kind, it lies in its wording and its quietly moving along of life with a revelation of truth in the end. The beauty of Jane Eyre lies in its deepness and allusion, also not in its fleshy passion of which there is very little, though some. Passion has its place in Jane Eyre, but it is not exaggerated. Jane does not even want to kiss Rochester after the cancelled wedding. Why did the writer of the adaptation in 2006 disregard this? In 1997, Rochester tries to kiss Jane and tries to make her consent to be his mistress by emphasising their union, but Jane refuses. Yet in 2006 the writer put them on a bed. It could be down to fantasy on Jane’s part, but even then it is raising confusion in the minds of viewers, because it is not totally clear why then she walked away… In costume drama and adapting books to stage or film it is of great importance that the writer adheres to the original and does not put words or thoughts in the character that are not their own. In 2006, the writer of Jane’s thoughts put certain fantasies in her head (if those flashbacks were imagination) or made Rochester this tender and soft man (which would even be a greater mistake). There is a total absence of pity, vulnerability, anger, desperation and guilt in the impression he gives to the viewer. Even if it was down to the fantasy of Jane, the writer was wrong in wanting to put those thoughts in Jane’s head, because they give a totally different view on Rochester than the reader gets when he reads the original. Furthermore it is totally wrong, from a literary critical point of view, to speculate on the thoughts of characters certainly if that affects the general impression of that particular character. In the case of Darcy’s transformation and the water-motif connected with Voi che sapete it is not speculating on Darcy’s thoughts, but it is rather elaborating on the theme of his transformation, which only becomes clear in the end of the original, but which they chose to run through the whole adaptation, probably because a ranting about what happened ‘while this and while that’ would have taken up the whole of episode 6 without actual interesting or funny bit. Viewers would have flicked away. The writer, in running the transformation of Darcy from the beginning, did not change the original character Mr Darcy, nor the impression he gives to the reader/viewer, but rather made him a full character from the start: unlike in the original, Darcy is not reduced to one-liners and a very brief description. Naturally not, when someone is around he necessarily gives an impression (which people can mistake and which is obviously the case) and a character on film has to be assigned something to do that is in accordance with its personality whereas in a book, it can be mentioned what it does or not when it is around. In the original Darcy is not mentioned sometimes, but he grows more affectionate towards Lizzy, however he stays his quiet self. It is possible in a book to leave a character for what it is and then take it out of oblivion and make it say something puzzling, or assigning to it a look or a smile that speaks a great deal or even mention casually that ‘a few minutes before’ this or that happened. On film, it is a little harder: as the character is around, it needs to have a personality and needs to act: look, drink tea, smile, talk, read, etc. That all according to its particular personality. Darcy is enigmatic as he is a very quiet man, probably (extremely) shy and intelligent. He does not like to blow his top, resents conversation for conversation’s sake and clearly wants substance rather than beauty in a woman (naturally as he could not possibly have an intelligent conversation with an ‘accomplished lady’ as Caroline and would probably not last an hour with her alone in a room… And after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Such is implied at least when Darcy first finds Lizzy only tolerable, and then considers her, unlike the Bingleys, one of the handsomest women of his acqainance). When Darcy is there he needs to do something, yet not be too sociable, but grow visibly more affectionate towards Lizzy in a way that is clear to viewers, but not to her. On the other hand his first proposal should still be a big surprise and Darcy mustn’t overdo it on the screen; he needs to puzzle the viewer sufficiently, yet not leave any doubt on his growing affection. The adaptation of 1995 did that very well in taking shots of Darcy staring at Lizzy through the crowds. The writer also made him more human from the start by making him walk to the window at crucial moments (when the mother is visiting and at the end when he visits Longbourn with Bingley), linking it somehow with emotional turmoil as time goes on; addressing the healing power of nature as it were, common to the Enlightenment. But not only that: at the first assembly, just after Bingley urged Darcy to dance and Darcy made the remark that Elizabeth is only tolerable in her looks, where the book then stops, the camera continues filming Darcy, seeing Lizzy pass him and go to Charlotte. He looks at them and sees them laugh. This still happens a few times, and it raises the impression that he is concerned with what people think of him. Indeed, a transformation starts with doubt… At the