Stalking Charlotte Bronte

Courtesy - http://janeaustenworld.wordpress.com/
Whenever I read a great book, I always wonder about the author. What motivated the author to write the story? How much of the author’s presence has shadowed the story? The words and thoughts of the main characters – how much of it is the author’s voice? At what moment did the story bloom in the author’s mind? And so it was with Charlotte Bronte. Okay, it was not an idle curiosity or a mild passing interest with Bronte. Let’s call it an obsession. If she were alive, I would be her stalker. Such is the influence of her words on my mind.

And so, it is with much gratitude I mention my Anonymous reader of this blog – the reader who recommended I read Syrie James’s ‘The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte’. The title although literal in every sense – can be misleading, especially in these sexed up days – it conjures a sordid plot. But Anonymous is a die-hard Bronte fan, and I suspect, a dreamer and a romantic nomad of the imagination (as I am similarly afflicted); so I took the recommendation in good faith, ordered the book immediately. Absolutely, no regrets whatsoever.

The book, based largely on Charlotte’s diaries and correspondence, is written in Charlotte’s voice, as if she were speaking in the first person. This narrative style impressed me no end, and is a mark of James’s stupendous talent. Writers have their own voice – to mask that voice, and to tell a tale in the voice of another is no mean feat. Right from the word go the entire conversation is between you, reader, and Charlotte. Syrie James does not interfere anywhere. Such is the skill with which she has woven facts, with very limited ‘fillers’ to keep the narration smooth. Oh she’s a clever one, that Syrie James.

The book cannot be appreciated completely if one is not familiar with Charlotte Bronte’s works, especially Jane Eyre and Villette. Like millions of readers, I’ve been awestruck by Bronte’s description of her characters, especially their emotional sides. As a writer, it is easy to get carried away by your lead roles and show them in a dazzling light – as I do (shameful, childish...arrrghhh!) – but Bronte’s characters are so human. How did she manage that? One cannot do that just because one has a genius grip on a language. As I lived Charlotte’s life vicariously through this book, I understood the secret of her ‘success’ – she had learnt the art of chiselling perfect characters from a very exacting teacher – Life.

And what a life – ripped, ravaged, torn, strewn by tragedy of the worst kind. Tragedy of seeing her siblings waste, wither and die one after another all through her life. Tragedy of finding love just a couple of years before her premature death at 38, with a child in her womb. And yet, a life so full of fire, passion, intelligence and independent spirit that one can only applaud instead of shedding tears. For I see men and women who live to be a hundred, but who were dead all through their lives.

A small village, a small parish all enclosed by howling Yorkshire moors. No society to speak of, no cultural stimulation, a father who thinks it is ridiculous for women to be educated (barring languages and sewing and cooking and suchlike), a brother who is a junkie and a raving alcoholic, no money to speak of, the threat of death and disease always looming over - is it not enough for one to just curl up and stop breathing? Despite these depressing settings, it is a mark of the indefatigable spirit and imagination of the Bronte sisters that they authored masterpieces which tug at our hearts even today.

If there is one thing I can learn from Bronte – it is not her craft, it is not her method, it is not her language – but it is her uninhibited, childlike ability to commit to the moment. Be it sadness, be it happiness, be it love, be it anger – she put her mind, heart and soul behind it. It is this ability to feel so powerfully, so strongly, without filters, without blinkers – that made her write with such force. Is it any surprise that her husband was so hopelessly, utterly in love with her and waited for nearly a decade to propose to her? She must’ve been as intriguing, as mysterious, as intimidating, as seductive as the Yorkshire moors.

Charlotte lived in the 1800s (1816 to 1855). Given her humble education, humble background, self-confessed ‘plain looks’, I realized she was a misfit then, as she would have been a misfit now. Yes, she would not have had to publish under a man’s name now, but given her incisive intellect, her bristling thoughts on gender equality, her introvertness, her strong views on ritualistic religion, her dislike towards ‘show and publicity; trust me – she would be a misfit! Who said the world has changed?
Once again, I question the extremely flawed logic of God, or whoever is up there – to cut short lives that could have added a tinge of beauty to this world; but to let assholes thrive till a ripe old age.

And Anonymous - thank you!

© Sumana Khan - 2012

Comments

  1. This seems very interesting. But is it fiction or an account of real Charlotte Bronte? Because the jacket of the book says, 'A novel by the author of...'
    Either ways, Charlotte Bronte is fascinating! Haven't read Villette yet (hope to read soon), but Jane Eyre is worth reading again and again. All thanks to you!

