Letter: Mary Taylor's 'other book'

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The Independent Online
Sir: Delighted as one would be to learn of the discovery of a hitherto unknown Bronte novel, I think it cannot be at the expense of depriving Charlotte Bronte's friend, Mary Taylor (1817-1893), of her own rights of authorship ("Miles away from the real Bronte", 20 May).

Miss Miles was published in 1890, probably at Taylor's own expense. We have references in her letters to Bronte to two books she was working on, a novel and "my other book". In 1852 she described her novel as "full of music, poverty, disputing, politics, and original views of life", a description which corresponds to the novel that finally emerged.

She confessed to difficulties in portraying male characters, and indeed, her main concern is not with writing a romance, but with the character development and ultimate fates of three young heroines. There is neither the poetry nor the passion we encounter in Bronte's novels. In Miss Miles we have a well-constructed novel, expressing in a good story, Mary Taylor's firm convictions of the need for women to work for their own independence.

Taylor was severely critical of Bronte's presentation of the women and work problem in Shirley, accusing her of cowardice and treachery to the women's cause. She held radical views about women's rights and Miss Miles represents one of the media through which she expressed them. After five years spent researching Taylor's life and work I am convinced that she warrants a respected place in the history of the 19th-century women's movement and the literature, theory and fiction connected with it.


Senior Visiting Research Fellow

The Open University

Milton Keynes