I read Wuthering Heights in high school when I decided to read the classics they weren’t teaching me in school. I remembered being pissed at Heathcliff and Cathy—why for the love of god could they not get their shit together! After nearly flinging the book at my bedroom wall, I hightailed it back to my beloved Jane Austen because with her books there were less brooding and more happily ever afters. My brother and I grew up in a rough environment where love and encouragement were rarely seen and when they were, metered out so dealing with brooding anti-heroes were the last thing I wanted to deal with.
So! Brontës were shelved and it would be twenty years later before I would reach for them again.
Why now? That’s a question I have been asking myself quite a bit since I started this blog but I think the answer lies when I read the review for Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life and I thought, “You know, I relate to Anne and I can see bits of her in me.” That lead me down the rabbit hole you see as the blog before you.
And it is the latter book we’re going to review today.
(Sorry, long-winded introduction here.)
When I got in touch with Pennington to review her book, I was excited by the book’s concept. Stories that combines memoir with touchstones of some kind are books I can relate to because I think we all, and myself, in particular, have items and things that speak to us that other things may not.
Pennington’s book traces her love of the Brontës, in particular Charlotte (everyone seems to love Charlotte), from Pennington’s middle teen years when she was introduced to Jane Eyre to present day. Using primarily Jane Eyre as her guide, Pennington traces her life events to Jane Eyers such as how Jane handled bullying from Rochester when Pennington was getting bullied herself. “What would Jane do?” became the mantra of Pennington’s life from her everyday decisions down to her decisions on working with her now husband on the early days of their relationship.
I was afraid Pennington’s book was going to be more of a book report than a personal look into her life that I’m delighted to say it is not. It’s very much a story of Pennington’s life with Brontë ancedotes that line up with Pennington’s life. She uses a lot ofendnotess. I LOVE end and foot notes, Terry Pratchett I am looking at you, because it gives the reader a way to look at other sources to glean more information about the Brontës and their influences.
We learn a lot about Charlotte’s life, influence, and writing, and less so about Anne and Emily, which isn’t too surprising as Charlotte is the more dominant force in the Brontë household and because of admiration, I think the title of Pennington’s book is misnamed, or should I say the subtitle is incorrect. It’s predominantly Charlotte that charts the course of Pennington’s life and Anne and Emily (and very rarely Branwell) are occasional visitors. Jane Eyre takes center stage here and there is also less about “woman’s work” as the subtitle suggests. Pennington doesn’t define or explain what that term means to her so it seems superfluous to mention.
Overall, I really loved this book more than I thought I would. I found Pennington’s voice refreshing and warm, not stodgy and impersonal which, surprisingly, many memoirs tend to be. The provided bibliography and end notes are a great boon to dig deeper into the Brontës life and works which as a curious person is a delight.
A Girl Walks into a Book can be used as a great introduction to the Brontës life and works for those who have only a superficial knowledge of the family or their works. Pennington does a great job on being very thorough on the Brontës life and works that while I knew more than the average person, I came away with a much richer experience and my admiration for Anne, and yes, Charlotte is next in line, Emily, and Branwell.
Here are your Jane Austen and Bronte sisters related links for the week:
ed. note: Since the release of the Jane £10 note in the UK this past week, there are dozens of articles discussing its value and worth as well as notes to collectors. I am NOT collecting those stories because there are far too many.