Headline Review, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
The Taste of Sorrow, By Jude Morgan
Withering plights of three sisters
Tuesday 07 July 2009
"It's writing that makes living tolerable." This sentence is the nub of The Taste of Sorrow, Jude Morgan's absorbing novel about the lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. It occurs at that part of their story where, without distancing themselves, the noisy self-annihilation of their brother, Branwell, could have become intolerable. "Writing" covers being able to escape into the imagination – a capacity the children developed early, in response to the loneliness of the Yorkshire moorland around them, and the accumulation of sorrow. It is not just the taste but a diet of sorrow on which they live.
The losses start, as does the novel, with the agonised death of their mother. The six children are all under ten, Maria and Elizabeth the eldest. Patrick, their clergyman father, pious Aunt Branwell, a servant or two and some dogs make up their immediate world. It might have been a straitjacket but for their high intelligence and their father's belief in educating girls. While he taught them himself, all seems to have been well. But, unconventionally, he kept his one boy close while posting all but the youngest girl off to boarding school. It was a choice with extraordinary and disastrous consequences.
The Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge: as Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre, Charlotte allowed it redeeming features. Morgan does not. He gives us the deadening curriculum, constant criticism and prayer and penitential conditions. Lording over them is the grotesque patron, the Reverend Carus Wilson, who deplores the imagination while spouting fantastic hellfire homilies. That his regime hastens death for some, Maria and Elizabeth included, he can count as gain, as death preserves from sin.
Once freed from this terrible place, the world of the imagination sustains Charlotte, Emily and Anne for the rest of their brief, difficult lives. That they were able to transform that world into fiction is not only a gift to generations of readers, but a continuing cry for freethinking education, especially for girls.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Snoop Dogg on why he doesn't regret displaying misogyny towards women
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland