16

Work, work, work: a biography

Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman had been sitting on my shelves for ages. I think I actually bought it in March, as part of my birthday book haul. But it had been on my theoretical shelf since it was published.

I finally read it!

Amanda @ Gun in Act One read it before me. She told me that it had been difficult to get into and yeah, she nailed it.

bronte

This biography is not for those of you that think non-fiction is hard to read. This will absolutely solidify your opinion in that direction. This is one of those biographies that takes all of you to read. Partly, I think it’s that Charlotte and her siblings lived so much of their lives in their own heads. All of their imaginary worlds, the characters they created and wrote about throughout their childhood and adolescence.

And of course, in the end, they all died before their lives were truly lived. Emily, Anne and Charlotte all left their mark on the world, more so than they probably ever would have guessed. But Branwell (and you can’t talk about the Bronte sisters without talking about Branwell since the direction his life was taking inspired them to try to make their own living) – he flamed out quickly.

Mostly, reading about the Brontes makes me sad. It made me sad when I read the fictionalized account from Syrie James and reading the real life version from Harman was no different. Like Amanda, I wonder what they could have achieved had they been more robust, or even just more out in the world. All of them railed against the constrictions of women at the time, in their own quiet ways. Reading about how bereft Charlotte was after the deaths of her siblings, how she would just sit in the quiet house all by herself in the evenings, when they used to all sit together and work on their stories at that time – heartbreaking. I had a hard time reading Shirley but knowing now that she worked on it when she was working through her grief, it almost makes me want to go back and try it again.

One of the things that really surprised me was how obsessed Charlotte became with her Belgian professor, Constantin Heger. It doesn’t surprise me that the title of this book is A Fiery Heart because Charlotte Bronte really did feel things excessively. I think she very much wanted to scream her passions across oceans but of course, being a woman of her time, she couldn’t. She settled for writing him a lot of letters – so many that he had to ask her to please limit herself to two letters a year.

I would recommend this book to those of you who regularly flex your non-fiction muscle; those of you who enjoy reading about the internal life of those who write your favourite books. If non-fiction isn’t your thing, I suspect this one would be a long slog but if you still wanted to read about the Brontes, go with the Syrie James.

It did really make me want to re-read some of their books though. Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in particular. (Anne never does get the credit she deserves)

9

Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley Is No North and South

I’m working my way through Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley right now. It’s been a week; I’m starting to get antsy.

Reading Shirley is reminding me of forcing my way through Daniel Deronda. That story doesn’t have a happy ending. I mean the story of me reading the book – taking three weeks to slog through those 700 pages has long been blamed for only managing to read 64 out of a planned 65 books that year. The actual story…I can’t remember the ending.

The funny thing about Daniel Deronda is that every time I go back and read a summary I’m like that book sounds awesome! Why didn’t I like it? But despite my love for Middlemarch (by the same author), Daniel Deronda just didn’t work for me.

And I fear that the same thing is happening with Shirley. Is Charlotte Bronte a one hit wonder? You may recall that I didn’t have a lot of love to give for Villette. With Shirley, I swear I run in and out of consciousness; I read without realizing it and that is no way to read.

It should be good. It reminds me a lot of North and South which I loved so much. But there’s no Mr. Thornton to love. Robert Moore is kind of a dick and he can’t make up his mind between lovely, sweet, thoughtful Caroline Helstone and temperamental, generous, wealthy Shirley Keeldar. I have no idea how this is going to go down – Caroline probably dies of consumption.

It took 200 pages to even meet Shirley you guys. Two hundred pages of leg work to meet the title character. Not even a whisper of her before that. It’s all Caroline. Which would be fine except that the people in Caroline’s life spend an awful lot of time talking about how feeble women and Caroline are.

The dialogue between the women is strong, I’ll give it that. I just read a delightful scene where Caroline is visiting Robert Moore’s sister who is being visited by Mrs. Yorke, the town matron. Mrs. Yorke sermonizes at Caroline about this, that and the other, being a general pain in the ass, and Caroline, soft-spoken, shy Caroline, totally gives it back to her. I’m enjoying the discussions on the place of women in society, seeing how far we have come and yet, how much is sadly similar.

But I’m still waiting for the magic. I’m still waiting to be swept up in dramatic Yorkshire.

I hope there’s a payoff waiting for me. Have you read Shirley? Is it coming?

7

I’m in Book Buying Rehab

You know how, in the past, I have imposed book bans on myself in an attempt to stop spending so much money in bookstores and read the books I already own?

Yesterday my other half put me on a book buying ban.

To be fair, in recent weeks my book habit has completely spiraled out of control. I can barely function on a day where I don’t go and throw down some money for my next hit. And it’s not like I have more time to read the ones that I already have. I just can’t stop. There are so many great books out there right now! These poor books were probably so excited to come home with me, looking forward to the moment when I jumped into their stories, eagerly anticipating the chance to share their magic with me.

And what did I do? I pushed them aside in favour of another book that caught my eye. A book that I felt was more important than the others, in that moment.

