Romancing Miss Bronte
Juliet Gael
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Buy *Romancing Miss Bronte* by Juliet Gael online

Romancing Miss Bronte
Juliet Gael
432 pages
April 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Gael’s ambitious historical tale focuses on the life of Charlotte Bronte, plunging us into her passionate world and that of her sisters, Emily and Anne, and Branwell, her reckless, wanton brother. Raised in the bleak Northern English parish of Haworth by Patrick, their eccentric old father, from the outset it is clear they're close-knit siblings who were traumatized at a very young age by the loss of their mother and the deaths of their older sisters.

Anchored by Charlotte’s point of view, this narrative is driven by her fierce literary instincts. Together with Emily and Anne, Charlotte steadily develops her craft, taking refuge from sorrow in her sisters’ company. While Branwell drinks incessantly, his disappointments and bitterness forcing him to retreat into opiates, the three girls who seem “little more than ghosts” forge a unique bond, creating worlds of astonishing complexity that bring a measure of excitement to their lonely lives in this dull little village.

When their writing begins to provide a means of income and independence - and a way for them all to live contentedly in an infinitely dreary world that offers little hope for change - the sisters hatch the plan to write together. Suddenly, their world takes on an even greater aura of romance when the work is done under a cloak of secrecy from their father. It is London publisher George Smith who first receives Charlotte’s manuscript - pseudonymously attributed to Currier Bell - of Jane Eyre.

George can feel the incandescent power of Charlotte’s words. Charlotte is obviously drawn to George and his handsome aura of sophistication, but the soul of this tale is her tentative romance with young curate Arthur Nicholls, a gentle, kind soul with a caring heart capable of exhibiting great love. Arthur is not of wealth or standing or worldly connections, so he can only impress the sadly resigned Charlotte with his moral virtues.

While Gael overplays the romantic interludes with Arthur in the later scenes, she manages to bring Charlotte’s world vividly to life with many memorable images: Patrick Bronte, his head swimming with thoughts of a wretchedly failed son who lived and died by his family’s judgment; stoical Emily, riddled with consumption, her flesh wasting away before her family’s eyes while she never betrays so much of a flash of weakness; Anne, also condemned to death as she witnesses Emily’s agony, her long days of suffering and finally her death in Scarborough; and the intense psychological and physical suffering of Charlotte while she writes Villette, when she is forced to confront the truths of her past and the harsh realities of what is left of her life.

Intellectually gifted Charlotte lived in a time of “straitjacket morality,” when even the slightest quiver of the flesh gave cause for outrage. She also felt herself “branded by poverty,” growing up socially defective and isolated - but, like her sisters, she had a firm grasp on her worth as an individual. Arthur seems to challenge most this individuality, forcing Charlotte to a new and unfamiliar place based on faith. Through Arthur, Charlotte seems to look sexuality in the face and find an illusion of a great love that completes her, if only for a time.

The publication of Jane Eyre brought Charlotte fame, fortune and notoriety in her lifetime with its exotic, insular aristocratic hero and heroine, both pining after a forbidden and lost kind of love. Gael’s enthusiastic portrayal is likewise imbued with Charlotte’s particular brand of passion and earnestness, yet her tale ultimately stands alone, an enriching treat for lovers of everything Bronte. Life combines with art in this poignant reminder of a literary existence and of exquisite memories that remain so heartfelt and so true.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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