Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Perfect 10: Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael

ROMANCING MISS BRONTË – Juliet Gael
A Perfect 10
Ballantine Books
ISBN: 978-0-345-52004-3
May 2010
Historical Fiction

England – Mid-Nineteenth Century

Charlotte Brontë is known as the author of Jane Eyre, but few of us know much about the real woman behind the stories she wrote. Born in the Yorkshire moorlands, Charlotte was one of five daughters and one son born to clergyman Patrick Brontë and his wife. When their mother died at an early age, their aunt stepped in to help raise the brood, and eventually Charlotte and her two elder sisters were sent away to a clergymen’s children’s boarding school. Unfortunately, the conditions at the school were such that all three girls became very sick, and shortly after their father brought them home, the two older girls died of lung ailments. Charlotte’s health was never great after that. As a young adult, Charlotte went to school in Brussels along with her younger sister, Emily, and returned to the moors with a new view of the world. She and her sisters, Emily and Anne, spent their free time writing and dreaming, and taking care of their father who was slowly going blind.

Charlotte was a dreamer, but a practical one, mostly due to the fact that as the older sister, much of the household decision-making and her father’s needs were on her tiny, fragile shoulders. She always made time for writing, though, as did her sisters, and they come to a radical choice to co-publish their combined works. Despite the fact that the first set of books only sold two copies, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre were eventually published, to very mixed reactions on both the authors’ parts as well as the critics'. Emily, the quiet homebody, while pleased, was not happy with any notoriety. Charlotte, however reluctant, chose to pursue the life of a published author; although most people had no idea either writer was a woman. When the truth came out, though, only Charlotte was able to enjoy it.

Most of the time dreamers don’t achieve their goals. Despite the tragedy and sorrow in her life, Charlotte almost masters those dreams. At home in Yorkshire is her father’s curate, the dour Irishman, Arthur Nicholls, while in London is her publisher, handsome George Smith. Charlotte thinks it’s George who is in love with her, although he is younger than she and a man of the world. But in reality, pining away in the north is Arthur, who patiently hides his heart from the brilliant, terrifyingly perfect (to him), Charlotte.

Speaking of brilliant, ROMANCING MISS BRONTË is nothing short of perfect. I loved every page and hated for the book to end. The author’s impeccable research and her excellent prose are a dynamite combination and made the tragic life of Miss Brontë immensely readable and extremely interesting. Charlotte used her own background and people in her life to make Jane Eyre a best seller of its time as well as today. Readers will be drawn into the bleak lives of Victorian women and learn of the Brontë girls’ uncharacteristic “careers” as authors.

As a debut novel, Ms. Gael has written a delightfully thorough peek into the lives of the Brontë sisters and especially Charlotte’s brief, sterling rise as a woman author in a man’s world. Brava.

Jani Brooks

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