Emma Brown

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Overview

When Charlotte Brontë died in 1855, she left behind twenty pages of a novel that signaled her most compelling work since Jane Eyre. One hundred fifty years later, Clare Boylan has finished Brontë’s novel, sparking a sensational literary event. With pitch-perfect tone that is utterly true to Brontë’s voice, Boylan delivers a brilliant tale about a mysterious young girl, Matilda, who is delivered to a girls’ school in provincial England. When everything about the girl’s wealthy background turns out to be a fiction,...

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Overview

When Charlotte Brontë died in 1855, she left behind twenty pages of a novel that signaled her most compelling work since Jane Eyre. One hundred fifty years later, Clare Boylan has finished Brontë’s novel, sparking a sensational literary event. With pitch-perfect tone that is utterly true to Brontë’s voice, Boylan delivers a brilliant tale about a mysterious young girl, Matilda, who is delivered to a girls’ school in provincial England. When everything about the girl’s wealthy background turns out to be a fiction, it falls to a local gentleman, Mr. Ellin, and a childless widow, Isabel Chalfont, to begin a quest for her past and her identity that takes them from the drawing rooms of country society to London’s seamiest alleys. With all the intelligence and pathos of the novel’s originator, Boylan develops Brontë’s sketch of a girl without a past into a stunning portrait of Victorian society with a shameful secret at its heart.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher

"Compulsively readable fun." —The Baltimore Sun

"A nineteenth-century novel for today, with a creditable Brontëan flavor." —Penelope Lively, The Sunday Times, London

"...a powerful and magnificently written novel." —The New York Times Book Review

From the Publisher
"Compulsively readable fun." —The Baltimore Sun

"A nineteenth-century novel for today, with a creditable Brontëan flavor." —Penelope Lively, The Sunday Times, London

"...a powerful and magnificently written novel." —The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143034834
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/31/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Clare Boylan

Clare Boylan is the author of seven novels, which include Holy Pictures, Room for a Single Lady, Black Baby, and Beloved Stranger. She has also written several works of nonfiction.

Biography

Clare Boylan began her literary career as a journalist for the now defunct Irish Press. In 1974, while working for Ireland's Evening Press, she won the Journalist of the Year Award. She also worked as editor of Image magazine and lent her considerable style and elegance to that glossy lifestyle publication. Her first book, the novel Holy Pictures, was published in 1983. She went on to complete six additional novels, several collections of short stories, two works of literary nonfiction, and an impressive body of criticism.

The book for which Boylan is best known is Emma Brown, a brilliant, imaginative continuation of a 20-page novel fragment left behind by Charlotte Brontë. Before tackling the project, Boylan spent countless hours in painstaking research, immersing herself in the social conventions of Victorian London (where the novel takes place) and striving to re-create the subtle nuances of Brontë's unique literary voice. She succeeded admirably. Published in 2003, the book received lavish praise, especially for its pitch-perfect tone. Writing in the New York Times, reviewer Miranda Seymour raved, "Emma Brown is a powerful and magnificently written novel that does ample justice to the two brief chapters from which it sprang."

Boylan died on May 16th, 2006, from ovarian cancer, a disease she had battled for several years.

Good To Know

In our interview, Boylan revealed some interesting anecdotes about herself:

"As children my sisters and I read late into the night by torchlight. When the torches gave out we made up our own stories, cliff-hanging serials that always stopped at the most spine-tingling moment."

"I became a professional writer because it was a hidden profession. I always looked too young and too small for a proper job. As a teenager I got a summer job in a grocery shop, but I looked so unimpressive that I was put in the back cutting the stalks off cabbages. The two old ladies who ran the shop would not even let me out to join the street parade for John F. Kennedy, who was visiting Dublin. I have never forgiven them for that."

"My first poem was published when I was 16. It was called "First Love." It earned me ten shillings and a fan letter from a handsome older man (with a blurred photo enclosed) who wrote poems about his wartime experiences. After a fever of correspondence we agreed to meet. What a shock! I couldn't believe anyone could be so old. He had neglected to mention that his service was in World War One. I never wrote another poem, but I did write a short story about the meeting and that set me on the path to fiction."

