Yesterday was Charlotte Brontë’s 200th birthday. The internet (or at least the part of the internet I frequent) was flooded with tributes to the author and quotes from Jane Eyre. I enjoyed it all. Jane Eyre was the first classic I loved and the subject of my most successful scholarship essay. I owe a large chunk of my college education to Charlotte Brontë. Her sister Emily, though, was a mystery to me for my formative reading years. I’d read everything else I could get my hands on by the other sisters (including Anne), but I deliberately avoided Wuthering Heights after more than one friend told me it was dark and depressing. (I still don’t read dark and depressing very willingly.) I didn’t read Wuthering Heights until it was assigned for a class my last semester in college. The need to understand the book well enough to write about it forced me to read it more carefully than I would have otherwise. I loved it.
So when I picked up Emily’s Ghost: A Novel of the Brontë Sisters by Denise Giardina, I was both hopeful and wary: hopeful for a captivating imagining of what inspired the dark and passionate story of Catherine and Heathcliff and wary because I already knew some basic details of Emily’s life. The book was both satisfying and sad, which is to say that it was a near-perfect imaging of the enigma that was Emily Brontë. I was worried that the promised romance with William Weightman would be only half realized in order to adhere to the known facts of both their lives (and deaths). Instead, William ended up as one of my favorite characters. He was such a perfect match for Emily’s passion. Add this to the list of yet another book that leaves me with a desire to wander an English moor in the early morning, preferably with my hunting falcon and hoping for the chance to meet a charming clergyman.
Emily’s Ghost takes the few details we have of Emily’s life and weaves them into a portrait of what her life and dreams might have been. To call it a novel of the Brontë sisters feels a bit forced, though. Charlotte especially is portrayed in a very negative light. As a huge Charlotte Brontë fan, I felt defensive for her. As the youngest of a very large family, though, I can easily imagine the rivalry and dynamic of three talented sisters. It might not have been too far off, though I still prefer to think of Charlotte as more gentle than she is depicted in Emily’s Ghost.
True to history, Emily does not get a happy ending. But as a devoted reader of all things pleasant, I can say that I haven’t enjoyed a melancholy ending so much in a long time. The book was just beautifully done.
I would recommend this to: fans of Wuthering Heights, English moors, or doomed romances.