Yesterday you read my review of Always Emily, a mystery set on the moors of Ireland involving the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Today, author Michaela MacColl is stopping by to talk a little bit more about her book and the inspirations for it—Bronte family. Here’s what MacColl has to say about them:
Always Emily is a mystery on the moors starring teenaged Emily and Charlotte Bronte. My publisher has billed it as a story of intrigue and romance – but really, at its heart it’s the story of two sisters. And these two sisters exist in a truly exceptional (and odd) family.
The father of the family was Rev. Bronte, a poor boy from Ireland who clawed his way into middle class through a scholarship education. He was a bit of a hypochondriac and always wore a long silk scarf wrapped many times around his throat. He slept with a loaded pistol next to his bed and every morning emptied the gun by firing a shot into the air.
His job as the Reverend of Haworth was his only source of income and it also came with the house. The house was at the very end of town and looked out over a cemetery. An interesting detail that I couldn’t resist using was the washerwomen of Haworth would lay out their laundry on the flat tombstones to dry. Rev. Bronte had a long running battle with them every laundry day.
Rev. Bronte had six children, five girls and one boy. The cost of educating all these children was more than daunting – it was impossible. The Rev. jumped at the chance to send his girls to a charity school for educating the daughters of impoverished clergyman. Unfortunately, the school was a miserable place and the two eldest daughters contracted typhoid and died within six months. The Rev. quickly retrieved his younger daughters, Charlotte and Emily. It would be many years before he dared send them away again.
That must have been a defining moment in the girls’ lives. At the age of 10, Charlotte went from being the third child to being the eldest. In my mind, Charlotte assumed the mantle of responsibility for her younger siblings and never put it down for the rest of her life. She goes off to school to train to be a teacher so she could earn a living. She insisted that Emily do the same (it didn’t work out well). And the girls eventually started writing for publication to earn a living. Charlotte never forgot that if something happened to their father they were not only penniless but homeless too.
But poor bossy Charlotte! She couldn’t have reckoned with having such a tough bunch of individuals to try and wrangle. Emily cared more for wild animals and wandering about the moors than earning her living. When she went away to school, she lasted only a month. She missed her freedom and the cold winds that swept the moors. Wuthering Heights is a novel of original characters living violent and brutish lives. Critics were stunned to discover that the author was a woman.
The third sister Anne was the youngest. She seemed the most biddable but she was also the one who worked as a governess quite successfully. She even turned her experiences into a fairly daring novel that exposed the life of a governess in a middle class house called Agnes Grey. Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was revolutionary for taking as her protagonist a battered wife who left her husband.
And finally there’s Branwell, the only boy in the family. When he was a boy, Branwell was the cocky leader of the four children. The only one who challenged his dominance was Emily (she towered over him so she had a physical advantage). He alternately tried writing and painting, but left no real mark in either field. He was the first to die of tuberculosis complicated by his addiction to opiates and alcohol. He may never have even known that his sisters were published novelists.
My challenge (and great joy) was to somehow set a story amongst all these originals. The book is called Always Emily – but really it could be called Those Wacky Brontes.
It’s been a pleasure. Please visit me at www.michaelamaccoll.com, or follow me on Twitter at @MichaelaMacColl or check out Author Michaela MacColl on Facebook.