second assembly, Darcy’s look is followed, and where does the camera stop? At Lizzy who is talking with Forster and then the camera moves back to Darcy’s eye. When later Sir William introduces Darcy to Lizzy and she walks away after refusing Darcy’s offer of dancing (which is a little different than in the original and is to be considered rather as an insult, it addresses the point that Lizzy wants to throw Darcy’s insult at her beauty back to him), Darcy has already the peculiar smile on his face (he also has when at Pemberley during Voi Che Sapete, and numerous occasions before that) where a second before he was still all sternness. When Lizzy walks down to Netherfield to attend to Jane and surprises Darcy on the lawn, the same smile is there again. Obviously Lizzy does not observe it, but the viewer is certainly convinced. It proves a definite intention in the writer of the adaptation to have Darcy express himself not with words, because the man is shy, but with facial expressions that are mistaken by Lizzy in the original. When Bingley’s sisters are gossiping about her petticoat and the mud on it at the table, Darcy looks out of the window. There already he is addressing nature for help. After his remark about her fine eyes and his smile, he turns back to the window and leaves the rest to gossip. When they go on about the inferiority of the Bennets’ connections, and Bingley challenges that, Darcy turns back in anger and leaves the window saying that his sisters have a material point in that the size of the Bennet sisters’ (non-existent) fortunes lowers their chances to a good marriage, thus turning away from his own nature which loves Lizzy already, angry at the restraint of society which turns man away from his deeper human nature. After that Elizabeth walks in and there is the smile again. Looking at nature Darcy tries to take all society’s rules away, but cannot succeed and cannot conquer himself, in a way. That the writer decided to take a shot of Darcy when Lizzy walks in is vital for Darcy’s character portrayal. For the washing scenes and heaing power of nature (the bath, the face washing after the letter, the lake, but also his ride in Rosings Park) the adaptation even had its own music, as for his pride/restraint by society’s rules (the theme of Lady Catherine de Bourgh) which regularly features during the reading of his letter after his first proposal. The adaptation added scenes for him alone like the bath, which make him a full character rather than the one Austen wrote into her original (a natural consequence of free indirect speech). When Darcy returns from the lake, his white horse, and not his black one (!), walks beside him and we see him walk amidst nature, stripped down to a bare minimum of clothes towards the same outside of Pemberley (or is it the society in which he lives?), but a new man. Indeed, he addresses Elizabeth in much the same way: inquires after the health of her parents, the health of her sisters (twice) and then excuses himself awkwardly. The musical theme of washing continues however, but now in a more romantic manner and the same theme returns when he proposes for a second time. When he then returns afterwards with Bingley to Longbourn, he still sits on his dark horse, and returns to his quiet self, but now of course his inside is different. Mrs Bennet still does not see that (like Lizzy in the beginning), but like in the original Elizabeth is now convinced of another cause of his quietness, as are the viewers and readers at that moment. That adaptation fully understood its characters and the writer took great care in portraying them, even in the musical background and the casting they were extremely consequent.

In 2006, Jane Eyre was interpreted, but not in a way that offered answers to questions, like the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice offered answers to Darcy from in the beginning. The adaptation of Jane Eyre totally mistook and ignored Rochester’s darkness and desolateness and instead made him a pitiable man in slightly feminist way. As illustrated in my blog on the treatment of Bertha, he should not be pitied. Not at least for his lying, but rather for his situation; for the handling of it he should rather be blamed. As in 1997, Jane has to leave, leaving him in anguish but also angry. Samantha Morton as Jane even reproached him that he thought it was easy for her… And indeed, that is what a reader thinks if he is not carried away by preconceptions about the good treatment of his wife. But that is of course something deeply rooted into the modern mind. The more modern versions do not hesitate to make the confinement of Bertha softer than it originally was. The 1983 version makes it pretty grim, but the 1944 version with Orson Welles makes it grim indeed, however after that Rochester returns somehow to the pitiable. What should rather happen is that the bad impression Rochester took when Bertha was revealed, sticks and does not affect his lament whatsoever because Jane’s and the reader’s decision is already taken. Only Zefirelli decided to make a more poetic version of Jane Eyre, but was saddled with a rather passionless Rochester which is a total shame because in itself the screen play was very poetic and proved to have great possibilities.

