I bought this book as my recent visit to Haworth Parsonage had left me feeling the need to immerse myself in Brontedom. This book managed to feed my appetite and although it is a work of fiction, I feel that it was well researched and well written.
There are a few clunky parts in it, which isn’t bad for a book of 506 pages. Quite early on Hughes writes that Patrick Bronte had liked to feel his wife’s foetuses kicking. It may seem like nit-picking but I can’t imagine anyone feeling anything other than a baby kicking and that word foetus is too medical and just jars the ear.
About half way through the book, it becomes very religious with the sisters worrying about sinful thoughts and ending up in Hell, about Universalism, Calvinism and Wesleyans. I could have done without this part altogether.
Perhaps they did have such worries but I think it more likely that they had a less questioning attitude to their faith. Given the fact that they had already lost their mother and two sisters, I think they would have been clinging on to the thought of them as having gone to a ‘better place’ as a source of comfort, rather than anything else.
I’ve known a lot of clergyman’s daughters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunts, (my husband comes from a long line of Episcopalian clergymen – or ‘penguins’ as he puts it) so I know from experience that religion and faith are not high on the agenda of things to worry about.
Despite that, I think that Hughes has made a good job of filling in the gaps between the known facts and has written an entertaining novel, which should be enjoyable to anyone with an interest in the Brontes beyond reading their novels.
For me, it was definitely enhanced by the fact that I had recently visited Haworth Parsonage and I could easily imagine all the action taking place there.
I think the book could easily be adapted for television and it would be more interesting than yet another version of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. The actress Shirley Henderson would make a good Charlotte.