Review – Crave the Rose: Anne Brontë at 200


During my adventures reading books I have become aware of the fact that, when a story is timeless, it’s in part because of the person who wrote it.

I have decided to learn more about the authors behind those stories which have survived over the centuries, which our grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed. Anne Brontë’s biography was the first I read.

Called Crave the Rose, I believe the biography to be an elegant tribute to the youngest Brontë sister. Though I knew that many people in Anne’s family had written books, I did not know how very literary the Brontës were; indeed, until I read Crave the Rose, I didn’t even know they had a brother, Branwell.

I also did not know that there had been two older sisters who had died. Named Maria and Elizabeth, death took them before Anne was old enough to remember them.

Anne Brontë was said by many to be the prettiest of her sisters.

The Brontës were stalked by death. Beginning with their mother, Maria, who expired when Anne was a baby, death took their family one by one; finally, only their father, Patrick remained. How deep his grief must have been after seeing all of his family depart this world.

It is a good length. I say this because I did not once skim the chapter or think “there’s too much filler.” On the contrary, I lamented that Anne didn’t live long enough to have a thicker biography. I suppose we readers add to her literary legacy by reading and loving her work.

I was first struck by Anne’s talent at poetry in the verses that the author shared at the beginning of every chapter. Her words could start a heart racing with joy, or make it share in her great despair. She felt each emotion so deeply that it bounced off the page.

There are moments in literature when you find connections between two authors you admire and must stop to think of the magnitude. I learned in Crave the Rose that Elizabeth Gaskell, whose work I also enjoy, wrote a controversial biography of the Brontë family painting a glum picture of them, depicting the father as abusive.

As I read about this part of their story, I couldn’t be angry with Mrs Gaskell. I was instead excited that greatness connects with greatness. North and South by Mrs Gaskell is one of my favorite books.

Learning that the Brontës were in this way connected to Elizabeth Gaskell made me feel like a historian uncovering a gem in the words of a page. It seems that the Brontës were a favorite subject of criticism; there is a biography of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier, whose work I have yet to read, which also supposedly gives him a bad light.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Anne Brontë

I did not realize until reading Crave the Rose how dedicated to the written word this family was. Their story is tragic and empowering.

I pictured Anne and Charlotte on their one trip to London, two small and meek women, determined to prove to their publisher that there were indeed three authors in the famous Bell literary trio, with nothing to support their claim but correspondence with the publisher. It must have been frightening, but they were determined to defend their work–as they should have been.

The Brontë sisters

Then I pictured Anne falling ill shortly after this trip. She succumbed to the consumption soon after it took her sister, Emily. I admire the recorded courage with which she lived her final days, courage I cannot fathom. I have a fear of death, myself; accounts like these challenge my perspective.

If you want to find hope in this world again, begin searching history for people like Anne Brontë. Their small acts of bravery will be lost in time if we do not keep their memories alive. I can only hope that I will one day be as determined a writer as Anne Brontë, and that I will not be afraid when facing death.

Anne, despite being the youngest daydreamer of the family, seems to me to have been the bravest of them all.

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.

Anne Brontë

Strength in Song: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir


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Two words describe The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir–heartbreaking and hopeful.

I liked the way it was written, a first person novel following the points of view of several members of an exclusively female choir. While the notion might not seem unusual now, it was previously unheard of in the book, and only formed because all of the men in the choir had gone off to war.

This choir unites the young and old, the foreign and the native, in a delightful example of how diversity can create the best music. This is, after all, what happened during WWII: people who wouldn’t have met otherwise were side-by-side in the struggle to survive, mentally and spiritually.

The ladies in this choir bond through their music. It can be seen in their letters and journal entries that, in the most desperate times, they are stronger when they come together. I think it is true that all of us are stronger when doing something we love with people we love.

Since these ladies are in different phases of life, we see the world through different lenses. We have the innocent perspective of fourteen-year-old Kitty, as well as her sister, Venetia, who is in the bud of womanhood, discovering new things. There is Silvie, a Jewish girl who is staying with them because her country is under attack. I thought it fascinating that, though Silvie’s journal entries were few and short, she was more alert.