After having made a poetic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, an attempt that made its impression on scholars, readers and filmmakers alike, it is puzzling why possibly the BBC would prefer to go back to shoddy interpretations that are too modern in language, do not take on board any of the original’s allusions and above all even feature mistakes against genre, characterisation and historic accuracy. Pride and Prejudice's original was of course low on allusions, and in that it was easy. However, the writer did acknowledge the one allegory that was present in the river at Pemberley and took it to the full. In 1995 they managed to put down such an effort of accuracy and poetry that no-one can do better. Now the BBC have gone down to the level of interpretations that do not make sense and are far from poetic. Sometimes even reducing all of the work of the writer (who does make an effort in putting it in context, whether unconsciously or consciously) to nothing. A work of a writer, in adapting it, should not be made better as such, but only made clear to viewers, depending on how the viewer should see the story. In that the writer in 1995 exaggerated the comedy of Mrs Bennet’s conduct and added scenes for Darcy, but it does not take anything away from the original work of Austen, only attempts to help the viewer appreciate it better than they did the other versions (which were a lot by then!). The writer of Tess (2008) did not really know what the allusions to nature and hell in Hardy’s work were about and made a few crucial changes that he/she would not have made, had he/she known what Naturalism is. She made the father ill from the beginning and then made him die. In the original the mother was ill but the father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Of course the effect is the same (in both cases the father ends up dead), but the naturalistic effect of total surprise and fate that strikes at a very bad moment indeed, is not present. If the writer had known what Naturalism is, he/she would have realised the importance of the illness of the mother and the unexpected death of the father; he/she would have realised that the reader's feelings are more affected when the father dies unexpectedly than when he doesn't. In Naturalism the bad expected, but the worse happens. The writer ignored it and so destroyed Hardy’s set-up. The drama not only had anachronistic features in it (the hymn of 1953, only about 60 years after Tess was published!), but it also made great mistakes in putting Alec on a white horse and in making Angel break into the mansion at the end. The writer clearly did not realise what Hardy did when he left the windows of the mansion open when he wrote the original! That is namely a reason for Angel not breaking in and so for Angel not being liable for incarceration and adhering to his fair complexion which is a sign of honesty and openness in 19th century literature. The open windows are essentially the reason why the police does not arrest Angel. As they were left open, Angel just entered, did not steel or break anything and therefore there was no break-in. Admittedly this is not the case anymore now, but in the days Hardy wrote Tess this was the law: a break-in only took place if there was a forceful entry (breaking of a window, forcing of a lock, the opening of an unlocked door was not considered trespassing astonishingly enough) and if an act of felony was committed (vandalism, steeling, or any such thing). By making Angel break a window in the adaptation, the writer made him liable and punishable for burglary and thus raised questions (again) in the viewer's mind. The most important thing is that the writer in having Tess say ‘I am already in hell,’ alludes to something that happened earlier but clearly did not see the great significance of… Just before the father dies Tess works on the field, in the cold, alone and in the dark with burning heaps of weeds around. As if this does not call up the image of hell in each of us. Indeed, a little later Alec disguises himself (as Satan in Paradise Lost), sneaks up on her, and makes Tess another offer to become his mistress. She sends him away but will be forced to consent when the father passes away. Hardy even puts verses of Paradise Lost in that passage! Yet the writer of the adaptation did not address this and just made a burning heap in the foreground of the picture and then later alluded to it seemingly without knowing why… It is indeed peculiar that Tess comes in front of the camera like a spirit from the afterlife: in a long black dress and pale as a ghost… The readers of the original do know what is happening (or should be expected to be aware of it), but I cannot possibly see that viewers at all got what was going on. As was the problem with the fairy nature of Jane in Jane Eyre. The whole of the moon-motif, the fairy-motif that was