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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 14 October 2011
I'm the first to admit that I am no expert on the Brontes. I have visited the Parsonage at Haworth, of course, and "Jane Eyre" is my absolute favourite book. I have also read Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea", the 'prequel' to "Jane Eyre". I read "Wuthering Heights" years ago and have seen a television adaptation of "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". That is pretty much my limit. I bought this book because, as I said, "Jane Eyre" is my favourite novel of any I have read bar none and anything about that novel would appeal to me. Having watched "Becoming Jane" on tv, about Jane Austen, I suppose I assumed it would be something like that. It isn't. This is a very well-written, beautifully told story of Charlotte Bronte and her life with her father and younger sisters Emily and Anne, and their attempts to make a name for themselves with their writing while trying to cope with the restraints placed on them by Victorian society, the constant rejections of the publishers and the increasingly impossible behaviour of their drug-addicted brother Branwell. The story starts with Charlotte and her father at lodgings in Manchester where Patrick Bronte is recovering from a tortuous operation to restore his sight. Charlotte sits alone with him day after day, night after night, her pen scratching away as she begins the story of what will become the classic novel "Jane Eyre". The story Charlotte is creating is cleverly interspersed with her own story - her doomed love for her 'Master', her quiet devastation as her novel is rejected while Emily's and Anne's are accepted, her deep love for Branwell which turns to despair and dislike, and her journey to London to finally tell the world that she is Currer Bell, the mysterious author of the most talked about book in society. The tragedy of the Brontes is told in an understated, effective way and the book is gentle and quiet yet with an undercurrent of passion, a sense of injustice and a determination that reflects Charlotte herself and indeed her heroine Jane Eyre. This is a lovely book and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever read and loved "Jane Eyre", or wondered how such a book came to be written by an unmarried, Victorian parson's daughter...
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Jane Eyre is my favourite novel of all time so, whilst I am not a expert in the Brontes, I have a penchant for any books, films about them or their novels/poetry. I've also visited the Parsonage at Haworth where you get a real feel for the isolation they must have felt, cooped up in that dark house, left motherless at an early age.

I admire any writer who takes on a project like this, a merge of fact and fiction, as Brontephiles can be quite sensitive to any conjectures re their heroines. Sheila Kohler is obviously a fan and her "faction" is based on solid research. Some might question the suggestion that Charlotte was envious of her sister's success but I, personally, thought it was an interesting viewpoint. As usual Branwell is the villain of the piece with the bed burning and laudanum addiction included.

Overall this is an interesting read although I felt the author skimmed over the deaths of Charlotte's siblings and her courtship with Arthur Bell Nicholls. It's still a good introduction to the Brontes and how their upbringing and environment influenced themes in their novels. For further reading I would highly recommend Lynne Reid Banks' novels about the Brontes, Dark Quartet and Path to the Silent Country.
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on 14 March 2017
Some might think it sacrilege to write a novel about such well-known authors, but this is beautifully written and a window into the lives of the Brontes that captures the imagination right from the beginning. I loved it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 November 2011
This is a well written, imaginative book which looks at interpreting the facts of Charlotte Bronte's life, and their effects on her fiction. Very enjoyable indeed, though in the end the glossed over section dealing with what must have been utterly devastating - the deaths of Branwell, Emily and Anne in quick succession felt a little unsatisfying.

What I particularly liked about the book was the sense of how stultifying and excruciating, literally, life must have been for intelligent, creative women in the nineteenth century, and how such cruelly thwarted potential found release and expression. Meanly lived lives, due to what was allowed for women of a certain class, plus a poverty coupled with society's demands for gentility, yet the brilliance of feeling and intelligence so long restricted, bursts out and produces extraordinary works of fiction. Kohler really conveys the sense of passion behind the mask of quiet correct Victorian womanhood. She also taps into a similar sense with the often rather vilified Victorian paterfamilias, Patrick Brunty. Rather than condemning the father out of hand, for his restrictions on his daughters, and his (very of its time) excessive favouring and indulgence of his son, she hooks Brunty right into class-conscious Victorian society, the intelligent Irish son from an uneducated family, someone again with dreams, intelligence and creativity, stifled by the only realistic choice he can make - the Church, offering a way out, and a way to use his skills and talents. Somehow the later half of the book loses the edgy, conflicted darkness of the early chapters, where she lets us right in to the despair and rage that must have fuelled such potent writing.
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on 6 January 2012
I wasn't sure I'd like this book, the Bronte's are my favourite authors, I have read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights more times than I can remember and living fairly close to Haworth I've been to the Parsonage a number of times. I'm also a stickler for historical accuracy and don't always appreciate books when the author assumes to know what the person was thinking and what their motivations were. I liked this book, it's obviously written by a fan and has an interview with the author which I found interesting to read before I started the book, it explained her motivation and what she was trying to achieve with her work. If you read the book as a pleasant story and delight in being taken back to the time of the Bronte's and explore their surroundings with them then this is the book for you. I also liked the way aspects of the girl's lives were mirrored in their novels, some obvious to the reader of the novels, some not so obvious and the events aew juxtaposed here with words from the novels. The reason for four stars and not five is because it finishes quite abruptly, the deaths of the siblings are cursory and not mourned over, we simply move on to another time, which is an effective plot device rather than getting bogged down with the terrible grief the family must have suffered but it felt a little stilted. I would have liked to have the last bit of the book fleshed out when Charlotte is the last sister left alive to explore her remaining years a little more. These are only minor criticisms and I applaud the author for choosing the much loved Brontes as a subject and telling a story that is so delightful.
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on 7 January 2012
For anyone at all interested in the Brontes or Jane Eyre, this is totally absorbing and beautifully written. How Charlotte persevered after being told by the eminent poet Southey that literature neither was nor could be the business of a woman's life I really don't know - though in fact the final insult came from her literary hero, Thackeray, when he introduced her as Jane Eyre. Charlotte was rightly enraged that another writer either couldn't distinguish between fact and fiction (or perhaps didn't simply because she was a woman?) I loved the narrative technique, interweaving the events of the novels with Charlotte's own story to show where her ideas probably came from. The treatment of the whole family setting was masterly. It was so important to see Charlotte against the background of her eccentric but gifted and loving family. I didn't stop reading until I had finished, apart from meal breaks.
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on 25 November 2012
Helen for[...]
This story is the fictionalised interpretation of biographical events in the life of Charlotte Bronte. I didn't know much about the family other than the obvious; they wrote wonderful books! So it was of interest to me to learn more about them and it is always fascinating to see how their own lives have affected the authors writing and that is definitely highlighted in this novel. The only thing, of course, is that you have to remember that this is someone else's ideas about the characters thoughts and feelings and not those of Charlotte herself. Shelia's writing really draws you in and her interpretation of what happened in Charlottes life, how it affected that and how it shows up in Jane Eyre pulls you in and is incredibly plausible.

