This new novel by Sheila Kohler is based on the true story of Charlotte Bronte and the writing of her master work, Jane Eyre. Charlotte and her siblings, Ann, Emily, and Branwell, live with their father in a gloomy parsonage in Yorkshire. They are educated and literate, yet their lives are constrained by their poverty and their autocratic father.
The sisters write, but their manuscripts are rejected by one publisher after another. When Reverend Bronte goes to Manchester for a cataract operation, Charlotte accompanies him. During his recovery, she begins writing the story that will become Jane Eyre. Charlotte pours into the novel all the bitterness and heartache she feels.
When Charlotte’s novel is published and becomes a critical and popular success, the lives of the Bronte family changes. Not only are they now able to afford some small luxuries, but the relationship between the sisters changes. Reverend Bronte can hardly believe that his daughter has written something that has actually been published.
Kohler weaves the known facts of the Bronte family, and her knowledge of life in 19th century England, along with her own imaginings. The result is a smart, engaging and well-written novel. If this doesn’t send us English lit majors back to re-read the Bronte’s, I don’t know what will.
Published in softcover-Penguin-2009