Novelized biography of Charlotte Brontë, with emphasis on her love life, or lack thereof.
The Brontë 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 Brontës: 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 George Smith. 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 Brontë aficionados and anyone interested in the lives and concerns of Victorian women.