Emily Bronte never came across an audiobook on the windswept Yorkshire moors, but her name is now attached to a nominee in this year’s Audie awards.
Like all artists, novelists find the impetus to begin in various places. Some inspire themselves with a formal challenge. Georges Perec, for example, asked himself what would happen if he tried to write a novel entirely bereft of the letter “e.” Others, in their doodling and false starts, stumble upon a sentence that compels them to go on, perhaps because that sentence seems to contain, in its 10 or 20 words, the novel that must be written. The opening of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” — “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” — is exemplary in this regard. Most commonly, though, novels find their genesis in other novels: Books are built upon books. In some cases the books upon which other books are built are difficult for the undiscerning reader to see: the Wilkie Collins in Franz Kafka, for example. In other cases, the source texts are obvious and acknowledged. Minae Mizumura’s “A True Novel” is one of those.
Charlotte and Emily Brontë gave us romanticised, byronic heroes, but Anne refused to wear rose-tinted glasses when dealing with male alcoholism and brutality
At the time of this letter’s writing the Brönte household was in disarray. Branwell, Charlotte’s elder brother, had died from a case of alcoholism-enflamed bronchitis in September 1848. Soon after Branwell’s death, Emily succumbed to tuberculosis. All responsibility of the family’s care and upkeep fell to Charlotte, who took another blow when Anne, the youngest, started with a racking cough. Charlotte addresses William Smith Williams, one of her editors at the publishing house of Smith, Elder, and Co. Her hopes, outlined below, were too generous; Anne’s case of TB proved fatal in May.
he Brontës have always been novelists’ novelists, perhaps because their history is novelistic material—the six children in their bleak setting of the Yorkshire moors, their struggle against fate, marked by recurrent death—Maria and Elizabeth dying in childhood—Branwell’s fantastic tragedy, the simultaneous illumination of three personalities in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey, fame and then death once more—Emily, Anne, Charlotte.