Monday, February 25, 2013

The Crimes of Charlotte Brontë by James Tully

The Crimes of Charlotte Brontë by James Tully
ISBN: 0-7867-0742-9
Published by Carroll and Graf
Published August 1999
Trade paperback, 281 pages

I have often wondered how three untraveled, unsophisticated spinster sisters living in the wilds of England could write such haunting, gothic tales like Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wuthering Heights. So when I saw the title of this book on a hospital bookshelf recently, it intrigued me. I immediately set out to get a copy for myself which I devoured in a couple of days. I wanted to know how the author of Jane Eyre could have crimes attributed to her!

This tale is recounted by Martha Brown, a servant at the Parsonage of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors, where the Brontë children were born, raised and lived their short lives. The accepted story/myth/legend is that three almost saint-like sisters lived with their stern father in a grim parsonage in a wild part of England. After very little formal schooling, and not until they are all in their late twenties, each writes in the same year a romantic novel. Within ten years they are all dead from consumption (tuberculosis). Charlotte is the only one to marry a handsome curate, Arthur Nicholls and then tragically dies while pregnant with their first child. 

But, the questions this novel poses are intriguing. What if none of this is true? What if murder and mayhem took place? What if Wuthering Heights was written not by Emily, but by their drunken brother, Bramwell? What if Emily and curate Nicholls were lovers prior to his marriage to Charlotte? What if Martha Brown was also Nicholls' lover? What if Nicholls slowly poisoned Emily, Anne (with Charlotte’s knowledge) and eventually Charlotte herself? 

The author paints Charlotte Brontë as a thoroughly unpleasant, self-seeking woman who “puts on airs” and who is quite “economical with the truth”. In other words, she lies when it is to her advantage. Emily is painted as a tender-hearted, quiet person who, in the 1800’s has a sexual liaison with a man (an unheard of thing at the time for a Parson’s daughter). And that brother Bramwell is a blackmailer and possible pedophile!

The author weaves historical data and speculation to produce this sinister picture of the famous Brontë family. It is true that there are a number of inconsistencies in the traditional story of the Brontës and those inconsistencies are what the author uses to pose the tantalizing what ifs.

This book makes interesting and intriguing reading, whether the Brontë story is authentic or not. It is an exciting mystery, all the more so because it just may be true.

Note: This book is rated C = clean read. 

Reviewed by Sandra 

Disclosure: I ordered this book online. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

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