Romancing Miss Bronte

Romancing Miss Bronte

4.4 13
by Juliet Gael
     
 

In this astonishing novel, a brilliant mélange of fact and fiction, Juliet Gael skillfully and stylishly captures the passions, hopes, dreams, and sorrows of literature’s most famous sisters—and imagines how love dramatically and most unexpectedly found Charlotte Brontë.

During the two years that she studied in Brussels, Charlotte had a taste

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Overview

In this astonishing novel, a brilliant mélange of fact and fiction, Juliet Gael skillfully and stylishly captures the passions, hopes, dreams, and sorrows of literature’s most famous sisters—and imagines how love dramatically and most unexpectedly found Charlotte Brontë.

During the two years that she studied in Brussels, Charlotte had a taste of life’s splendors—travel, literature, and art. Now, back home in the Yorkshire moors, duty-bound to a blind father and an alcoholic brother, an ambitious Charlotte refuses to sink into hopelessness. With her sisters, Emily and Anne, Charlotte conceives a plan to earn money and pursue a dream: The Brontës will publish. In childhood the Brontë children created fantastical imaginary worlds; now the sisters craft novels quite unlike anything written before. Transforming her loneliness and personal sorrow into a triumph of literary art, Charlotte pens her 1847 masterpiece, Jane Eyre.

Charlotte’s novel becomes an overwhelming literary success, catapulting the shy and awkward young woman into the spotlight of London’s fashionable literary scene—and into the arms of her new publisher, George Smith, an irresistibly handsome young man whose interest in his fiercely intelligent and spirited new author seems to go beyond professional duty. But just as life begins to hold new promise, unspeakable tragedy descends on the Brontë household, throwing London and George into the background and leaving Charlotte to fear that the only romance she will ever find is at the tip of her pen.
 
But another man waits in the Brontës’ Haworth parsonage—the quiet but determined curate Arthur Nicholls. After secretly pining for Charlotte since he first came to work for her father, Arthur suddenly reveals his heart to her.

Romancing Miss Brontë is a fascinating portrayal of an extraordinary woman whose life and work articulated our deepest human longing: to love and be loved in return.
 

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her debut, Gael makes a valiant attempt to blend fact with fiction as she transports readers to 19th-century England, where Charlotte Brontë conspires with her sisters to publish their works under pseudonyms. The publications aren’t instant successes, and shortly after Charlotte’s Jane Eyre creates a stir in London, a wave of deaths in her family leaves Charlotte as the sole caretaker of her aging father. That responsibility, combined with her “average” looks, seem certain to fate Charlotte to a life of spinsterhood—until a confession of undying love comes from an unlikely corner. Charlotte has a choice: will she settle for less than that all-encompassing passion she writes about? Or would she rather be alone for the rest of her life? Through letters written by Brontë herself and research on her life and life’s work, Gael paints an accurate and intriguing depiction of the author, though her dedication to her material leads portions to read like straightforward biography. There are a number of good moments, though, and Brontë fans will surely enjoy this look at the author’s life, even if it doesn’t bleed like the classics. (May)
Library Journal
Although the title of this debut novel might suggest that the man who wooed and eventually wed Charlotte Brontë plays a central role throughout, in reality Arthur Bell Nicholls remains in the background for much of the book, performing parish duties as Patrick Brontë's curate. Gael plunges readers into the Brontë household, where Charlotte, Anne, and Emily write the novels that would make them famous while brother Branwell sinks into addiction and dissipation. The focus is on Charlotte, who must cope with the deaths of all her three siblings in less than a year, a depressed and irascible father, and literary notoriety after her identity is revealed. Slowly she relinquishes youthful dreams of romance with a married professor and her attraction to the London publisher of her books and acknowledges Arthur's love. VERDICT Gael makes Charlotte's transformation in her brief marriage and the revelations about Arthur's character as interesting as the earlier turmoil that dominates many novels about the famous family (e.g., Denise Giardina's Emily's Ghost). Brontë devotees and those interested in British literary life will enjoy this novel, which also has book club potential. [See "Prepub Exploded," BookSmack!, December 3, 2009; with library marketing. See also Sheila Kohler's recent Becoming Jane Eyre and Jude Morgan's forthcoming Charlotte and Emily.—Ed.]—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato
Kirkus Reviews
Novelized biography of Charlotte Bronte, with emphasis on her love life, or lack thereof. The Bronte sisters' childhood ended abruptly after their mother's early death. Unable to cope, their father, an impoverished Yorkshire vicar, consigned his four oldest daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily, to a charity boarding school were they were starved and abused. He rescued them, but only after the two eldest were sent home with consumption, which killed them. Charlotte and Emily enjoy a brief idyll studying French in Brussels, where Charlotte develops a desperate crush on her married professor, from which she will derive Jane Eyre's infatuation with Mr. Rochester. Back at the parsonage, Charlotte, Emily and youngest sister Anne spend their days sewing, placating Patrick and nursing brother Branwell, who's straining the family finances with his opium addiction, drinking binges and general dissipation. To raise funds, the sisters begin writing under masculine pseudonyms-Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Soon Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey are published, followed by Jane Eyre, a runaway bestseller. Sudden success affords only brief respite from the ongoing tragedy stalking the Brontes: Branwell, Anne and Emily will all succumb to consumption within a year. Left alone with the ailing but seemingly indestructible Patrick, Charlotte fails to notice that her father's curate, Arthur, whose staunch exterior belies his tender heart, is gazing at her longingly. At 38, she's made uncomfortable peace with spinsterhood, a topic she explores in her next novel, Shirley. Now unmasked, Charlotte is feted by London literati and once more disappointed in love, for her publisher GeorgeSmith. Will she realize the romantic possibilities within her grasp? Will she escape Patrick's possessiveness? Although the narrative hews very closely to the known facts, it is to newcomer Gael's credit that she not only builds suspense around these questions but also draws a tear when we learn Charlotte's eventual fate. A must-read for Bronte aficionados and anyone interested in the lives and concerns of Victorian women.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345520043
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/27/2010
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
6.62(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.43(d)

