Brontes We Can Understand

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What Amy Wolf has achieved, in her novel The Misses Bronte’s Establishment, is to make, in the guise of fiction, a distinguished family of writers human.

What the Brontes meant to me, before I read Amy’s work, was Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Emily (Wuthering Heights). They were remnants of an education grown ancient. I try to fill in the blanks of the classics I never read from time to time. A few years ago, I read the latter. It required concentration, as weighty books tend to do. Once I was done, I was glad I had read it.

Hmm. I was a little like Maria Shelby.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

I know all the Brontes now, but Amy’s novel isn’t weighty. From the perspective of a rebellious rich child banished to their tutelage, Maria’s narrative is as easy to read as that of a similar character in a contemporary novel, and she goes from seeing Charlotte, Emily, and Anne as weird eccentrics, to finding a method in their madness, to loving them. They have such an impact on Maria’s life that she goes from being humiliated in their presence to being reluctant to leave. Charlotte had to … insist.

Maria falls in love with Branwell, the brother who is just as bright as his sisters but ruined by his addiction to opium and drink. This does not go over well with Maria’s father, who finds he has created an unexpected problem by banishing his independent daughter. He just wanted to straighten her out, not educate her.

The story begins in 1843, and yet it is one that, incredibly, seems applicable to last week. At the beginning, Maria might as well be texting in her brand-new Lexus as riding her draft horse sidesaddle.

The central story is Maria’s transformation, not the tragedy of the sheltered Bronte clan. Hers is life among the ruins, but they are honest, uncompromising lives. And ruins.

Once this is what I thought in response to the words Wuthering Heights:

I love you, Heathcliff!

And I you!

A vague image of Lawrence Olivier. That’s it.

The Misses Bronte’s Establishment sent me looking up all the Brontes. Once I get out from under this stack of coming attractions, I’m liable to try Jane Eyre.

Or I may wait for Amy Wolf’s next.

Misgivings? It was a bit predictable, abetted, admittedly, by my curious research. I should have waited until after I finished it.

The story drags a bit as it plunges toward its inevitable conclusion. Not much that happens is a surprise. A rash of mail failures and interceptions exist as a super-slow-motion alternative to text fails.

Surprise endings are necessarily rare in historically based fiction. What’s that word? “Faction”?

In general, though, I loved The Misses Bronte’s Establishment. It was fun. Who knew a novel about Nineteenth Century England would be fun? Isn’t that a rare and precious thing?



              Please consider Amy Wolf’s The Misses Bronte’s Establishment. You can examine it here:


              Please consider my three novels — Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and The Audacity of Dope — as well as my non-fiction books here:



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