Book Talk: The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë

8:30:00 PM

In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden talks about the feeling of finishing a good book and wishing that the author was a friend that he could pick up the phone and talk to whenever he liked. Reading The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë was like being able to do just that.

Reading The Secret Diaries was a bizarre experience. As an English major, I had studied and admired the Brontë sisters for both their writing and their endeavors to become educated, independent women in a time where such a thing was rare. As you might have guessed, I was eager to read a semi-biographical account of the Brontë sisters, helmed by the oldest, strong-willed, and now, very famous, Charlotte Brontë. I love adaptations of classics, and this was no exception.

I was familiar enough with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne's lives that most of what I read in this novel did not come as a surprise to me - but it was written in such a way that I didn't mind. I was, however, completely unaware of Charlotte's history of various proposals and suitors. This more personal side of a woman I had really only come to know professionally was what inspired me to continue reading, curious to uncover a side of her life that remained so private.

That being said, I definitely don't think that you need any prior knowledge of the Brontë sisters or their works to be able to read and enjoy this book. While I discovered I actually knew more about their personal lives than I initially believed (it's amazing how those college lectures came rushing back) reading this fictional diary has only encouraged me to learn more, particularly about Anne, who I developed a fondness for over the course of the novel, and whose writing I have never actually read!

Syrie James' careful crafting of a narrative based on research, more research, and real artifacts felt natural, like getting a glimpse into a life of someone you already knew. It was a quick read and a lighthearted one, in spite of the great loss the sisters experienced over the course of their lives. I enjoyed experiencing their triumphs and tragedies as writers along with them, traveling back in time to see a snippet of the lives of some extraordinary women. When I finished, I wondered - what would Charlotte, Emily, and Anne think of us now? Would they be shocked to see their works still shared and studied? Would they wonder at the progress and the limitations of women in the present day? And, most importantly, what would they be writing about??

If you enjoy adaptations or historical fiction, I also recommend another of Syrie James' novels, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.

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