Romancing Miss Brontë by Juliet Gael
During the two years that she studied in Brussels, Charlotte had a taste of life’s splendors—travel, literature, and art. Now, back home in the Yorkshire moors, duty-bound to a blind father and an alcoholic brother, an ambitious Charlotte refuses to sink into hopelessness. With her sisters, Emily and Anne, Charlotte conceives a plan to earn money and pursue a dream: The Brontës will publish. In childhood the Brontë children created fantastical imaginary worlds; now the sisters craft novels quite unlike anything written before. Transforming her loneliness and personal sorrow into a triumph of literary art, Charlotte pens her 1847 masterpiece, Jane Eyre.
Charlotte’s novel becomes an overwhelming literary success, catapulting the shy and awkward young woman into the spotlight of London’s fashionable literary scene—and into the arms of her new publisher, George Smith, an irresistibly handsome young man whose interest in his fiercely intelligent and spirited new author seems to go beyond professional duty. But just as life begins to hold new promise, unspeakable tragedy descends on the Brontë household, throwing London and George into the background and leaving Charlotte to fear that the only romance she will ever find is at the tip of her pen.
But another man waits in the Brontës’ Haworth parsonage—the quiet but determined curate Arthur Nicholls. After secretly pining for Charlotte since he first came to work for her father, Arthur suddenly reveals his heart to her.
Usually when an author takes liberties to devise a fictional account of another’s life, it’s poorly written, cheesy, and extremely wild and romantic in its imaginings. Sometimes the truth is twisted to fit the author’s wish for a better outcome. This happens constantly with Jane Austen, but so far I’ve read two books (including this one) that portray Charlotte Brontë as true to life as possible based on literary and academic scholarship (the other: Jude Morgan’s Charlotte and Emily), no frills added, and so strikingly similar to one another and all the research that, to a fan and Brontë scholar, must speak the truth.
And for that, I have to say this is one of my favorite books.
Charlotte led such a hard life and I find her and the family utterly fascinating. They each desired love and affection, passions that would throw them off their feet, and yet also desired to be reclusive and alone. This duality speaks to me as an individual – and for someone who may not feel the same, Gael did an excellent job describing Charlotte’s dilemmas. Not a moment of the book was rushed, which is such a blessing. This spans across a decade of Charlotte’s life, and everyone who shaped her eventually shaped her novels. The influence is key to every moment of her life, and any subject – such as her crush on her publisher, the way she snubbed the curate and later fell in love, the way she portrayed herself to various friends in her letters – was given its proper justice and detail.
Academic and literary truth aside, it was still vastly entertaining! We learn more about Emily, Anne, and Branwell; the insecurities Charlotte felt about her appearance; the overbearing clergyman father; the duties of the curate Arthur; the stardom the “Bell brothers” faced and who they met – far more interesting than reading a biographical description! The language is beautiful as well, and truly mimics the way Charlotte wrote in her letters. Each character had a distinct personality without exaggeration, and despite knowing how everyone’s story ended, I was anxious to see how it would be written. An author that tackles a topic wherein the reader already knows the ending is certainly an author to admire – the fact Gael kept me on the edge of my seat deserves an award!
Finally, I’m so glad Gael gave life and breath to Arthur. She had little information to work from, but what information she had were derived from first-hand accounts recorded by Charlotte and Arthur’s friends and neighbors. The language of the time would suggest criticism or flattery, and I think Gael did a wonderful job of shaping just the right kind of man he must have been. He was no random, ordinary man who waltzed into the home and asked for her hand in marriage; no, he was there throughout all of her joys and sorrows, on the edge, waiting for the perfect moment, and gave her the happiest last few months of her life.
Fantastic book. Utterly beautiful.
Rating: ★★★★★ of 5