On my kitchen table there are at least 10 books that I’ve brought home with me in the last two weeks or so. Those are the books that I haven’t even shelved yet. That’s in addition to the stack of 5 on my bedside table and all the others that continue to sit on my bookshelves unloved and unread.

On my birthday, we went to the bookstore (obviously) and I came out with: The Count of Monte Cristo, which is my friend’s favourite book and I’ve always meant to read it; Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight because it mentioned Gone Girl on the cover and if something says it’s like Gone Girl, game over, you’re mine; Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin because this is the second Inspector Rebus book and it was the first time I’d seen it.

Then I got a gift certificate to the bookstore from a friend for my birthday (who knows and loves me so well) and I can’t hold onto that for any period of time so back I went. That time I was good. I only picked up Eva Stachniak’s Empress of the Night because I was going to see her at an event at the library that week; and Frog Music by Emma Donoghue because I took this quiz on Buzzfeed which told me that this was the book I was meant to read this spring.book pile

I don’t even remember when I picked up Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman but it’s been on my list for forever so I’m glad I could read it tomorrow if I wanted to. I’d been waiting for Paris: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd to show up in paperback and when it did: mine. We’d talked about my frustration at discovering that Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman should have followed The Redeemer, not The Devil’s Star but I hadn’t managed to find it. Until a few days ago.

Then two nights ago we were in Costco and you know what happens there. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (look at me reading more YA fiction!) and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell were in my hands before I even realized it. I almost brought home Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power but I knew I was already pushing my luck.

And all of those are in addition to the books I already had to read at home. Night Film, Claire Tomlin’s Charles Dickens biography, a biography of Princess Louise, War and Peace, Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley and A Winter’s Tale are all still sitting at home waiting for me.

Did I mention that I got my sister to lend me The Bone Season?

I’m out of control. I need some book rehab.

8

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte

Two Bronte related posts in a row! I’m in a Bronte state of mind.

About three or four years ago I read Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. I’ve mentioned before that typically I do not read those books that trade on the Austen name but this was one of those exceptions. I found that James did an excellent job of channeling Austen’s voice and I learned a lot about the woman that has had such an impact on my reading life.

A year or more ago I found James’ The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte in a pile of discounted books and took it home where it sat on my bedside table for months and months and months, always passed over for something else. I guess I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed the other book. I finally decided to give it a try this week. I’m not quite finished it but I am confident saying that I love it.

I can’t get enough of it.

James’ genius lies in her ability to channel the voice of these women, making it seem believeable so that you almost forget that it’s not actually Charlotte Bronte writing the story. As per the author’s note, the story is true, with some of the shady bits filled in. I found that I’ve gotten to know Charlotte, Emily and Anne as people rather than knowing them as being responsible for having written some of my favourite books.

charlotte bronte

Charlotte Bronte writes this diary as a way to make sense of the past few years of her life in order to make a big life decision. She takes us back to the eve of her 29th birthday as a point in time where all that she is now faced with really started. She and her sister Emily are living at home, helping to care for the aged father. Their father hires on a curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, to take on a lot of the work of running the parish as his site is failing quickly. Shortly thereafter, Anne Bronte returns home, having left her post as a governess at a large estate nearby. They are quickly joined by their heartbroken and shamed brother, Branwell.

Branwell is an alcoholic who also has a problem with opiates. He is completely unmanageable, raging at his sisters and father at all hours of the day and night. Realizing that he will never be in a position to look after them in the event of their father’s death (as unmarried women, they would have been looked after by their male relatives), Charlotte, Emily and Anne decide to see if they can’t make some money by having their poems and , later, their novels, published.

All this time Charlotte reminisces about her time in Belgium where she had fallen in love with a married professor, looks back on her time at various educational institutes and finally describes her ever changing relationship with her father’s curate, Mr. Nicholls.

I don’t mind saying that I got very attached to the Bronte sisters. Emily, shy and reserved with strangers but outspoken and blunt in person, the owner of a massive dog ill-suited to the life of a woman, I especially liked. Although I don’t know how anyone reading this book wouldn’t be a fan of Anne’s either, as sweet and positive as she always is. And Charlotte, practical in all things, her family’s rock – come on. The best.

But you know the whole time what’s coming. Although I’ve never been very familiar with Charlotte Bronte’s romantic life, I did know that Branwell, Emily and Anne died within a few months of each other. They all went so quickly and Syrie James made me feel so many feelings!

I’m just waiting now to see how this whole thing with Mr. Nicholls plays out. I will also add that, like The House of Mirth, this book made me so very glad to live in a time when I’m able to earn my own living without being dependent on a man. I know that that’s still not the way the world over but at least we’ve made some progress!

This book has made me care about the Brontes on a whole other level and I guarantee that I will be reading some of their work again in the near future.

5

More Thug Notes: Wuthering Heights

I’ve been a smidge neglectful and since I don’t have a full post for you, I thought it might be time for another installment of Thug Notes.

