Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontes

Written by Jude Morgan
Review by Patricia O’Sullivan

“It was as if silence were nakedness, and every moment must, for decency’s sake, be verbally clothed.”

The Brontё family lives on the windy moors of Yorkshire, but despite their numbers, six children, they are brought up in a kind of sacred silence that suits their father’s nerves and sense of propriety. Their mother dies young and the older daughters are sent away to school so that quietude might be preserved. But then the older daughters also die and the four remaining children, three girls and a boy, huddle together whispering, imagining a world in which the passion of raised voices is commonplace even as it hints at violence and madness. And then the children grow up and begin to write: silently, anonymously, passionately.

Despite its title, Charlotte and Emily is the story of all the Brontёs whose story, though familiar, compels the reader with poetic turns of phrase, exceptional characterization, and insights about the how the family dynamic shaped both their lives and their artistic work. It is possible, as Jude Morgan suggests, that the unhappiness of the Brontёs, particularly the girls, served as their muse. And yet, his scenes of the quiet evenings in which they sat together sharing one candle, writing, reading each other’s verse out loud and talking about their writing are poignant in their being both familial and rebellious. This is the kind of book I’d read again because it is so well written.