What’s On My Bookshelf? February 2022

Yes, it’s that time of the month when we chat about books and reading and, well, books.

In book club, we’ve finally finished our year-long journey through the world of the Bronte sisters – and what a journey it’s been. Settle in and grab a cuppa – we have a bit to get through.

Along the way, we’ve spent hours discussing each novel, fallen down countless google rabbit holes in search of snippets about the lives of the Brontes, and even read biographies to help us understand them better and appreciate their work more. I also read Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea – a novel about Rochester’s madwoman in the attic, his wife Bertha.

And we’ve baked – soda bread, pikelets, fat rascals, poached pears, and parkin. Our final bake is next week…watch this space.

Has it been worthwhile? Absaflippinglutely it has – even with the inclusion of The Professor, which (in my humble opinion) is completely joyless, should never have been published and which left us with very little to say in meetings. Actually, I could say the same for Vilette which left me as cold as the protagonist Lucy Snowe (oh the irony of the name) was.

For those of us who had read some of the novels in our younger years – namely Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Wildfell Hall – it was interesting to see how we perceived them with the benefit of maturity and experience.

I’d be the first to put my hand up to say that when I first read Wuthering Heights at the age of 16 – and when I read it again in my late teens and early twenties, I was sucked into that whole soul gothic love story thing. Kate Bush probably had something to do with that. But when you read some of these passages in isolation, it’s not hard to see why.

The scene where Catherine declares her love for Heathcliff to Nelly Dean made my teenage heart burst: 

My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

And this one from Heathcliff:

These days, though, I see it as a dysfunctional tale of obsession, revenge and cruelty.

It is, however, as atmospheric and gothically dark now as it was back then and is still on my list of books that had a massive impact on me – and always will be. This quote (and I can’t remember where I read it) says it all:

Wuthering Heights is, like its hero Heathcliff, dark, mad and flawed but it makes you feel. It’s less book than weather.

It’s such a pity Emily Bronte died so young – I would have loved to see what she did next.

While I didn’t read Jane Eyre as a teenager, I’m sure that if I had done, being even more of a romantic back then as I am now, I would absolutely have fallen for Rochester in the way so many (mostly young) women have over the years. Now? Yeah…nah…not going there.

As for Jane? While there were times I wanted to sit her down and tell her a few facts of life, Jane is as plucky and resilient a heroine as it’s possible to be. Other girls would have laid down and submitted, or wailed about their misfortune, “why does this always happen to moi?” (the spelling is deliberate…). But not our Jane. Oh no. Our Jane fought back, she took the hard route. Jane might have been poor, but she was rich with integrity and she stood up for herself.

While Jane Eyre was my favourite story – if you read just one Bronte novel it probably should be this one – the award for worst ever marriage proposal is in this book:

“God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal but mental endowments they have given you; you are formed for labour, not love. A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine; I claim you—not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”

St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre

Be still my beating heart… Spoiler alert – Jane said no.

Agnes Grey was a tell-all from a governess’ viewpoint and scathing about the British upper classes -a sign that Anne Bronte really was not prepared to play nice and pander to those who society felt should be pandered to. Anne, in Agnes Grey, pulled no punches. A good story, she did get a tad preachy from time to time, but it still had a definite feminist message.

Anne was, however warming up. In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall she delivers a knock-out blow. What an incredible (and at times, brutal) piece of feminist writing this was. Man. Oh. Man. This one took my breath away. It was deeply uncomfortable and at times I wanted so badly to look away from some of the scenes, but couldn’t. Anne Bronte had hold of my heart and was twisting it. Written in 1848, the themes are as relevant today as they were then. More so, perhaps, because back then one simply didn’t discuss such things in polite society. What she wrote about women’s rights and marriage was shocking indeed, but for a woman to write it? That took courage. Of the six Bronte novels we’ve read, this one has left the most powerful impression on me.

I’m glad, though, that we left Shirley to the end. I absolutely adored both this book and the character of Shirley. In this novel, Charlotte gave us a feisty, capricious heroine who was as smart and independent as she was delightful. This in itself was a departure as previously Charlotte had portrayed women as being either plan and smart, or beautiful and dull. She’d also previously shown women’s friendships to be a tad mean-girlish. Not this time. This time she also brought us her opinion on plenty of topics – feminism, politics, war, religion, industrial revolution. These were all topics that women weren’t supposed to know about, let alone talk about and heaven forbid if they had an opinion on them.

Thanks to Deb for finding this one…

In Shirley, Charlotte Bronte was witty and said what she wanted to say – and gives the title character (who doesn’t make an appearance until about 9 chapters in) some of the best lines and comebacks I’ve read. This one – where she refuses her uncle’s entreaty to marry is my favourite:

Never to the altar of Hymen with Sam Wynne.

Charlotte Bronte

While I felt that Vilette was very over-rated, Shirley is completely the opposite – and the best possible note for us to finish on.

What I read in February…

I’ll skim through these as I’ve probably already said too much…

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, by Jenny Colgan.

I might not be able to travel to Paris just yet, but I certainly went there between the pages of this book. Delightful.

