Books

Book 561: Romancing Miss Brontë – Juliet Gael

I feel like I may have read this before, but if I did it was in my first year of blogging when I missed a few books in my reviews. Who knows, maybe I’m just so familiar with the Brontë’s story that it’s just become known to me.

Overall, I enjoyed this read and felt Gael did a great job embodying all of the Brontës, but I’m not sure how accurate the title was. It’s a little misleading in that I feel like more of the book should’ve come from Arthur Bell Nicholls’ perspective rather than from third person omniscient (I think)/Charlotte. Maybe a better title would’ve been The Romance of Miss Brontë or The Brief Romances of Miss Brontë, something that takes the emphasis from who the narrator would be. But blah, I’m sure this is just me. I had an issue with the last title I read too 😀

I think what got me more than anything else in this novel and about the lives of the Brontës is how fast everything happened. The entire span of their publishing career lasts just over a decade from 1846-1857. I actually did a timeline to get perspective on how fast things happened:

  • May 1846 – Collected Poems of Charlotte, Emily and Anne self-published under pseudonym Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell
  • October 16, 1847 – Jane Eyre published
  • December 1847 – Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey published
  • June 1848 – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall published
  • September 24, 1848 – Branwell’s death at 31
  • December 19, 1848 – Emily’s death at 30
  • May 29, 1849 – Anne’s death at 29
  • October 1849 – Shirley published
  • 1852, winter – Emily’s dog Keeper dies (I think – this is a guess)
  • January 1853 – Villette published
  • 1854 – Anne’s dog Flossy dies
  • June 29, 1854 – Charlotte marries Arthur Nicholls
  • March 31, 1855 – Charlotte’s death at 38
  • June 1857 – The Professor published

It’s eerily similar to how quickly Austen published, rose to stardom, and then died from 1811-1817. Is this why we are so fascinated with these women? They shone so bright for so brief a time period and now their genius is not only acknowledged, but almost worshiped by millions around the world. Their impact on Western literature is unquestionable, and what all of them could’ve done had they lived longer we can only imagine.

Gael did a wonderful job of characterizing the Brontë Family and each of the sisters. I’m not sure if she pegged them 100%, but she’s definitely in the mid-to-high 90% area based on everything I’ve read about the family:

About the family as a whole:
“He learned that the Brontë family was always a source of good gossip. It was a family that fascinated: an eccentric old father, a dazzlingly brilliant son wasting away for love of a married woman, and three daughters who were little more than ghosts, although the villagers thought them very proud.” (31)

“And so they grew up, socially defective, isolated, but with a firm belief in their own worth as individuals. Intellectually gifted, they withdrew into their own tight world, where all that mattered were books, paintings, and music. Every human unkindness preyed on their minds, but alone, within their mental world and the comfort of their family, they were giants, titans, genii.” (92)

About Charlotte
“Behind a veneer of a quiet, ladylike demeanor, Charlotte concealed an acerbic mind and ruthlessly harsh opinions on the weaknesses of the human species.” (22)

About Emily
“Sometimes she frightens me, with the way she holds so lightly to life. She sees too much romance in death.” (162)

About Anne
“‘Although I confess there have been moments when I wished people knew I’d published a novel.’ She paused to smile sweetly. ‘Not out of vanity, but because people have such a mild opinion of me or, rather, they have no opinion at all, and I think I am quite capable of something forceful, something that would shock them out of their complacency.” (122)

She also, I felt, wrote a great characterization of Arthur, Charlotte’s future husband. She took all of the anecdotes and known facts about him and tied them together nicely in ways that showed through his own subtle ways his love of blossoming love of Charlotte and the Brontë family. In addition to writing the family really well, Gael did a decent job of showing how quickly everything happened (see above timeline).

She acknowledges that she glossed over a lot leading up to this timeline, but she doesn’t talk about how rushed everything really was. The year of death (as I call it) from Branwell dying to the publication of Shirley received a lot more emphasis than the six years from Shirley‘s publication to Charlotte’s death. I get that letters were burned and Charlotte spent a lot of time travelling and writing, but this was historical fiction make some shit up. Add more stories of Arthur pining over Charlotte, add more than the one potential love interest for him, do something to fill the time to show how long Arthur continued to wait for Charlotte after the death of her sisters and the start of her publishing career. Drag it out.

If there was one thing that I didn’t like about the book it was the glossing over of Charlotte’s editing and censoring of her sister’s works. Gael did a decent job of showing Charlotte’s drive and ambitions and her bitterness at Branwell’s wasted genius, but she only hinted at Charlotte’s jealousy(?) of Emily and her pettiness to Emily and Anne for having received publication prior to herself. I know they were close, but everything I’ve read, especially the nonfiction, talks about how Charlotte’s ambitions were used to coerce them into publishing and later to attempt to bully the publishing industry into censoring her sisters. And this just didn’t come across.

Recommendation: If you want a fun interpretation of Charlotte’s life focused on a pretty tight and well known period this is the read for you. I feel the book did a good job of capturing the beauty and wildness of Haworth and Yorkshire, and even did a great job of personifying the Yorkshire men and women the Brontës would have interacted with on a daily basis. It fell short for me on the romance side of things, but I think that had more to do with the point of view than anything else. I wonder if Gael’s other books under her actual name, Janice Graham, are different?

Opening Line: “He rode in on the back of a wagon loaded with crates of chickens and bales of hay, driven by a brutish farmer who had not uttered a word throughout the journey except to curse his horse.”

Closing Line: “Miss Charlotte Brontë Nicholls kept her word.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)

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