Romancing Miss Bronte
Juliet Gael takes readers to the 19th-century Yorkshire village of Haworth, where sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë live in the parsonage with their half-blind father and their self-pitying brother, Branwell. In an atmosphere of loss and fading dreams, the three young unmarried women attempt to open a girls’ boarding school, only to find no takers: Haworth is too isolated. Since childhood they have been writing poetry and stories. When Charlotte suggests they submit their work for publication, intensely private Emily agrees on one condition—they shall remain anonymous. So it is that using pseudonyms and working in secret, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne write, respectively, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey.
Into this insular world comes the reserved and unsmiling Irish bachelor Arthur Bell Nicholls, the newly appointed curate to Haworth. Charlotte, by her own reckoning plain and undesirable, pays Arthur scant attention. She has seen the mocking glances other men give her, and in her heart, she bears an aching sadness for another man she can never have.
Romancing Miss Brontë focuses in the main on the sisters’ exasperating relationship with their brother, their rocky path to publication (which should intrigue most writers), but keeps the spotlight on Charlotte, who in her quiet way eventually becomes the literary toast of London. In the end, this is a story of longing in all its forms, and it is the patient curate Arthur Nicholls who proves the constant in Charlotte’s life—Arthur who shows her a thing or two about the true nature of passion and love. While I found the author’s forays into nonfiction jarring, overall this is an entertaining, enlightening look at three unassuming women who wrote some of the most well-known novels not only of their own day, but of ours as well.