connected with that, all the allusions to Shakespeare, Paradise Lost (an image of hell which Rochester’s white and red rococo boudoir should address, but which image was reduced to gothic and dark in the adaptation), The Pilgrim’s Progress, the religious motif on the whole and above all fire and water that come together were totally absent or alluded to but not carried by any symbolic images. The only thing that was addressed in Jane Eyre in 2006 was the gothic theme of Bluebeard (although the closet with the 'dead' wives was not at all grim enough) and The Beauty and the Beast. It was carried on until the end, but put Ferndean rather in the context of the enchanted castle at the start of The Beauty and the Beast, rather than making it the approaching of the prince. The wood around Ferndean can rather be considered as the wood around the castle of Sleeping Beauty or the transformation of the Beast into prince. Thus it should not be gloomy and scary, but it should call up the idea of quietness, seclusion with a positive edge. Jane then as the prince who approaches his true love and who is let through the brier in the Grimms' version... Instead the gothic theme Bertha was too much emphasised by the red scarf flying from the widow continually and thus destroyed the exploding surprise of married Rochester in the end.

If one wants to adapt a book for the screen or stage one has a responsibility, a heavy responsibility: to bring across the original idea of the writer to the viewer, who is not reading that book. The writer of an adaptation should not put wrong thoughts into the viewer’s mind. If he does that, the adaptation is not an adaptation but a creation of the writer based on that book like The Count of Monte Cristo of 2002. It is obvious that also playwrights put in allusions towards philosophy and other works (whether theatrical or not) and it is clear that good films do that as well. Yet it seems that the BBC has slid down to the cheap Hollywood format which adapts without thinking of or regard for neither genre, nor literary accuracy, nor historical accuracy. The role of the writer of the adaptation is not anymore one of responsibility, but has become one of creativity which is not appropriate as the creative process has already taken place when the original was written. The only thing that should happen is adapting that creative result of the original writer to another medium. That does not include far-reaching interpretation as such, but rather care, cautiousness and foremost a knowledge of the genre and themes at the times the work was published/plays. In 1995 the writer took on board, not the seeming restraint of Regency England, but the Enlightenment philosophy which went back to nature for solace. To add to that he took on board colours, music and common themes in literature (and later necessarily film): contrast between Darcy and Bingley (even carried on the sisters), white dresses for the Bennets to declare their innocence and rather dark clothing for Darcy but light for his sister, rich fabrics for the Bingleys and rather simpler ones for the Bennets, the music the characters played was appropriate and was played on a real pianoforte and not on a piano (which is a decided difference!). All that was lightly present in Austen but the writer in 1995 made it a theme and displayed great skill and knowledge. The BBC displayed equally great skill in the hiring of their experts and thus put Austen’s work in a contemporary context. Something I cannot see in their more recent adaptations…

I call upon the BBC to repeat their great skill and effort of 1995. Their adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was almost perfect and is considered to become ‘the definitive’ adaptation because no-one seems to be able to do better. Jane Austen was a woman of her time and so should her characters be viewed. By putting an adaptation in a wider contemporary philosophical, societal and historical context a far better and more consistent result is reached than when interpreted in a modern way and ‘updated’. I only hope sincerely that the BBC decided not to go along with modern feminist views of Austen which are totally out of place in my opinion. In the plot of Emma (and I haven’t read it yet, but only seen an adaptation of it dating from ’96 with Samantha Morton in the role of Harriet Smith, years ago, and read the summary on Wikipedia) there seem to be great possibilities for comedy, but also great poetic possibilities, like in Pride and Prejudice. Austen’s comedy is to a certain extent similar to Shakespeare’s comedy: it is not slapstick, it is humour with a serious edge… If the writer this time got the genre and its tradition, studied the work, its times and did his best, I am sure we will get quality. If on the other hand the writer was again sluggish, we will get mediocre TV-drama worth watching once. Let’s hope it is the first.