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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Charlotte Bronte's secret life revealed in new book

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
By Syrie James
Avon Books; $14.99

The life of Victorian-era author Charlotte Bronte has always held an air of mystery around it. Well known for her beloved novel “Jane Eyre,” and for coming from a family of authors, Bronte’s personal life has been a fairly well-kept secret to all but the most enthusiastic of fans. Until now.

Bestselling author Syrie James latest work, “The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte,” examines the life of Bronte detailed in diary form, and through the voice of Charlotte herself the reader learns of the hardships and triumphs of the Yorkshire author and her family.

Growing up the daughter of a village pastor, Charlotte, her brother Branwell and sisters Emily and Anne often amused themselves by writing bits of poetry and imaginative stories. After her brother has several pieces of his poetry published, Charlotte comes up with an idea that perhaps she and her sisters could also have their own work out in the public eye.

As lady authors were not common in those days, it is necessary for the Bronte’s to take on the masculine pen names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The sisters then self-publish a slender volume of poetry that meets with positive reviews and critical acclaim, despite the selling of only two books. Bolstered by their modest success, the three dive into writing novels, never dreaming that one day their works would be considered classics of English literature.

Charlotte’s diary shows the sisters’ enthusiasm for their writing as they band together in their creativity as well as their father’s loving support.
The diary also follows Charlotte’s ups and downs in the romance department as she tries to forget a former love. And things get quite lively when the new curator, Arthur Bell Nicholls, comes to town and sets in to set the townfolk and Charlotte on her ear.

Syrie James presents the story of Charlotte Bronte in an engaging manner that brings the beloved author to life as never before. Although this is a work of fiction, James takes great pains to get every detail exactly as it was in Charlotte’s real life.

Interweaving flashbacks to Charlotte’s childhood, James fills the readers in on the immense sadness the Bronte family faced. From the death of Charlotte’s mother when Charlotte was five, to the death of her two older sisters due to horrifying conditions at a school for daughters of clergy, to the devastating loss of her two younger sisters and her brother within an eight-month period, there was a shadow of woe on Charlotte. But there was also periods of great joy and love, rounding out Charlotte’s brief but creative life.

This fascinating novel is a delight to read, and should send readers scurrying to discover James’ previous novel “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.”

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