The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte is Charlotte Bronte’s story—as told from her point of view. Written more as a memoir than a diary with dated entries, the novel chronicles Charlotte’s story from her time at the Clergy Daughters’ School through her marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls, who had been in love with Charlotte for eight long years before their marriage in 1854. At first, her feelings for him weren’t very strong, but they grew over time. I’d originally thought that the book was going to be more about Charlotte and Arthur’s relationship; but it’s also about Charlotte herself, and her relationship with her sisters, brother, and father.
The “flashbacks” aren’t in chronological form, though of course memory doesn’t always work in a linear way. The voice that Syrie James uses for Charlotte Bronte is different than those used in Bronte’s novels, though that might be intentional; Charlotte’s own voice was much different than those she employed for the narrators in her novels. I enjoyed reading about Charlotte’ writing process, too. It’s a well-written book and well-researched, although I found the footnotes to be a little bit intrusive (though they might be helpful to someone who doesn’t know much about the nineteenth century). I was also a little bit annoyed by how Charlotte would give exact ages for characters as she introduced them. I also thought that ending Charlotte’s story where she did was a bit of a cop-out for the author.
But I liked Charlotte’s view of the world; I was especially interested in her opinions of Monsieur Heger, the married man that Charlotte had strong feelings for. But more interesting is the relationship between Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Bronte. I enjoyed the story arc of the novel—of how Charlotte learns through trial and error how to make her own choices. Although I know little about the Bronte sisters, I always gathered that they were a very passionate, emotional group of women, intelligent, imaginative and creative, despite the circumstances in which they grew up. Anne, Emily and Charlotte were unique women, remarkable each in their own way.
I can’t help but compare this book to another that’s recently been published: Emily’s Ghost, by Denise Giardina, about Charlotte’s sister Emily. Giardina does a better job of describing the bleakness of the Yorkshire moors, but the story that Syrie James presents here is a little bit more interesting. Nonetheless, both novels are equally enjoyable. At the end of the book are an afterward about what happened later; a Q&A with the author; excerts from Charlotte’ Bronte’s letters; some of the Brontes’ poetry (including one or two by Patrick and Branwell); a bibliography; and a “study guide.” In an effort to learn more about the Brontes, I found some interesting pictures here of Haworth Parsonage, the Birthplace, and the Parish Church on the Haworth Village website.
Also reviewed by: Becky's Book Reviews