Emily’s Ghost

Emily’s Ghost: A Novel of the Brontë SistersDenise Giardina’s novel Emily’s Ghost is the third novel about the lives of the Brontës that I’ve read this year. The other two were Jude Morgan’s Charlotte and Emily and Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë. Perhaps because Wuthering Heights is my favorite novel, I felt Emily’s presence lacking a bit in these other two novels as they were both told from Charlotte’s point of view. Giardina’s novel is told mainly from Emily’s point of view, but also includes the perspectives of the curate William Weightman, supposed by many to have been a love interest of Anne Brontë’s. Giardina chooses instead to depict William Weightman as Emily’s beloved. As no substantiation exists for a definite relationship with Anne, I suppose Giardina can take the license to offer a different portrayal of Weightman’s affections than is traditionally shown.

Emily’s Ghost is not a sweeping saga of the Brontës so much as a collection of important vignettes. Giardina notes that the story we traditionally read of the Brontës has been Charlotte’s, as she was the sister who survived and her biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, naturally had Charlotte’s point of view to work with. Emily’s story, at least as Giardina imagines it, is very different. I found her William Weightman charismatic and her depiction of their relationship plausible. Patrick Brontë is particularly well drawn in this novel, and Branwell is portrayed in a much more sympathetic light than usual, due mainly to his concern over Emily’s reaction to Weightman’s death and his care for Weightman as he died. Charlotte, on the other hand, suffers a great deal from Giardina’s characterization. She comes off as a little bit man-crazy, and certainly whiny, self-absorbed, and vain (about her talent, especially). In the final pages, she’s downright appalling.

I actually think of the three Brontë novels I’ve read, I enjoyed this one the most. I was swept away—it’s easy to tell Giardina is a fan of the Brontës. I also felt somehow that this novel captured something accurate, something very real about the Brontë household. Or perhaps a somewhat romanticized version of it. It’s much more like Wuthering Heights than Jane Eyre, which is to be expected. A couple of favorite lines stand out:

They were sisters. They loved one another. They were also rivals, though they never admitted to it.

I can easily picture the Brontës feeling this way—so much talent in so little space.

And Emily, remarking to her sisters, who do not like Wuthering Heights:

And do you despise Heathcliff? Then despise me! Because I—” She jabbed her finger against her chest as she leaned forward across the table. “I am Heathcliff! I am!”

Be sure to check out the much more comprehensive review at BrontëBlog. If you are a fan of the Brontës, you will enjoy this novel.

Rating: ★★★★★

Happy birthday, Emily Brontë.