Friday, September 25, 2009

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte

James, Syrie. 2009. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte. HarperCollins. 512 pages.

I have received a proposal of marriage.

I can't promise you that you'll love this one, but I think that if you're a fan of the Brontes (Charlotte, Emily, or Anne) you owe it to yourself to at least try this one. As for myself, I tended to love it.

This "diary" is based (mostly) on fact. The author included a long explanation in the back of the book explaining what's true, what's thought to be true, and what's conjectured for the sake of moving the story along.

The book has a unique structure, a clever one. And for the most part, I think this works really well. It isn't a straightforward plot. Instead, Charlotte reveals the past bit by bit by bit. Out of order, in a way, and yet in a way that thematically works. As she 'chooses' to share it with the reader. The framework of this one, in a way, is her relationship with her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. Her story starts with the revelation that he's proposed. She then takes us back to where she first met him (it didn't go well on her part). And the narrative builds from there. Until slowly but surely, we get the details of that proposal (and wow, what a proposal!) and subsequent courtship (the road to love was not that smooth for this couple). But this book isn't just about that romance. Far from it. Yes, it serves as the frame. But the picture within that frame, if you will, is the dynamic relationships of the Bronte family. Patrick Bronte, the blind (for the most part) clergy man, Branwell Bronte, the alcoholic brother, and the three remaining Bronte sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. (Did you know that there were other Bronte sisters who (tragically) died?) More specifically, it deals with the passionate determination of all three sisters to write--both poetry and novels. Yes, the heart and soul of this one in many ways is the writing life itself. What were these women authors really like?

I learned so much from reading this one. Am I the only one who was so clueless? Did you know that Charlotte Bronte was married? Did you know that her father outlived all three Bronte sisters?

The book is engaging and compelling. It made me want to read more. Yes, I've read Jane Eyre. Yes, I've read Wuthering Heights. But now, I want to read more. How many Brontes have you read? Do you have a favorite sister? Which book would you recommend I read next?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


bookwormans said...

Well, since you have already read Charlotte ("Jane Eyre") and Emily ("Wuthering Heights"), I would suggest giving Anne a try. "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" is pretty good and I have also heard good reports about "Agnes Gray". TTOWH is not quite as Gothic as Charlotte or Emily's works and has other various weaknesses, but I still enjoyed it.

Incidentally, I am getting ready to read "Villette" one of Charlotte's later works. Really looking forward to it. I LOVE the Brontes!

Kate @Midnight Book Girl said...

I recently watched the movie Devotion on Turner Classic Movies, which detailed the lives of the Brontes. So I knew about Charlotte's marriage, and then I read up more on Wikipedia. Sadly, she and her unborn child died shortly after getting married. The history of the Bronte sisters is a sad one. I will keep an eye out for this book!

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a lovely book! And really respectful of Charlotte and her family.

Yes, I knew all those things - but then I'd read Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Life of Charlotte Brontë" - which was really good. As for your next book, it would depend on your mood, I think. "Shirley" is my next favourite Charlotte - Anne's "Agnes Grey" and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" are both good, but very different from each other... L.

Kailana said...

You know, I didn't really want to read this but I have seen a lot of reviews of it lately and they all seem positive. I think I am going to have to check it out before long!

Anonymous said...

You should read Emily's Ghost.

Michelle Fluttering Butterflies said...

I did know those things, but I was lucky enough to visit the Bronte Parsonage earlier in the year. I should have taken more photos or documented it more than I did. It was interesting.

Anonymous said...

What is the Bronte Parsonage?

Jillian said...

I definitely look forward to this one!