Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte

Although the cover and the words "Charlotte Bronte" had a magnetic pull on my hand when I saw the book in the new authors section at Barnes & Noble, I must admit, I'm not keen on the title. I have a sort of bias against the word "diary;" I prefer "journal" as it sounds less like a girly book of girly confessions. Add "secret" to "diary" and I really don't like it. But I have absolutely nothing against getting into Charlotte Bronte's head, which is exactly what this book does.

Author Syrie James explains that it is almost entirely taken from fact, based off of letters and other writings, though a couple of things are added to or embellished to suit it better to a book. And my goodness, is it real. I had thought I knew a decent bit about the Brontes, but this book has so much information in it. It's a fascinating look at the lives of the Brontes (with a particular emphasis on Charlotte, of course, since she is the one telling the story.) It discloses many inspirations they had for their writings. I already knew about Roe Head School and how the two older sisters died there, but I didn't know, for instance, about Monsieur Heger, Charlotte's Belgian professor whom she based many of her male leads on. Or, most tragic, much of Heathcliff (Emily's creation, not Charlotte's) was based off of their brother Branwell. This book drove me to tears more than a couple times. I hadn't read much about Branwell before, now I see the tragedy of his story. Then there's Arthur Nicholls, Charlotte's father's curate. All I had known was that she married him and died soon after, having gotten sick while pregnant. I had wondered, though. It sounded like a "convenient" marriage (since he worked for her father), but wouldn't Charlotte want to marry for the love her characters followed? I won't go into what I found out so I don't spoiler it, but I highly recommend picking the book up for yourself. It's highly potent.

Reading this was simply amazing. It both reminded me why I picked up on Charlotte's vision and reinforced that connection I feel with so much of her work. I can understand the perspectives in here more than anywhere else; so many things I've felt are there in another form. Unfortunately for Syrie James, I'm lead to read the last of Charlotte's books, The Professor, rather than her other book, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. She did such a flawless job at putting this book together in truth that I'm sure she did the same for that one. While I adore being able to read Charlotte's voice, I don't like Jane Austen's, so I don't see much point in reading the book. I'm sure it's as well done, though, for any Austen fans out there. I'll just stick to the Brontes myself.

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