The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte

Written by Syrie James
Review by Jane Kessler

Jane Eyre and Villette are two of my favorite books, and I’ve always been interested in Charlotte Brontë and her family. I am fascinated by the idea of three sisters, living in a remote Yorkshire village, all becoming published authors and then all dying so young. (Charlotte died from complications of pregnancy in 1855 at the age of 38.)

Syrie James has studied Charlotte’s life and has drawn on many of the sources she studied, such as Charlotte’s letters to her good friend Ellen Nussey and the biography written by Charlotte’s friend, the author Mrs. Gaskell, to tell Charlotte’s story in Charlotte’s own voice.

We read about her experiences at boarding school; her time in Belgium teaching at a pensionnat and her attachment to the married headmaster Monsieur Hegér; the evolution of her and her sisters’ writing careers; the decline and death of her alcoholic brother Branwell; the deaths of her sisters Anne and Emily; and her relationship with her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, who later became her husband. By the time I finished reading, I had an understanding of how Charlotte’s life experiences are reflected in her novels.

I wasn’t sure I would like this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The author has done a wonderful job. The story of Charlotte’s life flows like a novel and has the sound of a 19th-century diary. I had to keep reading to find out how Charlotte went from disliking Mr. Nicholls to marrying him! The book includes a Q&A with the author, excerpts from selected correspondence of Charlotte Brontë, selected poetry by the Brontës, and a bibliography of Charlotte’s writings. I especially appreciated the information at the end about what the author imagined and what was fact.