'All overgrown by cunning moss,
All interspersed with weed,
The little cage of "Currer Bell"
In quiet "Haworth" laid.'
My desk reading this year is The Poems of Emily Dickinson, a beautiful hardback edition propped on a book rest to my left hand and there for the browsing while I wait for the computer to do something or I might just stop what I'm doing, rest my chin on my hand on my elbow and immerse myself completely. A stop and stare moment which I think Emily Dickinson would have appreciated, turning over a page every few days and all the while discovering that Emily really had a message for just about every situation.
So 146, the Brontes and there I was in the aftermath of the final page of Jude Morgan's forthcoming novel The Taste of Sorrow and feeling quite bereft of a book that took me hostage keeping me Bronte-bound for the duration.
Anyone who may question the need for another Bronte book can just keep on asking and I will keep on saying I think this could be the one we've been waiting for.
Jude Morgan has remained true to historical events, so faction rules but be reassured, if you know little you'll know it all by the end and anyone who knows their Parsonage from their Personage will still settle down comfortably into this and safely get busy investing emotion and passion into the Bronte lives as never before. Expect the characters and personalities to blossom on the page as if they were old friends that you thought you knew well, but now it's as if they've been to visit for a few weeks. Unlike Johnson's three day-old fish they don't stink, you really don't want these guests to leave, even Branwell feels welcome.
Poor poor Branwell, brilliantly and sympathetically portrayed with his innate fear of growing up, of manhood and responsibility, of having to make his way in the world,
'the king who never seems to come into his kingdom'
His final decline and passing taking a huge toll on the family because on Branwell's shoulders rested the unfulfilled hopes of his father and sisters.
Then the fiesty Emily, the distant, detached, remote free spirit (I'd have her and Branwell on the autistic spectrum...that's half the nineteenth century I've diagnosed recently, but Branwell tirelessly lining up all those soldiers time and again, it's obvious)
Meek, unassuming, self-effacing Anne but so perceptive of those around her, and of course Charlotte, constantly struggling to acknowledge her true feelings
'like a hot, heavy dish righteously burning her fingers'
and of course happiness always came at the cost of overwhelming guilt,
'like an accusation of some small, slinking crime.'
Patrick Bronte the broodingly serious and emotionally constrained father, the Haworth incumbent so brilliantly caring of his parish yet lost when finding himself in such personal and emotionally over-wrought territory, not quite knowing what is expected of him as he grieves behind that closed study door for the loss of his family one by one.
Jude Morgan brings the entire cast to centre stage and under a new and revealing spotlight clearly demonstrates the effects of early grief and loss on the Bronte family, firstly their mother, then Maria and Elizabeth. Suddenly that sense that of course this cannot possibly be ignored, pervaded my understanding of the Brontes and revealed new insights. From being a child who was happily wedged in the midst of a happy brood of siblings suddenly Charlotte is thrust onto the periphery to become the oldest,
'torn from the warmth of the middle, exposed.'
the most responsible, the one who must protect the others, care for her father and that responsibility weighs heavily.
There are moments of pure literary genius in the writing when these disparate souls in a form of stream of consciousness think as one, but actually you are reading an expression of the individual hopes and fears of all four siblings. It's hard to describe how cleverly this is done but it's a wonderful melding of their close-knit yet vastly differing personalities.
I'm also secretly hoping that someone's thinking about optioning the film rights as a result because, as I read, I couldn't recall a decent film of the Brontes but knew that in this book I was reading the perfect account. I suppose Kiera will have to be in it somehow, probably stick-thin consumptive Emily and give us a good death scene. In fact obviously just about everyone gets a death scene though I was thankful by the end that Charlotte's was left to an Author's Note and my imagination because I'm not sure I could have borne the grief of another one.
Oh yes it's all there and, though many who read The Taste of Sorrow will know it all down to every last detail, I for one knew that I had never read it written quite like this before.
How difficult it must be to make something so familiar to many feel so refreshingly vibrant and renewed and I suspect also equally alluring to those who come to the Brontes with no knowledge of the detail.
Nor does it take a Mystic Meg to predict a Bronte reading revival on the back of this book. I couldn't wait to pick up something, nay anything Bronte-related and with those memories of the sisters reading Charlotte's words so firmly fixed in my mind it was The Professor for me,
'Anne finds the Brussels part fascinating: just occasionally as she reads out Charlotte catches in Emily's eye a peculiar sceptical look, as if she were hearing a particularly elaborate lie. Which of course is what fiction is.'
I wish Jude Morgan so much success with this book, it really is a masterpiece.