"Holy Pictures was my first novel, published in 1983. Home Rule, published nine years later, was inspired by an old photograph I found in a friend's house. I realized it fitted exactly my image of Nan's mother, Daisy, and knew I had to tell the story of Daisy's childhood and early marriage."

"I have always loved walking, talking, and reading and I like interesting ways to exercise. I am currently learning to box -- great for me, but a challenge for my instructor teaching a skinny, middle-aged five-footer. Next project is to learn to ride a bicycle. I have been driving since my 20s but never learned to cycle."

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    1. Hometown:
      County Wicklow, Ireland
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 21, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Date of Death:
      May 16, 2006
    2. Place of Death:
      Dublin, Ireland

Read an Excerpt

We all seek an ideal in life. A pleasant fancy began to visit me in a certain year, that perhaps the number of human beings is few who do not find their quest at some era of life for some space more or less brief. I had certainly not found mine in youth, though the strong belief I held of its existence sufficed through all my brightest and freshest time to keep me hopeful. I had not found it in maturity. I was become resigned never to find it. I had lived certain dim years entirely tranquil and unexpectant. And now I was not sure but something was hovering around my hearth which pleased me wonderfully.

Look at it, reader. Come into my parlour and judge for yourself whether I do right to care for this thing. First you may scan me, if you please. We shall go on better together after a satisfactory introduction and due apprehension of identity. My name is Mrs. Chalfont. I am a widow. My house is good, and my income such as need not check the impulse either of charity or a moderate hospitality. I am not young, not yet old. There is no silver yet in my hair, but its yellow lustre is gone. In my face, wrinkles are yet to come, but I have almost forgotten the days when it wore any bloom. I lived for fifteen years a life, which, whatever its trials, could not be called stagnant. Then for five years I was alone, and, having no children, desolate. Lately, Fortune, by a somewhat curious turn of her wheel, placed in my way an interest and a companion.

The neighbourhood where I live is pleasant enough, its scenery agreeable, and its society civilized, though not numerous. About a mile from my house there is a ladies’ school, established but lately—not more than three years since. The conductresses of this school were of my acquaintances; and though I cannot say that they occupied the very highest place in my opinion—for they had brought back from some months’ residence abroad, for finishing purposes, a good deal that was fantastic, affected and pretentious—yet I awarded them some portion of that respect which seems the fair due of all women who face life bravely, and try to make their own way by their own efforts.

About a year after the Misses Wilcox opened their school, when the number of their pupils was as yet exceedingly limited, and when, no doubt, they were looking out anxiously enough for augmentation, the entrance-gate to their little drive was one day thrown back to admit a carriage—”a very handsome, fashionable carriage,” Miss Mabel Wilcox said, in narrating the circumstance afterwards—and drawn by a pair of really splendid horses. The sweep up the drive, the loud ring at the door-bell, the bustling entrance into the house, the ceremonious admission to the bright drawing-room, roused excitement enough in Fuchsia Lodge. Miss Wilcox repaired to the reception-room in a pair of new gloves, and carrying in her hand a handkerchief of French cambric.

She found a gentleman seated on the sofa, who, as he rose up, appeared a tall, fine-looking personage; at least she thought him so, as he stood with his back to the light. He introduced himself as Mr. Fitzgibbon, inquired if Miss Wilcox had a vacancy, and intimated that he wished to entrust to her care a new pupil in the shape of his daughter. This was welcome news, for there was many a vacancy in Miss Wilcox’s schoolroom; indeed, her establishment was as yet limited to the select number of three, and she and her sisters were looking forward with anything but confidence to the balancing of accounts at the close of their first half-year. Few objects could have been more agreeable to her than that to which, by the wave of a hand, Mr. Fitzgibbon now directed her attention—the figure of a child standing near the drawing-room window.

