Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
I've long been a fan of the Bronte family. As a young woman in graduate school, one of my major areas of study was the 19th century British novel, and therein I met the Brontes: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell. Their two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of typhus at school in an epidemic that Charlotte recreated in her seminal novel, Jane Eyre.
Either during the crazy cramming in of every British novel I could get my hands on and further study into the Brontes after I graduated with my Master of Arts degree, I continued to read the works of the Brontes.
And there was only one of their novels I just couldn't seem to like: Wuthering Heights, the only novel published by Emily Bronte, or, as she preferred then, Ellis Bell. I enjoyed all of the others although the quality was quite different among them. Charlotte's Jane Eyre remains heads and shoulders above her other novels: Villette, Shirley and, published posthumously although written first, The Professor as well as Anne's efforts in Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (although I much prefer the latter over the former). Branwell never published a novel although some of his poems were published upon occasion, and the three Bronte sisters published a volume of poetry together under the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.
All of this history as well as the most important two years of Charlotte's life come to light in Syrie James' excellent The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, published in 2009. I had quite liked her first volume, The Lost Letters of Jane Austen and I have her third novel, Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker ready to start tonight.
While I mildly enjoyed James' first book on Austen, I was swept away by her novel of Charlotte Bronte's life. I've long possessed Mrs. Gaskell's famous biography of Charlotte Bronte in my teetering "to read" stack, being a fan of both Elizabeth Gaskell's work as well as Charlotte Bronte's, and after reading (and even rereading great portions), I am more drawn that ever to the idea of pulling out Gaskell's famous work, published a mere two years after Charlotte Bronte's death at nearly 39 years of age, less than a year after her very happy marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls.
I won't go into too much detail as to the content of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte in case my readers here don't know the outline of her life and the lives of her beloved siblings, but suffice it to say that James' book provoked tears at times, and a delicious romantic shiver at others. It's truly masterful in a way that her first book on Austen, though quite good and somewhat entertaining, lacked.
Perhaps it's Charlotte's late-in-life romance with her father's faithful curate after disliking him for so many years that draws me into Charlotte's "diaries" more than into Jane Austen's "letters." Perhaps a life fraught with tragedy makes for better reading than one of staid drawing rooms and an absence of passion, of zest for life, in Charlotte and her siblings that make this book impossible to forget.
So I'll see how Dracula, My Love is as I start it this evening in my jacuzzi tub...where I don't dare bring my beloved Kindle--on which ALL of the Bronte's novels reside, ready for me to take up again to re-read in delicious and decadent solitude....
So, truly, I can't recommend The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte any higher; I only hope that Dracula, My Love measures up a bit...although I have to admit that The Lost Letters of Jane Austen refuse to do so--just like sometimes petulant Jane herself....
Wishing you happy reading!!