I’m currently reading Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan. I am new to the BrontÃ«s, having only read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in the last three years. Upon reading Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte BrontÃ« earlier this year, I became much more interested in the BrontÃ«s themselves. I highly recommend BrontÃ«Blog if you want to keep up with BrontÃ« references in both pop culture and academia. I haven’t read any BrontÃ« biographies yet. Syrie James’s novel begins just as Charlotte BrontÃ« has returned from Belgium. All of the surviving BrontÃ«s are adults, and their sisters Maria and Elizabeth, who died as children, are logically not a part of the story. Jude Morgan begins his novel with the death of Maria Branwell BrontÃ«, wife of Patrick BrontÃ« and mother of the six BrontÃ« children. After a flash forward of a few years, Patrick BrontÃ« seizes an opportunity to educate his daughters inexpensively and sends first Maria and Elizabeth, then later Charlotte and finally Emily to the Clergy Daughters’ School in Cowan Bridge, some forty miles away from Haworth, the BrontÃ«s’ home. Because Morgan chose to begin his story of the BrontÃ«s at an earlier time, his novel provides a glimpse not only of the BrontÃ«s’ mother, but also Maria and Elizabeth.
My first thought upon reading about Maria’s abiding patience and endurance in the face of outright child abuse at the school was that she sounded just like Helen Burns in Charlotte BrontÃ«’s novel Jane Eyre. Eager to learn whether or not this was true or conjecture on behalf of Morgan, I searched for references to Maria as the inspiration for Helen, and I discovered some quotes from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte BrontÃ«. Indeed, Charlotte did claim, in the face of criticism that Helen was “too good to be true” (and I admit I felt the same way when I read Jane Eyre), that “she was real enough.Â I have exaggerated nothing there.” Mrs. Gaskell described an incident that Morgan works into his narrative in which Maria, not well enough to get up, was urged to stay in bed by the other girls, only to be abused by their teacher, Mrs. Andrews. Maria struggled to dress herself, urged the other girls to have patience, and was subsequently punished for being late (presumably to breakfast or classâ€”Gaskell did not say).
After reading about Maria and learning that her story as presented by Jude Morgan was true, the first thing I wanted to do was go back in time and rescue her from that awful place and take care of her, which I’m sure her father and siblings wished they could have done. Her story is heartbreaking, moving, and sad. Given Patrick describes talking with eleven-year-old MariaÂ “on any of the leading topics of the day with as much freedom and pleasure as with any grown-up person,” one cannot help but wonder what books Maria might have written had she lived.
I learned more about Maria BrontÃ« at these websites:
- The BrontÃ« Soul: Maria BrontÃ«
- The BrontÃ« Parsonage Museum: Maria BrontÃ«
- GypsyScarlett’s Weblog: Maria BrontÃ«: The Spirit of the BrontÃ«s
On an unrelated note, I am appreciating Morgan’s writing style a great deal. His use of stylistic fragments and run-ons to evoke events whirling out of control as well as occasional adjectives shifted out of order popped off the page because I have recently been teaching students these techniques using Image Grammar by Harry Noden. Though Noden gives examples from prominent writers in his book, it’s fascinating as a lover of the craft of writing and and avid reader to catch these interesting techniques in action.