Miranda K. Pennington
At first it’s really not clear if this book is to be counted as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Ultimately it reads like a wonderful story that envelops the Bronte sisters and Pennington in ways that are peculiar and satisfyingly strange. Eventually one must decide that it must come down on the side of non-fiction because so much of it is based on the real lives of both the aforementioned. Pennington turns a quirky personal love life story into a hilarious comparison to all the things that can be learnt from the stories written by the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
Sometimes we read to find ourselves; sometimes we read to escape ourselves; sometimes we read to see ourselves more clearly.
Throughout the course of the book Pennington looks at how her current life experience could be seen to be mirrored in one of the Bronte’s novels. She starts with the classic Jane Eyre and explains her first love of reading it as a child and how so often as an adult she felt a kinship with the fictional character. Indeed, Pennington seems to behave as if all the characters from a Bronte novel were once real people.
“….it still startles me to be reminded that they aren’t real. It seems much more likely they exist in the ether somewhere, fully formed and waiting for a reader to bring them to life again.”
Themes such as what is love, who are you meant to be and what does real love looks like are covered and more. We travel through Pennington’s life, comparing different situations and stages that align with different portions of Bronte novels. All novels share insight and a working knowledge and a course of action such as Wuthering Heights being a cautionary tale for overzealous attachment to one’s first love. Agnes Grey is a mentor for finding a job, finding another one if needed, succeeding in one’s career and learning to stand on your own two feet. Shirley gives insight into female friendship and women’s options in life. These comparisons are often both comic and insightful.
The fact that these things happened in life and in literature is part of what gives them resonance. It’s what allows the Brontes to capture detail and write so realistically. It’s what makes them true.
This is entertaining and yet one feels the very rawness of Pennington’s confessional style on every page. For those who have not read the entire Bronte canon, it serves as a tempting suggestion to throw oneself fully into the business of self-education. Pennington herself is honest about her faults that make her all the more real for her struggles and all the more accessible as a person. This is a delightful book that will please both the ultimate Bronte lover and the uninitiated.