Saturday, April 23, 2011


I thank my 10th grade Gothic Literature teacher, Miss Otis, everytime I watch Masterpiece Theater's adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. If it were not for Miss Otis, I might have missed what was to be the book of my youth (and would have missed Rebecca too). This month I saw the latest film version of the famous 1847 novel and it did not disappoint. Every frame of the film seemed like a painting. And while the Masterpiece version starring Tobey Stephens as Mr. Rochester, has remained my favorite, there is a lot to love about the new version and I endorse it highly. Judi Densch as gentle Mrs. Fairfax adds much to dark Thornfield Hall, the costumes are marvelous, and the moors never looked so lovely and glorious. They are a character of their own.
I have once again read Jane Eyre, this time after I saw the new film. Jane is still fresh, still startling. I also read a wonderful review of the film which talked of the story as a "spiritual journey" and a "place where people with great souls had to struggle with small lives". The reviewer also said (and I love this part) that Jane "had an innate sense of self-respect, and there's nowhere it should have come from....everything she achieves, it's because she made it for herself....It's a fairy tale for the insecure and unconfident - the ordinary woman".
Jane never wavers from her sense of self even when her abusive aunt banishes her to Lowood, the punishing and brutal school where she grows into womanhood. Although Lowood is cruel and cold, Jane manages to find a best friend in Helen Burns and her personal doctrine of humility allows her to survive the grim school. The noteriety of her "plainess" in a world where vanity and beauty are held in such high esteem, makes one sympathize with her plight as she mingles in Mr. Rochester's world. Throughout her troubles, Jane uses drawing and art to quell her fears. She knows how to soothe herself. Jane is a survivor who has an unwillingness to compromise her integrity even as her affection for Mr. Rochester grows.
We are still hungry for Jane and that is why this story has been reimagined so consistently through the years. Jane is a flower that grows through a crevice in cement. An astonishing lone blossom that manages to root and find its way into the light. She's a heroine for everywoman and there's a little bit of Jane in me. Is there a little bit of Jane in you too?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Single Note

Victorian beauties didn’t have the dazzling array of perfumes to choose from we modern women enjoy. Their fragrances were mostly single note toilet waters and colognes – lavender, violet, tuberose – nothing like today’s complex scents. We spritz on multi-layered wonders that combine freakish food scents, hyped-up natural fragrance, with a few chemicals thrown in for shock effect. When a woman of yore wanted to smell nice, she reached for her flask of rose or violet cologne and when she opened it, the air in her boudoir was filled with the solitary note of a single lush flower. The label on her pretty and dainty bottle declared exactly what was inside; a rose was a rose was a rose.

Today's fragrances, as multifaceted as they are, fill a wonderful place in a woman's fragrance wardrobe. However, as the spring garden begins to bloom, I put away my wintry and intricate bouquets and reach for a single note of enchantment. These scents imitate the happy faces of the blossoms that wave to me from behind the white picket fences in my village as I take my daily stroll. Each week, a new bloom shyly introduces herself, first as a slender stem of green and then as a full grown burst of color and fragrance.

Spring opens with the violets. These hardy little charms are stalwarts against early spring's cold temperatures and winds. Their petite purple blossoms elicit the unmistakable scent of the new verdant season. Violet scented oils can be found in boutiques and online and are usually reasonably priced. Next up are the radiant lilacs, honeysuckle, and wisteria. They are also scents that can be found in single note adaptations. A drop or two on the neckline before slipping a silk scarf around one's neck or sprinkled across freshly laundered bed sheets, mimics the burgeoning new world outside the front door.

My very favorite spring scent, however, is lily-of-the-valley. For such a wee flower, it certainly sighs out loud like none of its sister blooms can. Coty's Muget des Bois, although a blend, was created to evoke the single lily-of-the valley flower and both the flower and the perfume are impossible to distinguish. It is no wonder that France ushers in its spring every year with the buying and selling of muget des bois on city street corners and village greens. Nothing shepherds in the softest season and its promise like the “innocent coral bells upon a tender stalk” of the diminutive blooms of lily-of-the-valley. Fortunately, Coty still makes this delightful scent that I call Spring in a Bottle.

There is something tender and chaste about donning a single note fragrance during nature's accolade to hope. Fall can play the symphonies but the spring plays its own delicate notes like the tinkling of piano keys, one by one by one.