Had Miss Wilcox’s establishment boasted fuller ranks—had she indeed entered well on that course of prosperity which in after years an undeviating attention to externals enabled her so triumphantly to realize—an early thought with her would have been to judge whether the acquisition now offered was likely to answer well as a show-pupil. She would have instantly marked her look, dress, &c., and inferred her value from these indicia. In these anxious commencing times, however, Miss Wilcox could scarce afford herself the luxury of such appreciation: a new pupil represented £40 a year, independently of masters’ terms—and £40 a year was a sum Miss Wilcox needed and was glad to secure; besides, the fine carriage, the fine gentleman, and the fine name gave gratifying assurance, enough and to spare, of eligibility in the proffered connection.

It was admitted, then, that there were vacancies in Fuchsia Lodge; that Miss Fitzgibbon could be received at once; that she was to learn all that the school prospectus professed to teach; to be liable to every extra; in short to be as expensive, and consequently as profitable a pupil, as any directress’s heart could wish. All this was arranged as upon velvet, smoothly and liberally. Mr. Fitzgibbon showed in the transaction none of the hardness of the bargain-making man of business, and as little of the penurious anxiety of the straitened professional man. Miss Wilcox felt him to be “quite the gentleman.” Everything disposed her to be partially inclined towards the little girl whom he, on taking leave, formally committed to her guardianship; and as if no circumstance should be wanting to complete her happy impression, the address left written on a card served to fill up the measure of Miss Wilcox’s satisfaction—Conway Fitzgibbon, Esq., May Park, Midland County. That very day three decrees were passed in the newcomer’s favour:

1st. That she was to be Miss Wilcox’s bed-fellow.

2nd. To sit next to her at table.

3rd. To walk out with her.

In a few days it became evident that a fourth secret clause had been added to these, viz, that Miss Fitzgibbon was to be favoured, petted, and screened on all possible occasions.

An ill-conditioned pupil, who before coming to Fuchsia Lodge had passed a year under the care of certain old-fashioned Misses Sterling of Hartwood, and from them had picked up unpractical notions of justice, took it upon her to utter an opinion on this system of favouritism.

“The Misses Sterling,” she injudiciously said, “never distinguished any girl because she was richer or better dressed than the rest. They would have scorned to do so. They always rewarded girls according as they behaved well to their school fellows and minded their lessons, not according to the number of their silk dresses and fine laces and feathers.”

For it must not be forgotten that Miss Fitzgibbon’s trunks, when opened, disclosed a splendid wardrobe; so fine were the various articles of apparel, indeed, that instead of assigning for their accommodation the painted deal drawers of the school bedroom, Miss Wilcox had them arranged in a mahogany bureau in her own room. With her own hands, too, she would on Sundays array the little favourite in her quilted silk pelisse, her hat and feathers, her ermine boa, and little French boots and gloves. And very self-complacent she felt when she led the young heiress (a letter from Mr. Fitzgibbon, received since his first visit, had communicated the additional particulars that his daughter was his only child, and would be the inheritress of his estates, including May Park, Midland County)—when she led her, I say, into the church, and seated her stately by her side at the top of the gallery pew. Unbiased observers might, indeed, have wondered what there was to be proud of, and puzzled their heads to detect the special merits of this little woman in silk—for, to speak truth, Miss Fitzgibbon was far from being the beauty of the school: there were two or three blooming little faces amongst her companions lovelier than hers. Had she been a poor child, Miss Wilcox herself would not have liked her physiognomy at all: rather, indeed, would it have repelled than attracted her; and, moreover—though Miss Wilcox hardly confessed the circumstance to herself, but, on the contrary strove hard not to be conscious of it—there were moments when she became sensible of a certain strange weariness in continuing her system of partiality. It hardly came natural to her to show this special distinction in this particular instance. An undefined wonder would smite her sometimes that she did not take more satisfaction in flattering and caressing this embryo heiress—that she did not like better to have her always at her side, under her special charge. On principle, for she argued with herself: This is the most aristocratic and richest of my pupils; she brings me the most credit and the most profit: therefore, I ought, in justice, to show her a special indulgence; which she did—but with a gradually increasing peculiarity of feeling.