We begin Charlotte's story as she starts writing the novel, her pen scratching on the paper as her father lies unable to move waiting to see if he will recover from an operation to restore his sight. As Charlotte nurses him she reflects on her life thus far and finds it in herself to write as she never has before.

Shelia takes us on a voyage through Charlotte's life and as Charlotte spent a lot of time at home this gives a fascinating exploration of family relationships, especially difficult ones. It is clear that Bramwell is the favourite of the family, especially his father. Bramwell has had all the chances, privileges and opportunities and yet wastes his life and his talent on drink and drugs. How difficult must this have been for his talented and yet ignored sisters. Even more so as they have to care for him and clear up his mess, often literally.

Caring for her father whilst feeling he despises her is an incredible burden for Charlotte. He did not care for her when she was young, when her Mother died or when she was being looked after by another woman who only cared for Bramwell. His distance and discouragement make it even harder for her to write and yet his illness gives her this opportunity that produces literary gold.
That her Father did nothing for her or her sisters also highlights the plight of women in that society. The suffocation that must have been felt by Charlotte and her sisters as they are chastised and criticised must have been immense. In particular as they were writing women and authorship was a man's world, to say the least. As Shelia points out later in the novel it must have been so degrading for Charlotte to have been called `Jane Eyre' by Thackery himself. In addition how devastating it was for Charlotte to have her manuscript rejected when her two sisters had works accepted, even more so as she considers herself the better writer.

Charlotte has had some independence and life experience at school and as a teacher. She falls for, and is led on by, her Master. He is a married man and as a reader you become increasingly aware of how dependent girls were in the men in their lives for survival, either at home or in the workplace, being a Governess must have been a particularly difficult role sometimes. The Master's treatment of Charlotte and her passion for him seems to have greatly informed her writing of Jane Eyre.

Through the whole novel there is a darker edgier side shown to Charlotte's life and it clearly demonstrates her possible inspiration; lovers rejection, fires, secrets in the attic. This is when it became easy to forget this is a kind of fiction, not all factual. But as these events are documented in Charlotte's life, drawing the parallels is easy.

Towards the end of the story there are some big events in Charlotte's life that get somewhat skimmed over; the death of her two sisters and Charlotte's own marriage almost form an epilogue to the main body of the story.

Verdict: I thought this was a beautifully written story with an enthralling take on the life of a woman behind one of the greatest stories ever written.
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on 1 February 2012
This is a book about the Bronte family, based on the period when Charlotte was working on 'Jane Eyre', while her novel 'The Professor' was doing the rounds of rejection. Based on biographical accuracy the novel focuses on Charlotte's psychological state during this period, and covers events such as Patrick's eye surgery, Charlotte and Anne's visit to their publishers in London, the deaths of Branwell, Anne and Emily, and Charlotte's ultimate short-lived but happy marriage to her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. To the long-time Bronte follower there are no surprises in this narrative,but no profound disappointments either. Kohler writes well, though there is some passing annoyance at some 'americanisms' and unfamiliar use of English, e.g. furore, spelt as furor, and appearing to stand as a synonym for personal anger/annoyance. I also spotted the odd geographical inaccuracy, but no more 'nitpicking'- I enjoyed the book, finding it to be an undemanding but worthwhile read, and feeling a bit like visiting old friends but sharing the experience with strangers. To sum up, this was a satisfying personal read, but not enough there for book-groups or Bronte scholars to chew on.
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on 2 October 2013
a short, quiet, and rather slow story which gave a new insight into the lives of the Brontë sisters, their brother and father. There are no shocking intrigues or huge bursts of humour, just the quiet following of how the sisters published their books, their certain sisterly rivalry, their love and sometimes hate for their drug-taking brother and their too dependant father. The book pushed me to research more information on their lives and I'd definately recommend it.
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on 12 October 2015
Although well written, I found this book interesting, but, at times, unconvincing. However, there were moments that really captured the hardships endured by the Brontes. I had hoped to gain a greater understanding of the Brontes than I actually did. Just not for me, but Bronte fans shouldn't disregard it.
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