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.