Thursdays at Orange Blossom House, by Sophie Green

I loved this – all of it: the friendship circle, the sense of place, and the very real issues each woman was dealing with. I also need to do more yoga. Almost my read of the month.

The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves

Cleeves has done it again. Another great character, great setting and a story that stayed with me long after the book was finished. My read of the month.

The Song of Clouds, by Samantha Wood

This book had me unable to turn away even when I wanted to turn away. The tension was beautifully paced and I found myself cheering for Meg, Josh and Banjo.

Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman

I read this one for the day job, but business books are not my thing. In fact, sometimes I think I’d get more pleasure from putting a fork into my eyeball than I do from reading one – and this is a perfect example of the genre.

The Viscount Who Loved Me, by Julia Quinn

I loved the TV show (and can’t wait for the next one) and this is one instance where I prefer the show with all the complexity of characters to the stand-alone romances. Having said that, this one has a really strong female lead, I probably will reach for the next, and I adored the corgi. (Who doesn’t love a corgi?) 

Your turn…

DebDonnaSue and I would love you to share what you’ve been reading. If you have a favourite classic, I’d love to hear about that too. The linky is below – and it’s open until Monday evening (AEST).

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

38 thoughts

  1. Wow Jo, what a great summary of our Brontë readings – you’ve done a wonderful job here and I’m so glad we read them all, despite our earlier thoughts of pulling out after Villette. Some of them were definitely harder to read than others but I too loved Shirley – what a great way to finish. Thanks also for the fun baking along the way 🙂

  2. Hi, Jo – You have captured the Brontë books, our discussion on them (and our rabbit holes) brilliantly. I too am delighted that we finished our reading with Shirley (it’s funny how a tea towel made us do this). 😀 I greatly look forward to baking Yorkshire Pudding…with a twist! 😀

  3. Hi Jo – congrats on conquering the Brontes and for the honest overview. I’ve never been much of a reader of ye olde authors, but our daughter (the English teacher) loves Pride and Prejudice with a passion. I did smile at the teenage love for intense relationships vs the adult understanding of co-dependency 😀

  4. What a fantastic wrap of our Bronte Sisters journey, Jo! Your post has made me want to re-read them already but no, we now have Jane to move onto. I thoroughly enjoyed our discussions though and the baking! I would encourage everyone to read the Bronte Sisters’ works perhaps for the first time or to re-read them in a different phase of life. Thanks for co-hosting WOYBS? and just loved the post!

    1. Like you, I’ve appreciated them so much more because we did them together and discussed them in the way we did. Bring on Jane Austen!

  5. Charlotte Bronte books are really good, but hard to get through at times! Congrats for getting through the whole lot. I particularly love Jane Eyre.

  6. It must give you interesting comparative insight reading them all like that (all in a row). Did you like the Jean Rhys? She’s interesting….

    1. It’s the only Jean Rhys I’ve read and while I appreciated the writing I can’t say I enjoyed the book…

  7. I love your run down of the Brontë books. You have definitely made me keen to go and revisit the ones that I read when I was younger. Plus I need to go and read the lesser known ones too. Did you watch the TV series of The Long Call? I think it’s on ABC iview.

    1. It’s really so interesting to revisit books from your youth with a different perspective. I did watch The Long Call – on SBS – and really enjoyed it. I love Vera and Shetland, but Matthew is a completely different character to vera or Jimmy.

  8. I am going to have to look for the chocolate shop book through our library; I just started reading Jenny Colgan this winter and really enjoy her books.

  9. A great review of the Bronte Sisters’ books. I have read a couple of biographies of them and their lives and have been to their village and the parsonage. I am reading War and Peace, one chapter a day as part of a read-along. Fun to do these things with other readers.

    1. It’s so much fun to do with other readers. I have a pilgrimage to Haworth planned for October when we’re in Yorkshire – and I can’t wait!

  10. Impressive review of the Bronte Sisters’ books. I added the Colgan’s and Cleeves’ books that you mentioned to my TBR pile. I read and enjoyed a few of Colgan’s books before. Thank you for sharing your recent reading with #weekendcoffeeshare.

    1. Jenny Colgan is a reliable go to for me when I need to turn away from the world, and Ann Cleeves is an absolute master of the genre.

    1. I had never heard of The Professor, Shirley or Villette. The only ones I really didn’t enjoy were The Professor and Vilette.

  11. I have enjoyed following your journey through the Bronte Sisters’ books (so I don’t have to read them… kidding… sort of). I think the way your group broke them up into bite-sized pieces – with wonderful bites at the end – was perfect. I’m pretty sure I read Jane Eyre years ago but don’t remember that marriage proposal. Thank goodness she said NO!

    1. It was great reading them together in book club – and, of course, our end of book baking sessions…

  12. The last time I read anything from the Bronte’s was “Wuthering Heights” and I was 16. I haven’t picked it up since them. Maybe this year, I’ll do a “Summer of Classics” where my reading pile are classics.

  13. Some of those books look really good. I haven’t read any Bronte books. I think the “language or speech” or whatever you want to call it doesn’t flow that well for me when I read…lol But “The girl walks into a book” sounds interestng.

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