Monday, 23 November 2015

Review: The Secret by Charlotte Bronte

This book should actually be called The Secret and Other Stories by Charlotte AND Branwell Bronte. The woman who wrote the foreword has her name in bigger font that Branwell. Admittedly not difficult as he's not even there. Poor Branwell. 

Plot summary: The Marquis of Douro, his beautiful wife Marian and their infant son lead a happy and carefree existence in the city of Verdopolis until a chance encounter brings the youthful Marchioness’s childhood governess back into their lives. The meeting proves to be the catalyst for an increasingly tortuous series of events involving blackmail, imposture and shocking revelations regarding the birth of the young Marchioness. Will the Marquis ever forgive his wife her secret?

A rollicking adventure from the Bront√ęs’ imagined kingdom of Verdopolis, The Secret is a tale of intrigue, lies, duplicity and all-conquering love.

I'm probably more put-out by the fact that The Secret is a shory story collection, not a novel. I'm just not a short story person - I find that you just manage to get into the story before it finishes and then you have to start all over again. Still, I suppose it would be unreasonable to expect young teenagers like Charlotte and Branwell to assemble epic-length tomes. Fine. Proceed then.

Aside from the clear gross misrepresentation of the front cover... I actually liked this. Admittedly it may have something to do with the fact that I never have to touch a single page of Moby Dick ever again, but I was surprised by how the Bronte style shines through even from their childhood scribbles.

Apparently these stories were written between 1830 and 1834, so Charlotte and Branwell would have been roughly 14 to 18 years old. Isn't that depressing? The plots aren't quite there yet, as sometimes a story just kind of ends with a hasty one lined explanation and they hadn't quite discovered the concept of a strong female character yet, but the essence is definitely present. The language and the prose are very nearly as strong and beautiful as you would expect from an adult author, which is incredibly impressive when you consider that these were never intended for publication.

The problem with that is that they don't always make sense to an outside reader. I think most Bronte fans know that, as children, they made up their own little world and wrote stories about it. Well, here it is, folks! Their invented world, Verdopolis, is in Africa... except it is quite plainly not in Africa. That's not the weirdest thing though. I just can't get over the fact that Charlotte Bronte wrote fanfiction about the Duke of Wellington. I feel slightly better about the hoards of LotR drabble I churned out as a teenager.

More to the point though, this isn't a complete collection and the backgrounds of the characters aren't explained in the snippets that we have in The Secret. Maybe they were never explained - they wouldn't need to be if this was only intended to be a game between siblings. Sometimes the narrative will say something along the lines of 'Why yes, reader. You guessed it. It was Marian all along!' and I had to just sit there and look mildly bewildered as to who Marian is and how the heck I was supposed to have guessed. 

The timeline isn't straightfoward either. A lot of the stories are about the same two people, but sometimes they're married and sometimes she's died. Sometimes she died before they could get married. Sometimes he decides he doesn't love her, after all. It's just odd. 

It's not that I didn't like The Secret. It's just definitely more enjoyable as a Bronte curio instead of a stand-alone work of fiction. I'd recommend it for Bronte fans interested in watching their prose develop, but not for the casual reader who just wants a good story. 

Read my review of Jane Eyre, also by Charlotte Bronte.    

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