Mr Nicholls: A Brontë Story

Written by Juliet Heslewood
Review by Julia Stoneham

Juliet Heslewood takes a risk in subtitling her novel “a Brontë story”. There are those who, faced with a hint of the Fitzgeralds or the Bloomsbury group for instance, will say “oh no, not them again”. Anyone who is foolish enough to rejects Mr Nicholls on such grounds will be missing a treat.

This novel is remarkable for the way in which it defines and explores the Haworth world through the eyes, ears and feelings of the young John Robinson as he moves through his childhood and into early manhood.

The boy’s reaction, as he observes the torment suffered by his mentor, the eponymous Mr Nicholls, whose intense love of Charlotte Brontë is for so long unrequited and forbidden, comes close to infecting his own, first, tentative steps into a relationship with a young girl with whom he becomes infatuated.

Juliet Heslewood skilfully and precisely inhabits the bleak, unique world in which this story is set. The tone of the writing is consistently developed and maintained. There is not a false or lazy note in the entire text. Without exception, the way in which all her various characters think, speak and behave is both convincing and moving.

The writer successfully questions many perceived ideas of the Brontë family, and if, as well as giving us a splendid read, she encourages us to explore further the well-trodden paths many of us had come to accept as the facts of their history, then that too adds significantly to our respect for and enjoyment of this exceptional novel.