I may have made little squeaky noises while jumping up and down (don’t ask) when I unwrapped Gnoe‘s Christmas parcel this December. The Taste of Sorrow was the book I was most eagerly looking forward to owning, and I had almost given up on receiving it for Christmas since my parents had not been able to find it in the bookstore. Happily, the book lived up to my high expectations, and more. So thank you again, Gnoe, for this wonderful gift!
The Taste of Sorrow is a fictionalised biography of the Brontë sisters. Since I knew next to nothing about the lives of the Brontës before reading this book, I cannot remark on the historical accuracy of the book. But, I can say, that the sisters felt very real to me. Morgan paints all of the sisters as individuals, with their own charms and faults. The fact that the book is written in the present tense helped me feel even more engaged. It really feels like you are living Emily’s, Anne’s and Charlotte’s lives alongside them. That, and the superb writing, is what makes the book incredibly hard to put down.
There are several reasons why I loved this book so much. Ana points out one very important one in her post on the book, when she says that the suffering and death of Emily and Anne are not portrayed as martyr-like qualities, but are instead depicted as the tragedies they were. The book shows how shocking and sad and please-I-do-not-want-to-give-up-yet death at a young age often is. The sisters are no heroes, they are persons. They are charming in their own ways, they have flaws, they get cranky, they get sad, they can be hopeful. Look how I start to write as if Morgan’s version of the sisters are the sisters? It is not that he claims he knows the truth, it is simply that he writes in such a convincing manner.
Hopeful? You say, but the book is called “The Taste of Sorrow”. And yes, there is a reason for that, but that does not mean that the sisters did not have plans, did not aim to take control of their life (wanting to start their own school, writing novels and publishing them). But it is undeniable that sorrow is a heavy ingredient in this book. I did not feel sad all the time while reading it, but melancholic? definitely. Here are three sisters, who have lost their elder two sisters when they died at school, who have a brother Branwell who wastes his life and theirs along with it. They try to make a life for themselves, but often Branwell makes it impossible for them to do so. And if not him, it is their father. Who bluntly tells Charlotte when she says she wants to be a published author, that is an unworthy thing to do for a woman and that certainly she won’t be able to do so. Here are three sisters that have a lot of accomplishments, but who are expected to put all their hopes in their brother, who proceeds to get drunk, most of the time.
My feelings towards Branwell Brontë go a long way to paint what a fabulous job Jude Morgan does as an author. I did not know anything about Branwell. I somehow thought I was meant to admire him. I have heard people speak highly of him before. But from the very start, I felt uncomfortable with him. I felt I could not like him. And yet I did not know what disappointments were to come. I struggled with my feelings, why could I not like him? And then, slowly, bit by bit, I started to feel justified in my feelings towards him. Jude Morgan does a perfect job of setting up the relationships in the family: the admiration and expectations that are directed at Branwell, his sometimes arrogance, sometimes insecurity, his indulgence in the fact that he is the “man of the house”. The struggle of the sisters with the general disappointment in him, but also their unconditional love for their brother.
Ah, I’m afraid this post is not going to convince many of you to pick this book up, with my unconditional gushing. But please do. There is so much to it. The book is not just about the Brontë sisters, but also about being a woman in the nineteenth century and how hard it was to build your own life at the time. How intellectual accomplishment can isolate you from the outside world. It is also about social expectations, the ruin drink and drugs can bring to a whole family, the sadness of death & the escape imagination can bring.
Admittedly, the style of the book takes a little getting into. But once you’re past 20 pages, it makes you appreciate the story all the more. Jude Morgan does a great job in painting the atmosphere of the parsonage and the family life of the Brontës. The Taste of Sorrow made me appreciate the Brontës even more. It helped me turn my Jane Eyre obsession into, what I think will be a lasting Brontë obsession. I have a feeling I might understand Emily a little better. I feel an instant respect for Anne. And I love how I now feel I “know” all of them a little better, not just one of the three, not just Charlotte.
Can I say one more thing? Something that angers me? Why, oh why, did they decide to rename the US edition “Charlotte and Emily”? The equality of all sisters is underlined again and again in this book, even Maria and Elizabeth play a part, why ignore Anne in the title?