Read an Excerpt

Romancing Miss Bronte

A Novel
By Juliet Gael

Ballantine Books

Copyright © 2010 Juliet Gael
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780345520043

Chapter One


He rode in on the back of a wagon loaded with crates of chickens and bales of hay, driven by a brutish farmer who had not uttered a word throughout the journey except to curse his horse. Arthur would have enjoyed a bit of conversation as the wagon lurched along the muddy ruts, but the natural world was a thing of splendor and inspiration to him, and he was content to gaze upon the vistas opening up before his eyes. It was September and the wind was balmy and thick- scented with heather. Each climb to the brow of a hill revealed rise after rise carpeted in swirls of purple, green, and gold, each growing paler until the moors faded into a violet haze, and thereafter only shelves of mist the color of blush that might be land or might be clouds. The upper reaches of the River Worth flowed from these hills and fed the becks that fed the mills that fed the people, when times were good.

 Arthur and the Church of England had been an arranged marriage of sorts, but he had been one of those fortunate few who had fallen deeply in love with his bride despite her many foibles and warts. He had no tolerance for those who sought to strip her of her liturgy and beauty, and undermine her authority. He was a proud young man, conscious of the dignity vested in him as the newly appointed curate to Haworth, so it was understandable that he was a little vexed to be arriving in the village atop a bale of hay in a lowly wagon full of chickens. There was something unsavory about it, a hint of degradation. He meditated on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey but could not reconcile this image with the squawking birds all around him. He wished he had a horse, but a horse was not within his means.

By the time they arrived at the bottom of Main Street the sky had darkened and lead- gray clouds were moving up swiftly from the south. The wind rose. Workers from the outlying mills were returning home across the fields, hurrying down to the village and disappearing into the dense, hidden warrens of the poor. 

At the tollgate the farmer ordered him down. “I’ll deliver yer box but ye walk from ’ere,” he muttered as he swiftly pocketed the coin Arthur dropped into his hand. 

“Where might I find the parsonage?” Arthur asked stiffly. “I am Reverend Brontë’s new curate.” 

For this bit of introduction all he got was a scowl and a sharp jerk of the head indicating the top of the steep hill. 

A cold drizzle had blown in, sharp as needles. 

The street was a long, brutal climb, and several times he threw an anxious glance over his shoulder at the old mare laboring slowly up the steep cobbled way. To the right the hillside fell off sharply, with ramshackle sheds and small garden plots scattered along the slope below. On the left rose a straggling row of small stone cottages built from millstone grit quarried in those treeless moors. A sense of oppression and harshness hung over the village. 