Certainly, the undue favours showered on little Miss Fitzgibbon brought their object no real benefit. Unfitted for the character of playfellow by her position of favourite, her fellow pupils rejected her company as decidedly as they dared. Active rejection was not long necessary; it was soon seen that passive avoidance would suffice; the pet was not social. No: even Miss Wilcox never thought her social. When she sent for her to show her fine clothes in the drawing-room when there was company, and especially when she had her into her parlour of an evening to be her own companion, Miss Wilcox used to feel curiously perplexed. She would try to talk affably to the young heiress, to draw her out, to amuse her. To herself the governess could render no reason why her efforts soon flagged; but this was invariably the case. However, Miss Wilcox was a woman of courage; and be the protégée what she might, the patroness did not fail to continue on principle her system of preference.

A favourite has no friends; and the observation of a gentle man, who about this time called at the Lodge and chanced to see Miss Fitzgibbon, was, “That child looks consummately unhappy”: he was watching Miss Fitzgibbon, as she walked, by herself, fine and solitary, while her schoolfellows were merrily playing.

“Who is the miserable little wight?” he asked.

He was told her name and dignity.

“Wretched little soul!” he repeated; and he watched her pace down the walk and back again; marching upright, her hands in her ermine muff, her fine pelisse showing a gay sheen to the winter’s sun, her large Leghorn hat shading such a face as fortunately had not its parallel on the premises.

“Wretched little soul!” reiterated the gentleman. He opened the drawing-room window, watched the bearer of the muff till he caught her eye and then summoned her with his finger. She came; he stooped his head down to her; she lifted her face up to him.

“Don’t you play, little girl?”

“No, sir.”

“No! why not? Do you think yourself better than other children?”

No answer.

“Is it because people tell you you are rich, you won’t play?” The young lady was gone. He stretched out his hand to arrest her, but she wheeled beyond his reach and ran quickly out of sight.

“An only child,” pleaded Miss Wilcox; “possibly spoiled by her papa, you know; we must excuse a little pettishness.”

“Humph! I am afraid there is not a little to excuse.”

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2010

    Better than expected!

    I was a little hesitant to think that anyone could follow in Bronte's footsteps by finishing an unfinished work, but Clara Boylan managed to pull it off. Though I think she did take a little literary license in modernizing the language some from what Bronte may have used, the story line was quite captivating. With many twists and turns, I felt like I was always trying to figure out the ending, only to have something else thrown in to the mix to liven things up. I thought the character development was excellent, and the appeal of the various players undeniable. I picked this book up on a whim from the clearance rack over a year ago, and just read it recently. I wish I had picked it up sooner!

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Classic Victorian Novel from the 21st Century

    Emma Brown is a tale of a young girl who goes through some of the most difficult and horrific things that one could imagine, even for Victorian England. Told from the perspective of a Mrs. Alfred Chalfont (Isabel), a woman who started out in poor and ended up in a position of both respect and able to help - to some extent - a few of those less fortunate than herself. She uses her uplifted status to assist Emma - a task made very difficult because the girl can't remember her own past, and has even been given the false name of Matilda Fitzgibbon and placed in a rural school for young ladies, Fuchsia Lodge by goodness knows whom! The story also goes into how Mrs. Chalfont got to where she is, and the difficulties she herself faced along the way - not the least of which was falling for a man above her station, and being forced into a loveless marriage to another.

    The first thing you'll notice about this novel is that the language is far from 21st century, but not quite as difficult as that of some Victorian era novels you may have been exposed to previously. Still, there is a true feel of something close to that time, and Boylan has done her best to keep in line with Brontë's voice. Some phrases enter here and there that may seem a touch too modern, but the general feel is certainly aged and mostly consistent.

    The most interesting part of working on this novel, was inserting Charlotte Brontë's view of social injustice into the story. The situations in which these characters find themselves aren't all that unknown to us as we have read about them in the likes of Dickens, Austin and Thackeray. Dickens certainly showed the more squalid side of Victorian London to his readers, when few others had the guts to do so. However, he sometimes used hyperbole and comedic absurdities to help dull the sharp edge from his social commentary. Austin certainly knew first hand, and wrote almost only about how a lower income imposed a social glass ceiling upon those who were the moral and intellectual equals of the monied counterparts. But Austin's protagonists always made just enough of a crack in that ceiling to slip through and triumph fairytale-like into happily ever after. Thackeray showed us through his satires how easily the upper classes can fall, and be felled, through their own foolish ways. However, Thackeray preferred to put most of the reasons for his character's changes in fortunes firmly in their own hands and due to their own choices, and hardly ever because of chance, luck or the doings of others.

    Boylan, has taken all these elements just one step further. She delves into even muddier waters of the seedier side of London than Dickens, almost to the point of shocking. She also shows aspects of the British class system and how much more fluid it was than many, including Austin, would have admitted to. Finally, unlike Thackeray, while some of Boylan's characters are instrumental in their own changes in social standing, she doesn't discount that sometimes people prosper or fail due to things far beyond their own control. All this works in perfect harmony with Charlotte's own personal difficult history who also was appalled with many things she saw in the world around her.

    This isn't to say that this is a novel you'll find heavy and hard to read. In fact, the book actually unfolds like a mystery novel, with cliff-hangers and foreshadowing, for a real page-turner effect. Truly a classic novel from the 21st Century!

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  • Posted March 5, 2010

    Excellent!

    This book was really captivating and engaging. Clare Boylan did a magnificent job keeping with the Bronte style.

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  • Posted June 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A total waste of time

    I've read some of Charlotte Bronte's novels and loved them. But Emma Brown? I had to push myself just to finish it... This book was redundant and boring. PLEASE spare yourself the agony. Reading it began to feel like a really bad chore and I began to liken it to torture.
    :(
    BEWARE!!!

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    Emma Browne

    Did very well in the style of Bronte and the plot and characters run along fine up to about the end where it seems to become almost impossible situation with a lot of silly coincidences. But the whole runs on as a good read. njc

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  • Posted April 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The author did a great job finishing up where Charlotte Bronte left off.

    Emma Brown was a good read. I was amazed I could not tell where Charlotte Bronte left off and Clare Boylan finished off this novel. Charlotte Bronte only wrote 20 pages and died before finishing the book. Boylan combined another of Bronte's unfinished manuscript about William Ellin with this book. It took 149 years after Bronte's death to finally complete this story by another gifted story teller.
    The plot takes place in the Victorian era. It is written in the first person from Isabel Chalfont's point of view. Boylan explains that Mrs.Chalfont was gossipy, honest, and ironic and felt like she was a good friend keeping her company while completing this wonderful novel.
    Emma Brown was not so much a love story as it was a mystery. Each of the main characters have a past that must be solved. At the end, the reader is left to determine the destiny of one of the main characters.
    The historical aspect of the setting in London keeps the reader absorbed.
    The description of the geography, people, and the Victorian society holds the reader spellbound and in anticipation of what beholds them next.
    The characters must look to their past to find who and what they have become.

    Cherry Blossom

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2007

    Captivating, couldn't stop reading for hours on end

    I love this book. It does seem a bit improbable in places, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2005

    Rich text and well-developed characters make this a must-read for Bronte devotees

    As someone who devoted a lot of time to the Bronte sisters and other romantic writers during my undergraduate studies, I am constantly looking for modern novels that can compare to those literary masterpieces. Well, Clare Boylan has captured the tone and mimicked the character development that Charlotte was so famous for. Boylan weaves a magical tapestry with the intertwining lives of her protagonists. With Gothic influences and almost Dickensian characters, Boylan takes the reader on a fast-paced journey from the bucolic English countryside to the dark and gritty streets of London. One becomes intrigued with the enigmatic Emma Brown and yearns to learn her identity as much as she does.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2009

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