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    1. it is completely based on facts. It is presented in the form of a novel - the author has added some new but insignificant characters to emphasise contrasts.

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  2. Your welcome! I almost cried when I read your thanks to me - but was grinning at the same time. You are definitely right about my being a Bronte-fanatic. I love this book sooooo much! I've read it 8 times.
    What did you think of the part about Charlotte's experience in Belgium? And compared to Villette?
    What do you think of Shirley?
    Your Anonymous Reader,
    Luv

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    1. awww!

      Some parts of the book was like re-reading Jane Eyre and Villette all over again. I never knew her characters were so close to life!

      But I think for me, the most touching part was when she loses both Anne and Emily Bronte - and finds her house suddenly so quiet. I can't imagine the depression she must've been through.

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  3. Reading Shirley right now. As a fellow could-have-been Charlotte Bronte stalker, I get you completely. :)

    I wish I could read all there was to read on the Bronte sisters -- they're eternally fascinating.

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    1. love your name LOL! Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. &Moonbeam You said when you ordered this book they sent Shirley instead... did you read it?
    Luv

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    1. Am reading as we speak. In fact, I had commenced reading it when this one came along. So I put Shirley on hold :)

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  5. Sumana,

    I have been reading your comments at IHM's blog and was impressed and had been wanting to check your blog too. 
    This morning I visited your blog site and had a pleasant time reading all your recent postings from March 15th till date.
    Later I will  find the time to go back even further and catch up on more of your old writings.
     I am always on the lookout for good blogs to read and your blog site was a lucky find.
    I have enjoyed reading your writings and you can count on a regular and loyal reader in me henceforth.

    I am taking steps to receive your future posts in my email In Box.

    With best Wishes

    GV

    G. Vishwanath
    Age  63
    Profession: Retired Structural Engineer
    Location : Bangalore
    Profile details at : gravatar.com/vishvanaathjee

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GVjee, pleasantly surprised, and honoured sir. I am glad you find my blog interesting :)

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  6. How do I subscribe?
    I am able to subscribe to comments on ths post.
    I want to receive the full text of all future posts at my e mail address geevishwanathATgmailDOTcom
    Alternatively, it's okay if receive an email alert when you post something new.

    Can you please arrange it or tell me what I should do?
    At other blogs there is an obvious way which I don't see here.
    Regards
    GV

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GVjee - if you scroll way down, you will see a section titled 'followers' - there is a button that says 'join this site'. i think that should do the trick.

      Delete
    2. I just added a 'follow by email' button at the top left hand corner of my blog. Hope it works!

      Delete
  7. Yes, it works.
    I just subscribed.
    I got a confirmation too.
    Thanks.
    I look forward to reading all your future posts.

    I read quite a few of your old posts this Sunday afternoon and have left a few comments on some of your old posts.
    No more for today.
    I hope to read more of your writings (both old and new) in the coming weeks and months.

    You have amazing writing skills and I am hooked!
    Glad I stumbled upon your blog.

    Regards
    GV

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    Replies
    1. thank you so much! that is a huge compliment :)

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  8. Thank you so much for your wonderful review of my novel! It was truly a work of my heart, and an honor to write as/about Charlotte Bronte. You truly understood what I was trying to say about her, which thrills me. I'm excited to report that the book's been optioned for film and I've written the screenplay... it's been a challenge to take such an important story about such an amazing woman/family/romance and whittle it down to 2 hours, so wish us luck! Meanwhile, I hope you'll check out my other books and let me know what you think. All best, Syrie James

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    1. whooooaa! I blinked a couple of times when I saw this comment! I'm going to treat this as an autograph :) Many, many congratulations on the film - and let me add - no one apart from you could have done justice to the screenplay.

      Lost memoirs of Jane Austen and Secret Journals of Mina Harker are on my reading list...esp Mina Harker ;)

      Here's wishing you all the success..and may you write and write and write :)

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  9. Yes! I'm looking forward to the movie! :)
    Luv

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    1. :) Did you catch Jane Eyre? I was a bit disappointed. It was ...well, too 'filmy'.

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  10. I just recently started my own blog, and my dad hooked me onto yours. and i am really glad he did.. Your writings are really good and I am inspired by it.
    Keep writing :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Srividya. Please share the link to your blog...would love to visit :)

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