Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, written by Syrie James, was definitely a book that I had initially judged by it's cover! I was first drawn to it's unusual jacket in a local Bookstore this past November, and after looking it over carefully and scanning over the Introductory Page, I quickly added it to my 'Christmas Wish List' and promptly returned it to the Bookstore shelf.

On Christmas morning, this book once again found itself within my hands, and only a few short days later, as I was curled up under my favourite throw, I found myself gradually being drawn into... the secret world of Charlotte Bronte.
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte are not actual diaries at all, and really not all that secret either. It is considered a work of fiction, albeit based upon extensive research and private viewings of original letters, manuscripts and correspondence of Charlotte and all of the members of the Bronte family.

Syrie James introduces the novel by stating that the story itself is true, 'conjecturing only where deemed necessary to enhance dramatic conflict or to fill in gaps in the history...'
The entire book is written in Charlotte's voice, and because of the author's personal pilgrimage to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England, (which is the original house where Charlotte and her family lived; still filled with their possessions), the rooms in which Charlotte lived and worked come alive within the pages, as do the English countryside and moors, the lanes which Charlotte daily walked and Roe Head School where she attended classes.
The story itself, while being thorough in its description of Charlotte's relationship with her sisters, their mutual love of writing and personal struggles in becoming published, focuses mostly upon her internal life and the love that she carried for years for a married man, who had once been her professor; and also of the relationship that began to develop between Charlotte and her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls.

Charlotte was born in 1816, the third daughter of a minister and his wife. Charlotte's mother died when Charlotte was only 5 years old, her two older sisters dying just four years later at the young ages of 11 and 10.
As the years progressed, Charlotte began to see that her aging father would not be able to provide for her or her sisters after his death, and that her younger brother, an alcoholic and addicted to opium, could contribute nothing, and so Charlotte began her writing career as a way to gain financial independence and to help support her sisters.

Although she was initially published under the male pseudonym of Currer Bell, writing such works as 'Jane Eyre' Charlotte was a definite feminist of her day, challenging the church and it's stance on the position, place and voice of women, outside and inside the home.

In her short life, Charlotte's great passion found expression in her writings; she knew the longing of the heart for an absent mother, she had experienced the heartache of unrequited love and the struggle that came from simply being a woman in the times in which she lived. She was touched by grief, as one by one, those that she loved most dearly met death at such young ages. Her two very closest of companions and confidents, her sisters, with whom she would spend wonderfully long and leisurely hours walking on the moors, with whom she would share dreams and spend countless hours around the kitchen table sharing their writings together - Emily and Anne - both published authors in their own right, died within months of each other in 1848 and 1849 at the ages of 29 and 30. Devastated, Charlotte wrote,

"There’s little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave ;
I’ve lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save."

Charlotte's brother Branwell, finally succumbed to his years of self inflicted abuse and died shortly after Emily in 1848.

And yet, in the midst of her sorrow, life continued on and there still lay ahead of Charlotte, more of her own story still to be lived. It perhaps is a story that even Charlotte could not have written within the pages of one of her own novels - yet, it is this story that makes the The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte so compelling.
Life, believe, is not a dream,
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain,
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
-Currer Bell, (Charlotte Bronte)

The following is a video of the Derbyshire countryside and the home where Charlotte spent her summer the year before writing Jane Eyre.
Her book reflects these surroundings beautifully.

The church where Charlotte worshipped still stands,
and the church bell that you hear in the video is the same bell that Charlotte herself heard.
(I like to think that the birds you hear are perhaps descendants of the birds that sang for Charlotte!)


  1. The Secret diaries of Charlotte Bronte sound wonderful, I shall certainly read it Cathie, thankyou too for the lovely little video.

  2. Hi Margaret, if you would like, you are more than welcome to borrow my copy of this book. Thank you for stopping by The Room to Read and for taking the time to drop me a wee note, it's always an encouragement!

  3. HI Cathie,
    I have just finished reading "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte", and really enjoyed it very much. Thanks for the suggestion I'm always looking for different books to read.
    Bob and I often go to Dundarave in West Van, as we both love the area, and the walk along the sea wall is lovely.
    The Library in West Van is amazing,they have so much selection, and there is plenty of room to sit and read if one so desires, also there is a coffee shop there.
    We find the drive there easy as it is all highway driving and one can be there in 45mins to an hour depending on traffic free parking and a lovely little village to visit.