The secret adventures of Charlotte Bronte
May 14, 2010
The secret life of Charlotte Bronte by Laura Joh Rowland (Pier 9; ISBN 978 1741969139)
Who is it for? Well read teens
What’s it about? After success with the publication of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte is accused of breach of contract and travels to London with her sister Anne to clear her name. On the train, she meets a governess, Isabel White, who is subsequently murdered brutally (of course!). Against her will, Charlotte is drawn into events that could change the course of English history, and brings danger to her beloved family in Haworth.
Is it any good? This was a really enjoyable tale set in Victorian England. Although completely fictional, Rowland does draw on knowledge of the times and the life of the Brontes in a way that adds authenticity and believability to a suitably melodramatic plot. One of the best features of the book is its tight editing – so rare in much contemporary fiction. Consequently, the story moves along at a brisk pace that rarely flags. While the writing attempts to capture Charlotte’s style, it is a bit clunky at times. This is more than made up for by the rich picture painted of Victorian life, with its sense of both promise and hypocrisy. A particularly admirable aspect of the novel is the way that it ties together the history of Europe at the time into events transpiring far away in China. A writer of Korean and Chinese descent, Rowland manages to keep the reader well entertained while encouraging them to reflect critically on English history. Like most books in the espionage and adventure genres, credibility is stretched at times, but for readers willing to suspend disbelief, this is a really enjoyable novel.
How might it be used? There is a growing number of novels in the market that take the classics and have fun with them. This is more serious than most and explores issues of gender, class and race. The Secret Adventures would serve well as an accompaniment to Charlotte Bronte’s work, and could even be used a way into the works of all three Bronte sisters. The multi-generic storytelling technique used may be worthwhile as a model for students’ own writing. Overall, a worthwhile book to use with students – although certainly not to everyone’s taste. Check out Rowland’s website: www.laurajohrowland.com/charlotte.