Monday, April 21, 2014

The Taste of Sorrow (A novel of the Brontës) - a must-read!

Patrick Brontë, father of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, et al, remembered his Irish father working in fields, so poor that he had to suck on a pebble to keep his mouth from going dry..."That is the taste of sorrows: the hard necessary pebble in your mouth."

The whole of The Taste of Sorrow (aka Charlotte & Emily in the U.S.) by Jude Morgan is like that.  Poetic, layered, and somber, until the sun breaks in at the end with Charlotte's marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate and fellow Irishman.  Despite Charlotte dying less than a year after she was married, I was so happy that the poor woman finally tasted something other than the sorrow that weighted her down for most of her life.

The Taste of Sorrow is not just the best book I've read this year, it's one of the best books I've ever read.  I'm a fan of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, as well as Elizabeth Gaskell's fabulous The Life of Charlotte Brontë, and know well the story of the talented by doomed Brontë family.  The mother from Cornwall who died an agonizing early death, leaving five young daughters and one young son.  The Old Testament father whose eccentricities both nourished and starved his children, both mentally and physically. The deaths of the two oldest girls at a school that Charlotte Brontë would immortalize and condemn for the ages as Lowood School in Jane Eyre.  The childhoods of the four remaining children who escaped into fantasy worlds that they documented in miniature books.  The drunken debauchery of the golden boy, Branwell.  The silent stoicism of the reclusive Emily.  The determination of shy Anne.  And the grit, gumption, and sheer chutzpah of Charlotte.

Morgan's book doesn't really reveal anything I hadn't already read in bios about the Brontës, but his writing makes the story new and fresh and heart-breaking all over again.  My copy has an endorsement by Hilary Mantel on the cover, which is appropriate because The Taste of Sorrow really reminded me a lot of Wolf Hall.  Mostly in present tense, often stream-of-consciousness, but not in a hard-to-understand way, and frequent use of free indirect discourse.  I loved how in a single paragraph, Morgan could convey the four points of view of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne, enabling the reader to feel the tension and alliances and baggage between the four.

My favorite part was when Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were working on their first three novels, and would write at night in the dining room.  Pacing around the table, reading aloud, rewriting...the three weird sisters, concocting their literary magic.  I also really enjoyed hearing about Charlotte's first meeting with Elizabeth Gaskell and their friendship.

I didn't intend to finish the novel and post about it on Charlotte's birthday, so imagine my delight when I realized that Charlotte Brontë was born 198 years ago today, April 21!

Final note - here is a great blog post entitled The Secret Life of Jude Morgan.  Like the blogger who wrote this piece, I struggle with understanding Morgan's lack of notoriety.  His historical fiction is some of the very best around.  Here's my review of Passion, his novel about the Romantic poets and their women.

The Taste of Sorrow is one of my books on my 2014 Historical Fiction Challenge and the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.


  1. I really like your commentary on this one Jane. It does sound impressive.

    There seems to be a lot of these fictional accounts of author's lives being written these days. It is interesting just how interested we are at peeking into the lives of these artists.

    1. I agree--lots of fictional bios, but the Brontës really have the edge when it comes to reality outstretching fiction. It is well worth reading, Brian.

  2. This sounds like a very absorbing read. Thank you for the links as well

  3. Jane, have you ever been to Haworth Parsonage? I went when I lived in England in 2000-2001. It was quite something to be in the house that the Brontes lived in, and to imagine the three women writing in the living room, at the same table. Then Charlotte's marriage and looking at the graveyard outside the home, knowing that that was the cause of her death. It's a beautiful place, and mournful too, as is Haworth itself, all grey stone and bleak like the moors around Haworth. It made me feel how they three sisters could write as they did, how they roamed the moors to escape the stifling of the village and found their way into their own world of poetry and fiction. I have The Taste of Sorrow, but haven't read it yet as I've always wanted to find a copy of Passion first to read, since it is set earlier with the Romantics. Silly me! I should just read what I can find! lol This sounds like a brilliant book, and I am thrilled you loved it this much. Must read The Taste of Sorrow soon then!

    Love your review, too. I wonder too why Morgan isn't better known as a historical novelist? His latest one is on Shakespeare, which I also want to pick up - after I find Passion.