After thoroughly enjoying The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, it will come as no surprise that I enjoyed this book as well! It also doesn’t hurt that I always forget how much I love the Brontës when I’m not reading about them and then as soon as I start reading about them I quickly fall back in love with them. I’m super excited that I’ve got Wuthering Heights to re-read again this year!
The only other Brontë fan-fiction I’ve read was Becoming Jane Eyre in February of last year. I remember enjoying it and of course there were overlaps with this book, as this book covers a lot broader swath of time than the last. This book covers a long period of time and through flashbacks even includes a lot of the Brontës’ youth. It is noteworthy, although not shocking at all, that there are many similarities in writing style and stories in the two books. We know a lot more about the Brontë siblings than we know about say Austen or the more reclusive female writers.
One of the great things I enjoyed about this novelization of Charlotte Brontë’s life were the glimpses into her thoughts (or perceived thoughts). James really does a great job of getting into an author’s head and mimicking their style and humor and writing in such a way that at times you believe it is Charlotte Brontë writing and not a 21st century author. James seamlessly pulls in fact and fiction to weave a great story that was very difficult to put down.
One example of weaving in the fact and fiction is when the Brontës discuss Jane Austen’s works
“‘Can there be a great artist without poetry?’ I mused. ‘The book is like a highly cultivated garden: with neat borders and delicate flowers, but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy—no open country—no fresh air—no blue hill—no bonny beck.” (264)
The last part of this quote is an exact quote from Charlotte in a letter she wrote to a critic. And the rest of the conversation between Emily, Charlotte and Anne was made up, but done in such a way that you could imagine Emily and Anne’s line actually being their thoughts on Austen’s writing.
I also think that James does a great job writing romance, which she must do if she is copying the style of two of the greatest romance authors! I’m not sure how much of what happened between Mr. Nicholls and Charlotte is based on fact, but the dialogue she creates, as well as the tension, provide a story full of tension and long-term desire and wanting which finally come to a head in a wonderful proposal.
Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book if you’d like a fun pseudo-fictionalized account of Charlotte Brontë’s life. It was a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed how James portrayed the Brontë siblings and the rest of the important people in their lives.
Opening Line: “I have received a proposal of marriage.”
Closing Line: “‘And I you,’ I whispered in return, as I melted into his embrace.” (Whited out.)
Additional quotes from The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë
“Behind the parsonage, and surrounding it, lay the silent, sweeping, endless, windy slopes of the moors. Not every eye could discern the beauty which my siblings and I found in that vast, harsh, bleak landscape. To us, the moors had always been a kind of paradise, a place into which to escape, to allow our imaginations to run free and wild.” (9)
“‘I know I am small and plain,’ I said with a sigh, ‘but there is a world of difference between plain an ugly. A plain woman can endure, knowing that although others may not delight to look at her, at least her visage gives no offence. An ugly woman, on the other hand, is a blot on the face of creation: a poor, wretched despicable thing, whose very presence creates discomfort, whispered tittering, and averted looks of silent pity. Ugly! I do believe it is the single most crushing word in the English language!'” (47)
“We cannot choose the objects of our affections, any more than we can choose our parents. If, however, by some misfortune, our feelings lead us in a direction that is not condoned by God or by society, we can—we must—exert self-controlI; we must not act on those unlawful desires.” (102)
“Nobody seemed to pity Mr. Nicholls but me. I thought they did not understand the nature of his feelings—but I now saw what they were: he was one of those who attach themselves to very few, but whose sensations are close and deep—like an underground stream, running strong in a narrow channel.” (352)