Monday, August 8, 2016

A Very Good Prologue

It's not too often that I think about the prologue to a book. In fact, sometimes when I am in a hurry to begin a book, I skip it. But I did take the time to read Claire Harman's brilliant prologue to her fabulous new biography of Charlotte Bronte and I am so glad I did. It was a reminder of the power of literature. It also set the stage and the mood for what has so far been a fascinating read. I am 100 pages into this biography and really enjoying it.

The prologue tells a fascinating story: in September of 1843 Charlotte Bronte, age 27, is alone at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, a girls' school where she is a teacher. Everyone has left for vacation but she cannot afford to go home. She is lonely and unhappy. It is not only her solitude that is making her feel this way. She has fallen in love with the husband of the headmistress of the school and it is obvious he doesn't return her love. When she was a student at the school, he paid her a lot of attention and singled her out as a shining star. But after she became a teacher, his behavior changed and he acted coldly towards her. She feels rejected and ignored by both the husband and wife.

On one of these days alone at the school she takes a long walk through the town and winds up at the city's great cathedral. Although she is not Catholic, she decides to go in and hear the service. Afterwards she enters the confessional and makes a confession to the priest. For the daughter of an Irish Protestant minister, this was very strange behavior. But she was desperate to talk to someone about her feelings. She later wrote to her sister Emily about her sense of relief in unburdening herself. Later, when she wrote her first novel The Professor, she would learn how to deal with her pain by turning it into art.

Two weeks after Charlotte's visit to the Cathedral, a young Queen Victoria was in Brussels. Charlotte went out to see the royal party procession and wrote to Emily about her excitement at seeing the young queen. Claire Harman ends this little story with the following line:

"Five years later, the insignificant little Englishwoman in the cheering crowd who had watched Victoria flash by would be keeping that queen and half the nation awake with the novel she had written."

That novel would be Jane Eyre.

Would this prologue make you want to read the book?
It definitely pulled me in!


  1. I loved it and I think I'll have a look for it at the bookstore.

  2. Will go to Diesel today. Yes, the prologue pulled me right in...and I just finished a book last night, so perfect timing.

  3. Indeed, yes -this prologue has enticed me to read this biography and I will be looking for it.
    I usually do take the time to read prologues and introductions to books, a habit I came to later in my life. This is a wonderful post - thank you.

  4. The perfect follow up to the novel our book group is currently reading: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. I always enjoy your book choices Sunday.

  5. That is achingly sad, but if the prologue can pull that sort of emotion then it's safe to say you're in for a good read. There's something about the nights drawing in that make me want to read something Victorian - usually it's fiction but this would fit the bill nicely too.

  6. Yes, it is a wonderful prologue and kept me reading right through the rest of the biography, which I really enjoyed. I hope you do too!

  7. Off the subject but didn't know how to reach you...we're going to London in May. I was wondering if you've ever been to the Chelsea Flower Show and how and where to get tickets. We're basing our whole trip on this. And can't figure out the dates etc. Thanks, Sandy

    1. The Royal Horticultural Society puts on the Chelsea Flower show. If you go on their website you can get the information. How exciting! I have haven't been but hope to make it one day. May is a great time to go to London. The gardens are blooming and the city is just stunning!