I’m reading The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte right now and it’s pretty great. I’m especially enjoying Syrie James’ characterization of Emily which has given me a hankering to re-read Wuthering Heights. Emily has never been my favourite Bronte – her work is so tortured! But this episode of Thug Notes has me thinking it might be time for a visit.

 

6

Wishful Reading: Cold Weather Edition

We’ve been pretty smug out here on the West Coast this winter. What with our beautiful sunny mild days. Strolling in the sunshine, I have definitely seen some guys walking around in shorts. Seems like while the rest of North America was barricading themselves in the house with piles of blankets and warm beverages, we’ve been sipping our lattes beachside.

But that all changed this week when we were hit with our own version of extreme cold weather. Last night it hit -8.3 degrees, a record breaking cold. And I know, believe me, I know that this isn’t cold the way everyone else experiences it blah blah blah. We’re from the West Coast OK? This is madness and I’m not totally sure we’ll survive it. Also? Everywhere else it’s a dry cold, it’s a wet cold here and that gets into your bones.

Despite the fact that I have to work, which seriously cuts into my reading time, cold weather does make rather excellent reading weather. I mean, what are you going to do instead? Go outside!?

So here, a list of books I’d rather be curled up with, fireside, covered in a blanket with my dog next to me and a cup of tea within arms’ reach:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Bronte books are always super moody anyway so why not curl up with one taking place in swirling winds? You’ll burrow deeper in your blankets and be so toasty and warm. Plus, the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester? That’ll keep you warm.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. You’re not going anywhere are you? Might as well stay home and make some headway through this beast of a book. Think about how accomplished you will be when you rejoin civilization all “When I was snowed in? Oh I just finished off War and Peace” like it’s no big deal. The same could be said for Les Miserables really. Or The Goldfinch if you prefer your books more modern.

Anything by Agatha Christie. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more satisfying than reading about a murder in some charming English locale on a cold, cold day. Seriously, try it. Tell me I’m wrong (I’m not).

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. The cover of the copy I own has a fireplace on it – it’s basically meant to be read in cold weather. Plus anytime you read anything by Maeve Binchy it’s like putting on an old, warm sweater or giving yourself a literary hug. You basically owe it to yourself to read Maeve Binchy when the weather is cold.

From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women from 1847-1928 by Julia P. Gelardi because I think that cold weather would be conducive to reading about Russian royals. You can marvel at the fact that everyone was cold all the time while you turn up the heat or source another blanket. Plus, mammoth non-fiction is always better when you have the time to really sink your teeth into it.

How about you? What’s your go-to cold weather read?

 

9

Villette or That Time I Swore at a Bronte

So I just finished Villette. I kid you not when I read the last page and closed the book I yelled out “what the f*ck?” to a thankfully empty lunchroom.

It took me a while to get through Villette. It’s a shade under 600 pages but mostly I just couldn’t get into it. I wasn’t attached to Lucy Snowe or Madame Beck or even Paulina Bassompierre. Certainly not to Ginevra Fanshawe (but that’s a great name).

After something happens to wipe out her entire family, friendless Lucy Snowe takes a chance and travels to Belgium where she finds work as a nanny for the children of the directrice of a school for girls. Soon she becomes the English teacher and so she passes her days, mostly really sad because she has no home and no friends. During the vacation she ends up wandering around the streets of Villette and passes out. She wakes up in the house of her godmother (who we’d met at the beginning of the book). She thinks she’s gone mad but finds out that no, her godmother and her son moved to Villette and brought all their things with them.

So things get better because now she has some friends that take her out every once in a while. She thinks she’s in love with the son (a doctor!) but he’s interested in her little friend Ginevra. Who is a little flirt and is using the doctor to make a colonel jealous and vice versa. Then an old acquaintance comes to town and the doctor falls in love with her.

Where does this leave our Lucy Snowe?

With the professor, M. Paul Emmanuel. He’s a strange little man, always picking fights with her but it turns out that he’s in love with her.

I’m basically going to ruin the whole thing for you, so if you haven’t read the book and you still want to, you might want to stop reading this now.

M. Paul Emmanuel is the cousin of the woman who runs the school and she doesn’t want Lucy to marry him. So first she makes up this story that she thinks will convince Lucy to leave him alone. But that only makes Lucy love him more. So then she comes up with a way to send Paul away for three years. He leaves, believing that he will be able to make his fortune which would allow him to marry (he’s a teacher so he makes no money) but before he goes he sets up a school for Lucy so that she can be her own mistress.

She spends 3 awesome years, teaching and writing to him and reading his letters and being happy and then prepares for him to come home after 3 years. And then there’s a storm. And the whole thing ends with Lucy telling us no more because she thinks it would be better for us all to imagine a happy ending.

One that clearly did not happen.

I can’t decide if I’m more upset that he possibly died or that I don’t know for sure. I mean, I’m 98% sure that he died in the storm, right before he was supposed to arrive. But what about that 2%? She does say that the 3 years before he comes back are the happiest, which is a weird thing to say if you marry the man of your dreams after all. So I guess he dies. Which is still the worst ending ever.

Jane Austen would never pull this sh*t.