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.
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?)
Deb, Donna, Sue 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).