Monday, September 21, 2009
I knew I didn't read Villette 8400 times for nought
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
Me at Indigo Friday last:
pick up book about CB!
Luckily, my humming and hawing desisted and the lovely folk at Harper Collins Canada supplied me with what turned out to be a pleasant delight. Like a cup of tea. Or a pumpkin scone. Or both at the same time.
I have to admit, my initial reaction was skeptical. The subject here is very dear to my heart. I own 17 copies of Villette ( ask any of my friends) and know some of CB's letters by heart.
Moreover, I have recently seen books where Charlotte Brontes solves mysteries ( but so do Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen apparently) and I have not always been fond of the pastiche.
Here, I was soundly surprised. James' immersion into the subject; the phrasing and the complete Bronte-ness while writing Charlotte's "diary" was refreshing and fun. Charlotte's diary, like the woman herself, is a coupling of dark and light. Plenty of footnotes heighten the atmosphere and enlightened me on numerous time-authentic words and subjects.
At times a kunstleroman unearthing Charlotte's genius-in-embryo and at times a rip-your-heart-out parallel of the events in that greatest of tragedies Villette, I sped through the book. I applaud James for assimilating Bronte's prose and style-- and while there are tell-tale signs we are not reading the source--- she comes close in celebration and homage.
Events, letters, a stern understanding of Gaskell's famed biography: are the thread that binds this interesting literary tribute together. James' re-introduced my passion to a subject I had not engaged with since university ( not that long ago; but long enough for me to recognize that absence surely makes the heart grow fonder).
James painted a truthful canvas and allowed me to spin around in a world at once romantic and melancholy: an imaginative spree I would often take as a teenager --- roaming around the moors; calling for Rochester.
Perhaps the portion most dear to my heart was Charlotte's account of her time at the Pensionnat Heger: the experience which founded her most autobiographical novel, Villette. James uncovers the passion between master and pupil and draws readers back to the original source.
I really, thoroughly, heartily enjoyed this celebration of Bronte's life and developing romance with the curate Arthur Bell Nichols.
Any one who has ever peeked at a Bronte letter; or stole into Charlotte's Juvenalia; or re-read those parts in Jane Eyre ( you know THOSE parts), will find in this work not a stranger, but a welcoming friend. If James set out to revitalize my love for Charlotte Bronte (especially having witnessed her through a slightly different lens) she more than succeeded.
Harper's website : where you can purchase the book and browse inside