Book 365: The Brontë Project – Jennifer Vandever

Vandever, Jennifer - The Brontë ProjectI’m not sure what it is about Brontë fan-fiction, but they’re just not as whimsical as the Austen fan-fiction. Looking at the subject matters and general ambiance of the works and the author’s lives it is fairly obvious, but when you think about it the options for fan-fiction are limitless. I picked this book (Amazon link) up in late 2012 and have finally gotten around to reading it.

The only other Brontë fan-fiction I’ve read include Solsbury Hill and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë and they were both a bit ho-hum. I did enjoy the vilification of Charlotte in Michael Thomas Ford’s Jane Fairfax trilogy (here, here and here), but that could be the problem. Emily and Anne died so early and Charlotte had so much time to cultivate/purge their images in society that it’s all about Charlotte and not the rest of the family. (“What’s more, she [Charlotte] has become adept at spinning her own legend and constructing her image before the public.” (59) – and I would even argue spinning Emily and Anne’s images, obviously). Even this novel, whose main character, Sara, is in love with Wuthering Heights ends up being predominantly about Charlotte.

Now to the shock and horror of the regular blog readers, I’m going to actually use something from a Goodread’s review that I agree with,

This is the sort of book where you get about halfway through and then have a brilliant moment of clarity, where all the pieces suddenly fall into place, and your great epiphany is, “OMG, this is all there is. This book is not going to get any better.”

And I hated that I agreed with it. I really wanted to love this book because there is such a plethora of Austen fan-fiction when compared to Brontë fan-fiction, but this quote nails it. Don’t get me wrong, the book is very well written and the characters are enough to want to hug and smack them, but in the end I got about half way through and had this same thought.

For me, though it made me wonder if this feeling was about the entire romance genre as a whole. I was like “Hey! I can write a novel like this, it’s just a series of tropes lined up and you knock them down one after the other.” But I don’t think it is, I think this one just had one too many. And as much as I enjoyed the female empowerment aspect, by time it actually happens it just seemed so trite and lacking that I wanted more from it.

Vandever, also makes a very poignant observation that every romance reader (and every reader in general really) must come to terms with at some point,

“And now, somehow it seemed her phantom family had led her astray as well, had taught her to make romance of what was simply misery. Now that she was in the thick stew of misery, she knew better. What fever of the mind had persuaded her at such a young age to place three celibate consumptives at the forefront of her understanding of not just love but life itself? It seemed quite obvious what her real problem was: Literature had ruined her life.” (41)

This isn’t specifically about the Brontës, so much as it is about coming to terms with reality and escapism. It sucks when you do realize the wonderfullness and heartbreaking realities of fiction and the real world. So kudos to her for relaying this with humor.

All of this being said, the ending worked for me. Sara wandering off into the rainy Paris streets with the opportunity to either be a powerful solitary woman or romantically to follow up on her meet-cute from when she first arrives in Paris. It’s left to the reader and I could easily see a sequel spinning off from this.

Recommendation: Unless you really love the Brontë’s and can be incredibly forgiving you should pass. I love it when authors are obsessed with lost letters, secret diaries and missing manuscripts, so for me it was a win-win even though I didn’t love the book. Maybe I should introduce a lost manuscript into my own fan-fiction and it’ll make it that much more exciting to me to write it.

Opening Line: “Fate affords some lovers only one opportunity to meet.”

Closing Line: “Sara smiled and shook her head—she liked the rain just fine—and walked on.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers.)

Additional Quotes from The Brontë Project
“They didn’t get it. Sara didn’t want them to be cured, she wanted to wallow in the awful morbidity of it all—she never felt so alive. Her parents could keep their self-actualization and power communication; Sara was obsessed with dying on a health, cold and alone, her only comfort being the sound of her lover’s name.” (15)

“When it was finally discovered that the authors were authoresses, it was assumed that the harsh countryside, the strangeness of an isolated, backward community had warped the imaginations of these sweet, motherless girls, the daughters of a parson, no less. The Brontës were too masculine for women to read.” (76)


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