Halfway up, Arthur paused to rest. Glancing back down the hill he saw that the horse had stalled and the farmer had resorted to a whip. Arthur was accustomed to dealing with recalcitrant draft horses, and he had a winning way with stubborn beasts, a talent that did not always translate to his own species. So when he turned back down the hill, it was more out of sympathy for the horse than for the brutish farmer. Drawing close, he could see the panic in the horse’s eyes and the strain that rippled along her muscled flanks. Arthur had once witnessed the carnage when a horse hitched to an overloaded wagon had been dragged backward down an icy slope, and he knew the animal had reason to fear. Arthur stepped up beside the horse and spoke soothingly to her, but when he reached for the bridle he was startled by the crack of the whip just over his head. “Away with ye,” the farmer shouted. “Git away. Git yer hands off my horse.” Without warning he lashed out again with the whip, barely missing Arthur’s cheek. 

Arthur’s eyes flashed with anger. He was a powerful man, with a good height and an oxlike build. He had it in him to drag the farmer from his seat and give him a thrashing, but his only concern was for the safety of the horse. He steeled his mind to the task and ignored the cursing, the whip, and the rain. With a firm, coaxing voice, he spoke to the beast, and after a moment she began to move. 

Arthur stubbornly led the animal to the top, never relinquishing the reins until they reached a junction at the heart of the village where the road widened and leveled. 

The farmer pulled his cap down around his head and waited in sullen silence while Arthur unloaded his trunk from between the bale of hay and crates of chickens. Without so much as a nod of gratitude, the man took up the reins and drove away. 

Arthur looked around and found himself in front of the Black Bull Inn. Just a few feet away, up wide steps and through a gate stood the parish church: an ugly, dreary edifice, hardly more inspiring than the gloomy village that lay at its feet. 

It was a disappointing revelation, but he was not the kind to ponder disappointments. 

At the Black Bull he got a civil reply to his inquiry and learned that his lodgings were just up the lane. He arranged to have his trunk delivered and then set off up the cobbled street. 

Past the church, the graveyard came into view. It spread up the treeless slope, climbing to the very walls of the parsonage and spilling into the fields beyond, an insidious thing that swelled its stomach with every harsh winter, famine, and plague. The parsonage stood alone at the top of the steep hill, anchored firmly in this sea of dead. Beyond lay the vast stormy sky and the wild moors. 

The house was a two- storied Georgian thing, brick with a pair of whitewashed columns flanking the door. Respectable and unexceptional in any way.

Daylight was waning and Arthur was rain- soaked and out of temper, but he was curious about the aging reverend who had written him such elaborately courteous letters in an old- fashioned, grandiloquent sort of language. Patrick Brontë was an Irishman, like himself, and Arthur had hoped to come to the end of his journey and find a little bit of home. A bit of Irish humor, and perhaps a glass of whiskey or port to revive his flagging spirits. 

He hesitated at the bottom of the graveyard, nearly blown back by a stinging gust of wind. At that moment a woman appeared at the lower window of the parsonage. She held a candle that cast a warm light across her face, and she paused to peer out at the evening sky. After a moment, the shutters were drawn. One by one, upstairs and down, she appeared at the windows until the house was closed to the world. 

At that moment a sudden, agonizing wail poured from the house. It sounded only briefly before being carried off by the wind as it swept, lamenting, past the sharp corners of the parsonage and out to the open moors, where there was nothing to impede its passage. 

But Arthur was convinced it was not the wind he had heard. 

He was not the superstitious sort; nonetheless, he turned his back on the parsonage and strode across the lane to the stone cottage where he had taken lodgings with the family of the local sexton, John Brown. 

A stonemason by trade, John Brown tended the church and the graveyard; he inscribed the names of the dead on the tombstones, as his father had done before him. It was a large family, and all they could offer him was a small room looking out on a dirt yard where chickens scratched around slabs of granite. But Arthur was a practical man, and the situation was both affordable and convenient. The church school, which would fall under his supervision, stood adjacent to Sexton House, and the parsonage was a stone’s throw away. 

John Brown and his wife gave him a warm welcome. His room was ready; there was hot water to bathe his face and a light supper of boiled ham. As he knelt by his bed for prayers that night, Arthur consoled himself with the thought that he need not stay in Haworth longer than a year. Once he was ordained, he would seek his own incumbency elsewhere, in a more congenial place. 

If it be God’s will. 

Continues...

Excerpted from Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael Copyright © 2010 by Juliet Gael. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Juliet Gael was raised in the Midwest and obtained her M.A. in French literature before pursuing graduate film studies at USC and English literature at UCLA in Los Angeles, California. She has lived abroad for more than fifteen years, primarily in Paris, where she worked as a screenwriter. She now makes her home in Florence, Italy.

From the Hardcover edition.

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