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(In housekeeping notes, I’m going to begin reviewing books in single posts from here on out, and will just do a “roundup” type post for linking to the Nightstand post each month. Several reviews in one post become pretty lengthy, and I often need things to post on a daily basis anyway).
I’ve been fascinated with Charlotte Bronte (her sisters, too) since reading Jane Eyre as a teen. I visited Haworth parsonage, where the Bronte sisters lived and wrote, during my Lilly Endowment trip in 1993. So when I saw copies of Charlotte in Love: The Courtship and Marriage of Charlotte Brontë offered by NetGalley, I was eager to read it.
I knew Charlotte’s basic story, which was sad even for the 1800s — her mom died when Charlotte was just 5. She grew up in the parsonage with her stern, difficult father and her 5 siblings (2 died in early childhood, and two sisters and brother she grew up with died prior to her, in early adulthood). So she was left with just her “exasperatingly opinionated and difficult” father, living in the same house, in her 30s. Pretty grim. Behind her quiet and mousy appearance, however, was the vibrant passion and talent that imagined Jane Eyre and her other books.
Charlotte in Love: The Courtship and Marriage of Charlotte Brontë explores Charlotte’s courtship and marriage by her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. The conventional thinking is that the talented, passionate Charlotte “settled” for the less-intellectual, rigid-thinking Nicholls. However, Brian Wilks sets out to show that the pairing (at least after the wedding) was much more a love match.
Some points I found interesting —
- Even as a child, Charlotte was quite nearsighted (I’m guessing glasses weren’t an option for her in the mid 1800s?) — her vision was so weak that she had to hold books close to her nose in order to read them. Her visual handicap meant that she was “isolated from what was going on around her, even from her brother and sisters.” Apparently her feistier sister Emily (author of Wuthering Heights) tormented her by leading her close to animals or a water’s edge, then told her where she was. “Introspection and loneliness can attend upon poor eyesight, for such a child may tend to live in its own world if the walls of a room and everything in it are no more than a blur.”
- When Arthur moved to Haworth to serve as Patrick Bronte’s assistant, years before he and Charlotte married, Charlotte was not at all impressed with him. She and her sisters and friends even made fun of him. But as her siblings died and she was increasingly isolated, he began looking better. He eventually won her over through letters who wrote — which seems appropriate, given Charlotte’s writing skills.
- Charlotte’s greatest “crush” was undoubtedly Constantin Heger, a married eacher at a Brussels school where she worked and studied for some time. She depicts him in her books Villette and The Professor. This came to nothing, and then she was infatuated with William Williams, her London-based publisher. To Williams, she wrote, “The fact is, sometimes I feel it absolutely necessary to unburden my mind. To Papa I must only speak cheeringly, to Anne (sister) only encouragingly, to you I may give some hint of the dreary truth.” However, when Williams became engaged, the possibility of this relationship ended too.
- When Arthur first proposed marriage to Charlotte, Charlotte’s father violently opposed the match. Arthur even left the parsonage for quite a while after this, but eventually returned and pressed his case further. Charlotte then accepted, writing to a friend, “”while thankful to One who seems to have guided me through much difficulty, much deep distress and perplexity of mind, I am still very calm, very inexpectant. What I taste of happiness is of the soberest order. I trust to love my husband — I am grateful for his tender love to me. I believe him an affectionate, a conscientious, a high-principled man; and if, with all this, I should yield to regrets, that fine talents, congenial tastes and thoughts are not added, it seems to me, I should be most presumptuous and thankless. Providence offers me this destiny. Doubtless then it is be best for me.”
- Although Patrick Bronte eventually relented and gave his “permission” for his 38-year-old daughter to marry, at the last minute he did not attend the wedding.
- Charlotte and Arthur appeared to have really enjoyed their honeymoon, to his homeland of Ireland. Charlotte apparently was very impressed with his family. They married in late June 1854, and she became pregnant in the following months. She became ill early in 1855 and, sadly, died in March 1855, before the baby was born (possibly from the same extreme morning sickness that afflicted Kate Middleton).
- Arthur kept his word by continuing to live at the parsonage for 6 more years, until Charlotte’s father Patrick finally died, having survived his wife and all six children.
As a Bronte fan, I found this book quite interesting, although it was very repetitive and really needed some editing in that regard.
While reading this, I came across this — the wedding of Charotte and Arthur was recreated last November in Haworth, as part of filming for a BBC show to air this year, the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth. Lovely!
Have you read “Not Without My Daughter”? I confess I haven’t, but apparently it’s a very popular book, and then movie too. It’s Betty Mahmoody’s story of how she and her 5-year-old daughter escaped their brutal husband and father in Iran, sneaking out and traveling precariously over mountains. Even on returning to America, life wasn’t easy, because “Moody,” as the husband/dad is known, keeps trying to get his daughter back.
Mahtob is that daughter, now grown and in her 30s, and My Name Is Mahtob is her version of her life story. Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a review copy.
I didn’t really enjoy the beginning of the book; Mahtob zigs and zags back and forth with her timeline, and describes many scenes as just “viewmaster-like” scenes; makes sense that many of her memories from so long ago are just impressions, but it made for a difficult read. As she got older and the book continued, I enjoyed the story more. I really felt for her, living for years with people stalking her (it seems odd that her dad was so extremely persistent, and was able to have people follow her, break into houses, etc. – but apparently it’s true). I actually felt relieved for her to read that he died in 2009. She also has faced many issues as she lives with lupus.
The end of the book didn’t feel right to me either; it’s a series of letters between her dad near the end of his life, and a family friend. Those just felt unnecessary and even a bit intrusive.
Otherwise though, I enjoyed Mahtob’s story and was so glad that she is living safely today, and that she has had Christ as an anchor in her tumultuous life.
I’m also reading the Bible through this year, so that will cut down on some of my other readings. I’ve done this 6 or 7 times, but I think it’s a good discipline. We can’t ever be too familiar with God’s Word. In the past, when I’ve done a year-long read-through, I get so bogged down with the laws and the prophets that by December, I’ve vowed to just read a Psalm a day or something like that the next year. But inevitably, what then happens is that I end up reading the Bible very little in those “off” years.” So this year, I’m “on.” If you have a Bible reading plan that has worked well for you, please share in the comments.