It has been a long time since I reviewed a “Brontë” book, but this one grabbed my attention immediately for a lot a reasons. In “Charlotte & Arthur,” Pauline Clooney tells the story of Charlotte Brontë and Arthur Bell Nicholls as they took their honeymoon in Wales and Ireland in 1854.
book starts with the wedding day on 29th June 1854. In the first chapters, there are some flashbacks
to how the wedding came about (not without its obstacles, as we all know), and the
book then continues with the story of the honeymoon.
couple first went to Wales and spent some time there, which they enjoyed
in a way, but Charlotte was not in the best of health at that time.
She was suffering
from a bad cold.
then continued their honeymoon to Ireland, starting in Dublin, where they met up with
some of Arthur’s relatives and visited some of the city’s highlights.
Then they continued
to Banagher, where Arthur’s family lived and where he was raised by his
aunt Henrietta. Here they spent some time with the family and Charlotte’s
health was restored with the help of aunt Henrietta.
The honeymoon continued towards the Irish west coast and Kilkee where they stayed for a longer time. Charlotte was really taken by the beautiful scenery in this part of Ireland and described it in one of her letters, to Catherine Winkworth dated 27 July 1854, in which she expressed great enthusiasm for Kilkee and its surroundings:
“… went to the coast – such a wild iron-bound coast – with
such an ocean-view as I had not yet seen – and such battling of waves with
rocks as I had never imagined.
“My husband is not a poet or a poetical man – and one of my grand doubts before marriage was about 'congenial tastes' and so on. The first morning we went out on to the cliffs and saw the Atlantic coming in all white foam, I did not know whether I should get leave or time to take the matter in my own way. I did not want to talk – but I did want to look and be silent. Having hinted a petition, licence was not refused – covered with a rug to keep off the spray I was allowed to sit where I chose – and he only interrupted me when he thought I crept too near the edge of the cliff. So far he is always good in this way – and this protection which does not interfere or pretend is I believe a thousand times better than any half sort of pseudo sympathy …”
Kilkee they went to Killarney which was a place that Charlotte’s father had
longed to see. He had written a novel called “The Maid of Killarney” and
Charlotte had read it for sure. Here after having received a letter from Martha
Brown saying that the Reverend Patrick Brontë was unwell, Charlotte began to
feel homesick. But they decided to continue their
honeymoon as planned.
stayed a while in Killarney, visited the Gap of Dunloe (where Charlotte was
thrown off her horse but was not injured), and then went on to Glengarriff and finally Cork, where they decided to
return home. They had been away for about a month.
are the facts known to everyone familiar with Brontë biography. Of course, a
lot of the conversation between Charlotte and Arthur recreated in this book
springs from the imagination of the author. But it makes a wonderful read and
one can believe that this really happened.
me the book had another dimension: It took me back to places that I have
really visited in Ireland and have wonderful memories of. I visited all
those places, however not in the same order as Charlotte
and Arthur did. The first time I visited them, I did not know that Charlotte
been there, but my husband and I revisited them over the years with more attention
to the facts known about their honeymoon (having by then also read a lot about
the honeymoon) and trying to retrace their steps (as much as possible). In these times of COVID-19
travelling restrictions, I really enjoyed being taken back to
Ireland and our holidays there!
me the book really was very enjoyable. One of the reviews on
cover says: “Imaginative and sensitive, this novel reveals the real Charlotte,
as perhaps only a loving reader and a great storyteller can.” I could not agree more! In
imagining what could have been said, the author really invites the reader
to have a look into the heart and mind of Charlotte. During the honeymoon, it
became clear from Charlotte’s letters that she really began to see her husband
in a new light and appreciated him more for it.
This is an absolute must read for every Brontë fan!