This book shows how no woman sees the world in the same way, but friendship wins even in the midst of war. If war can bring about such growth in people so different, imagine what we could do if we would set aside our differences in times of peace!

The war inspired many stories, but The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is one I will remember because of the different colors each woman contributed; I will let it remind me that there is only so much we can do alone.

I will cherish this book, and hope that I can be strong as them, when adversity comes.

Wild Strawberries: Angela Thirkell’s Warped Downton Abbey


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Happy Halloween!

On the most magical day of the year, I’m sure many of you are bracing yourselves for the winter, preparing to write novels, or simply enjoying your pumpkin spice while wearing oversized hoodies (I am).

With a new novel to plan myself, I’m staying in today, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore the occasion; every Halloween I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a tradition I created five years ago. It helps get me into the mood.

I won’t dwell on the spooky in this blog post. I’ve just finished a delightful novel called Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of her before. I got it as an eBook this summer before my trip to Europe, but did not get to it until yesterday. I was not disappointed; short, sweet, and humorous, it had a springtime vibe that made me forget the chill outside.

I’ve never before read a book that made me laugh out loud. Certain scenes had me in tears. Poking fun at aristocrats with their dignified houses, Thirkell has a writing style that leaves you wanting more. She crafts characters you cannot hate, even if they behave in ridiculous ways. It made me think of Downton Abbey, especially scenes where the butler participates, except this butler is more keen to cause a fuss than Mr Carson would be.

I thought I was good at crafting characters; now I envy Thirkell, with her ease for giving each protagonist their color. There is the quirky Lady Emily Leslie, sixteen-year-old Martin who is spoiled and seems to know it, Lady Emily’s daughter, Agnes, who pulls off the “simple-minded” character–I felt like the characters had already existed, and Thirkell was commenting on the things they did, almost in a bored fashion.

After I finished Wild Strawberries, Goodreads told me it is the second book in a series; this means I will need to find the first one. I don’t know where Angela Thirkell has been all my life, but like Rosamunde Pilcher, she is a new voice that I’m glad to have found. They have different tones: Thirkell is humorous, Pilcher seemed rather melancholic, but both told tales that engrossed me.

If you like Downton Abbey, read Wild Strawberries. When I read the other books in the series, I’ll report on those as well.

Enjoy your Halloween, and I hope you get lots of candy!

Discovering The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley



This week, I am reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. It is another book I found at the thrift store, and I found to my delight that the writing is bold as the woman’s red hair on the cover.

Kearsley paints pictures so perfectly in my imagination that I am disconcerted when I need to put the book down.

Writing this blog post feels like a premature book review, but I need to talk about how I feel. I am fond of stories such as this, where the main character is an author; it’s fun to recognize problems in the writing process, storytelling quirks, and the determination of a writer to tell a tale.

It’s a book where the characters speak to their author. I wonder if my own characters speak to me as loudly and I do not hear. I find that, especially in the winter, it’s difficult to keep my mind clear enough to listen, in particular when I lack motivation. It must be something that comes with practice.

It breaks my heart when I find half-finished books at thrift stores. Whoever owned this copy of The Winter Sea before me read half of it and then gave up. I can tell because there’s a clean fold in the middle; the pages in the second half look fresh from a bookstore, while the first have dog-eared corners.

I’m glad to give it the love it didn’t receive from its first owner, using pencil to underline sentences I find lovely (something I would only do with a used book; I could not bear to write in a brand new novel). Some of those phrases wind up as quotes on my Instagram, because works of art should be admired, even if only a sentence out of five hundred pages.

Persistent as a cold winter breeze, the story soaks through me. It’s creeping into my list of favorite books. In it, historical fiction and romance balance like in ballet. The last time I felt this way about a book was for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, another thrift store find that someone had abandoned half-finished.

Perhaps I’m noticing a pattern. Let the half-finished books come to me: I seem to fall in love every time.

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