Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Charlotte Brontë

The Brontë Sisters Shall Save Me from Winter

Thank you, Anna Karenina. If I had not recently discovered the joy of reading my favourite books again instead of endlessly powering through an oppressive To Read list I wouldn’t have known how to combat a melancholy reading slump.

I’ve been reading Martin Chuzzlewit for what feels like forever (although in actuality is maybe two and a half weeks) but I am still only about half way through. Chapter Twenty-Nine of Fifty-Four if you’d like the statistics. I’m not enjoying it. Is it me? Is it the book? Is it the wrong time for me to be reading the book? I’m not sure, but I’m going to have a break from it! Stopping midway through Little Dorrit was what, eventually, made me come to appreciate it rather than hate it, so I’m hoping this will have a similar effect.

And now, the remedy: Firstly I picked up Stardust by Neil Gaiman on Friday evening, reading into the small hours and finishing it this morning. I’ve always loved that story so that worked a treat. Secondly I ordered a copy of Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse, which I haven’t read before but have listened to the audio book and it had me literally crying with laughter. So I’ll be reading that once it arrives.

My final reading remedy: The Brontës. It’s been ages since I read a Brontë novel – I think the last was Agnes Grey last November. That is far too long a gap! So, next weekend I am going back to Haworth. Hurrah! I love Haworth: visiting the Brontë’s house, all the old bookshops and the moors, of course. In preparation I am going to re-read Wuthering Heights. I have always loved this book but it has been a few years since I last read it. It was the first novel I read by any of the Brontë sisters so it’ll be interesting to read it now I have read books by Charlotte and Anne Brontë too. And after that: Villette or Shirley? Which do you think?

Look out for some Brontë posts next week. There’ll most likely be more than one!

A Literary Pilgrimage

This Sunday I made a pilgrimage to Haworth, home of the Brontës. Yes, The Taste of Sorrow has made a big impact. As you can see from the photographs, I couldn’t have asked for more atmospheric weather…

parsonageThe building is the Parsonage where the Brontës lived. It is slightly bigger than when they lived there, as it was extended by the Reverend who lived there after Patrick Brontë died. The house was pretty cosy, but everything was much smaller than I was expecting. Obviously the Church in those days was not necessarily a wealthy vocation, but this seemed like there would have been too many people in too small a place – I suppose the Brontë’s reputations exceeded their beginnings.

museum signThe Museum really focused on the act of writing: They had Charlotte and Emily’s portable writing desks set up with all the original contents inside – nibs, blotting paper, seals etc. The living room of the house is laid out as it would have been when the sisters would use it to write and critique their work and it was exciting to stand in it and imagine all of that happening.

ghostly haworth

The Parsonage was fantastic to see on a day like this; with these views how could Wuthering Heights be written by anyone but a Brontë?! The landscape is always presented as so important in their writing, and today it seemed as though it would be hard to be unaffected.

Brontë Country

taste of sorrow

The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

This is an unusually written insight into the lives of the Brontës. Jude Morgan has taken the bare bones of their history, with all the commonly known details, and given them flesh. I didn’t know much about their biographies previously, other than a couple of visits to Haworth so I found this fascinating.

I quite like fictional history, although I appreciate it is a tricky genre to get right. I think what made this book so successful was the unusual writing style. The story is narrated by someone completely omniscient, who mixes description with glimpses into people’s thoughts. If you can imagine doing stream of consciousness whilst also writing in the third person… its like that. It really emphasised the close knit community the Brontë siblings established for themselves. There is a lot of focus on their stories about imaginary lands and early writing games that helped explain their need to write as they grew up.

The beginning of the book focuses on the early years sent away at school. These were some bleak times (!) and provided a lot of material for Jane Eyre. The poor treatment of the children at school resulted in the deaths of the two eldest siblings: Maria and Elizabeth. The effect of this on Charlotte ‘s personality was so believable, she had gone from the middle child to the eldest in just a couple of months and never really adjusted to the idea that she was capable of handling the responsibility this brought.

I loved the descriptions of the Parsonage and yorkshire landscapes. The Taste of Sorrow, like the latest cinematic version of Jane Eyre made me want to stride out across the moors! The harshness and bleakness played a big part in the forming of Emily’s personality: In this story she was strong, content alone and inwardly wild – the only possible author of a book like Wuthering Heights. It isn’t often I have the urge to read poetry (or at all really) but after reading this I would be interested to read some poetry by Emily Brontë.

The Taste of Sorrow didn’t leave out Anne or Branwell, which considering the literary heights of Charlotte and Emily could have been easy to do. In fact, an american version of the book is called Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontës. Scandal! What about Anne? Morgan describes Branwell as opressed by the weight of the family’s expectations for him; as the heir, he has to secure means to support his sisters. However, his inability to find an occupation, combined with being unlucky in love, lead him into a downward spiral of depression and alcoholism. The later parts of the book include the writing of The Professor, Wuthering Heights Agnes Grey, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Eyre and Vilette.

There were, of course, tragic endings and deaths. The Brontë children died young and many within a few pages of each other. Morgan tried to end the book on a happy note – Charlotte’s marriage – but the general themes of barren landscapes and death at the end of the book was inescapable. In the most basic of summaries Emily was the most interesting, Anne was overlooked and Charlotte was the one who survived. The Taste of Sorrow is a really good introduction and I would be quite happy to read nothing but Brontë novels for a little while.

Overcoming Passions

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

This book has forced me to make the unusual statement: When it was romantic, I loved it.

But this is only about ten pages of the whole book. The plot itself is brilliant and Charlotte Brontë certainly has moments that make you convinced that she has a way with words, but there is something missing. There isn’t quite the intensity that a book dealing with such powerful emotions needed. Or, rather, when it was intense, it was pious and that wasn’t what I wanted.

From speaking to many people about Jane Eyre it seems that there are two camps: People who love Jane Eyre, and people who love Wuthering Heights. As much as you should ever base an opinion on just one book, I’m on team Emily.

Favourite Lines from Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë – When she is good, she is very very good.

“I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternness and still-retirement, its old crow-trees and thorn-trees, its grey façade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin: and yet how long have I abhorred the very thought of it, shunned it like a great plague-house?”

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

“I am influenced – conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win.”