I'm honored to have today's guest post from Syrie James, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and most recently, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, which was just named a Great Group Read by the Women's National Book Association in honor of National Reading Group Month. I am fascinated by the Bronte sisters as well, and loved learning about how James researched her novel. I remember reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre during my junior year abroad in northern England, and how living there made the novels come even more alive.
I was absolutely thrilled to learn that the Women’s National Book Association has named my novel, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, as one of the Great Group Reads of 2009. What an honor! I am delighted because I truly believe that Charlotte’s story—which focuses on the life and romance of the famed authoress of “Jane Eyre,” one of the most beloved novels in the English language—will open up lively discussions about a host of timely and provocative topics.
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë begins with an impassioned proposal from her father's curate, the young, handsome Arthur Bell Nicholls, who has carried a silent torch for Charlotte for more than seven years. Charlotte greatly disliked Mr. Nicholls when they first met, but her feelings have evolved and changed over the years. Does she love him? Does she wish to marry him? Seeking answers, Charlotte takes up her pen to examine the truth about her life. In these pages, she exposes her deepest feelings and desires, her triumphs and shattering personal disappointments, her scandalous, secret passion for the man she can never have—the man who was the basis for all the heroes in her books, including Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre”—and the intimate details of her compelling relationship with Mr. Nicholls, the man she eventually comes to love with all her heart.
At the same time, we learn of Charlotte’s relationship with her family, the inspiration behind their work, and their evolution as novelists. Charlotte’s sister Emily penned the masterpiece “Wuthering Heights,” and their sister Anne also wrote two enduring classics. These three passionate, talented women lived in Victorian England in the wilds of Yorkshire, with an alcoholic brother and a clergyman father who was going blind. They had not a single connection to the literary world, and lived in an era when women rarely saw their work in print—yet all three became published authors at the same time. I cannot think of any other family in history who have achieved such an extraordinary feat!
This novel is the result of two years of intense research and writing, which included a visit to the Brontë’s home in Haworth, England (now the Brontë Parsonage Museum), where I was allowed to read original letters and manuscripts penned by the Brontës (quite a thrill!), as well as a tour of the former Roe Head School which Charlotte attended, which still sports the legend of a mysterious attic-dwelling ghost!
I fell in love with Charlotte and Mr. Nicholls while writing this novel, and judging from the wonderful messages that readers have been leaving on my website, it seems that others have, too! I look forward to hearing from book club groups who have read and discussed The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë. Send me a report and picture of your group, and I will post it on my site!