I wrote a while back about how this had pleasantly landed upon my doorstep from the lovely people at Headline and though only having read one Bronte novel (which I didn’t really like very much – Wuthering Heights) I loved the premise of a book all about one of the most famous families in English Literature, if not the most famous. Having stayed in Haworth, drunk at The Black Bull and most importantly getting to walk round the parsonage I can totally understand people’s fascinations with the Bronte’s. Reading ‘Daphne’ earlier this year and seeing that Daphne Du Maurier was also intrigued only made me intrigued further, though I have still as yet never read another Bronte book. That, thanks in the main to Jude Morgan, is definitely something that I am going to rectify.
‘The Taste of Sorrow’ starts in some ways as it means to go on, this is no fairy story. Those of you who have read up on the sisters or been to the parsonage will know they struggled through life until they finally published there books, which actually happens very close to the end of the book. In fact Morgan concentrates very much on the times before they became household names. The opening chapter and scene is that of the Bronte children’s mother, Maria Branwell on her deathbed and is told mainly from the eyes of their father Patrick Bronte, originally Patrick Prunty, as he watches his wife die not knowing what to do about or for his children.
Growing up motherless though they have their mother’s sister in the house Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily (Anne being too young and Branwell being a boy) are all sent to Cowan Bridge and The Clergy Daughter’s School to train to become governesses. The family not being rich the girls will need to make money for themselves “a pittance” as securing them husbands is not going to be easy. This part of the book is very dark and leads you through grim corridors, itchy uniforms and the evil watching eye of Miss Andrews who see’s all children as ‘hoydens’ which I think is a wonderful word (one of my cats, sadly no longer with us, was in fact called Hoyden) and its this sort of language that Morgan uses, along with some profanity I didn’t think people would have known back in those days. In many ways its Morgan’s very real language and dialogue, which never sounds modern, always grounded and readable and added to the pleasure of reading the novel.
Anyway I digress. From the poor school, as Patrick cannot afford better, great woe comes as the eldest two daughters, who I always forget about, Maria and Elizabeth become ‘consumptive’ and like many of the girls in the school of the time sadly pass away. The girls in actual fact died just over a month apart, something which shocks and partially destroys the Bronte family unit. It also adds to the pressure of all the remaining children that they must become great successes however the fantasy world of ‘Angria’ is much more interesting and they throw themselves into it to escape the real world, only the real world can never quite be escaped. We then follow them as they struggle to leave ‘Angria’ behind in their childhood as they grown up and try to make a success of their lives, which isn’t for a very long time writing as ‘girls don’t write books’ and won’t get published. Some of you will know what happens in that time other’s will not and I refuse to spoil it.
I will say it is absolutely wonderfully written. I found it hard to tear myself away from the book and in fact spent a whole day in bed with it (well I did have swine flu too, had it been the weekend I would have made some excuse). Morgan brings to life the three famous sisters and their different character traits. Charlotte who is strong minded, yet fearful, independent yet nervous. Emily is quite cunning and dark and often compared to a cat. Anne the baby of the family who is quite quiet and meek and yet has a lot going on in her head and once you get to know her is much wiser than her years. Branwell and his downfall are of course there but at the heart of it this is very much a book about Emily, Anne and Charlotte… and now I want to run off and read all of their books.
Well I have read Emily’s but after reading ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ I might have to give it another whirl as I think it would have more resonance with me now, strange how a fictional account of her has made me want to re-evaluate my thoughts on her work. I think that shows the power of Morgan’s writing, whose back catalogue of works I will be adding to the TBR along with everything Bronte. A truly wonderful book that anyone who loves books, let alone anyone intrigued by the Bronte’s, should read. I am gutted it didn’t make it onto the Man Booker Long List, I think its safe to say it will make it onto my favourite reads list at the end of the year. Have you read any Jude Morgan which one should I read next? Where should I start with the Bronte’s?