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Romancing Miss BrontëThe title of Juliet Gael's novel might sound strange to modern readers with little knowledge of the Brontës' lives. 'Romancing Miss Brontë'? They must think, picturing old maids, huge skirts, strange hairdos, dainty teacups and the like. Old things all of them not conducive to romance in their eyes. And yet that is the apt title of Juliet Gael's novel in which she tells the story of the adult Charlotte Brontë with special attention to her love life, which was more intense - though at times somewhat one-sided - than meets the eye. Highly varied too.
Written by Juliet Gael
On sale: April 27, 2010
'She carried a new parasol the shade of pale mint, although she knew the wind might well ravage it on the walk back to Haworth.'An effort seems to have been made in order to let the Brontës do the talking. Parts of the dialogue are taken straight out of letters, prefaces, novels, etc. carefully so that they don't contrast too much with the rest of the dialogue. And while we appreciate this for obvious reasons, we also feel it's somewhat awkward, particularly for the Brontëite able to spot these quotations. It's as if the Brontës tended to repeat themselves. At other times, though the message is correct, the way of speaking is too unnatural. Timid Charlotte blurting out , 'perhaps you confuse virtue and convention, gentlemen. Conventionality is not morality, and self-righteousness is not religion' (from the preface to Jane Eyre) in a dinner full of literary critics after the publication of Shirley is strange both because it sounds like written language and because the critics would have already read that in the second edition of Jane Eyre.
But we mustn't judge Charlotte and Branwell too harshly for their fantasies. They lived in a time of straitjacket morality when the slightest quiver of the flesh gave cause for outrage. A time when the most lauded novels of the day portrayed repentant heroes who, in moments of deep remorse, vowed to never again watch a game of billiards! Denial of human desire was the battle cry of the day.
With characteristic determination and insight far ahead of his time, [Patrick Brontë] spent hours poring over medical journals. . .It's like a voiceover coming from somewhere else and it belittles the reader a bit to be spoken to thus.
You must understand that a good share of Papa's anger arises from the idea--not altogether groundless-- that Mr. N. has behaved with disingeniousness in so long concealing his aims--forging that Irish fiction &c.(4) While it is impossible to tell and while it is known that Arthur was highly respectful (and proud) of his wife's literary achievements, the attitude and dialogues seem at times a little forced. But that is fine by us, since this is Juliet Gael's perception of Arthur. What surprised us, then, is the fact that the epilogue says,
When George [Smith] expressed an interest in publishing The Professor--which he had resolutely refused to publish in Charlotte's lifetime--Arthur and Patrick rejected the idea on the grounds that the same story had been sucessfully told in Villette. But forces conspired against them, and Sir James [Kay-Shuttleworth] swept down on the parsonage one day and in his determined, insensitive manner managed to wrest the manuscript from Arthur's hands.It is true that Sir James took the manuscript when on a visit with Mrs Gaskell (who had invited him along in the first place for his 'determined, insensitive manner') but it was Arthur who gladly edited The Professor for publication, neither he, Mrs Gaskell or George Smith wanting to allow Sir James to edit it in keeping with Charlotte's opinion of the man. Arthur only edited out a few things and Mrs Gaskell - who was trying to wash Charlotte's image - privately complained to George Smith that he could/should have edited it more.
My Father is a clergyman of limited, though competent, income, and I am the eldest of his children. He expended quite as much in my education as he could afford in justice to the rest.Juliet Gael as edited the letter to say,
I am the eldest daughter of a clergyman who has sacrificed his small means so that I might be educated in Brussels.Which is a bit of a blunder given that Charlotte and Emily wouldn't leave for Brussels until 1842.