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Emma Brown: A Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte BrontÃ«by Charlotte BrontÃ« and Clare Boylan
Synopses & Reviews
Charlotte Brontë's death in 1855 deprived the world of what might have been her masterpiece. The twenty unfinished manuscript pages that are the nucleus of Emma Brown signaled her most compelling work since Jane Eyre — the story of a young girl, Matilda, brought by her father to a small school in provincial Victorian England. The school, Fuschia Lodge, is foundering, so its headmistress is delighted to welcome a new pupil — especially one so elaborately dressed, with an apparently rich father who is "quite the gentleman." But when Matilda's tuition goes unpaid and it comes time to make arrangements for the Christmas holidays, she is shocked to find that the identity of the father, Conway Fitzgibbon — like the address he left behind — does not exist.
So who is the mysterious Matilda? She herself will not say, and it falls to a local gentleman, Mr. Ellin, and a childless widow, Isabel Chalfont, to unravel the truth. From the drawing rooms of English country society to the grimy backstreets of London's seamiest reaches, from the dandified members of the city?s elite clubs to the blowsy ranks of its brothels, Emma Brown follows the search — first for Matilda's true identity and then for the girl herself.
With all the wit and pathos of the novel's originator, Clare Boylan's accomplished pen has seamlessly developed Brontë's sketch of a girl without a past into a stunning portrait of a Victorian society with a shameful secret at its heart.
"When Charlotte Brontë died in 1855, she left behind a 20-page manuscript, which Irish novelist Boylan (Holy Pictures, etc.) uses as the first two chapters of her own sprawling novel. The result is a deeply satisfying Victorian mystery, at once cozy, witty, didactic and melodramatic. A young girl named Matilda Fitzgibbon is deposited at a ladies' school run by the 'fantastic, affected and pretentious' Wilcox sisters. But Matilda is a 'pseudo-heiress,' unrelated to the elegant (and now vanished) gentleman who enrolled her. Spurned by the Wilcoxes, Matilda is taken in by motherly Isabel Chalfont, a childless widow whose comfortable station and 'middling' temperament conceal a passionate romantic history. But Matilda proves to be 'no ordinary child' — secretive and prone to fainting spells, she claims to have no memory of her past, other than having been 'sold like a farmyard creature.' When she runs away, stealing the money still due the Wilcoxes, Mrs. Chalfont turns to her enigmatic friend Mr. Ellin, who tries to determine what happened. Searches through London's dirty streets reveal nothing. Meanwhile, Matilda — who realizes that her name is actually Emma — faces hunger, homelessness and conscription into child prostitution, as she searches for the mother who gave her up. Boylan's evocation of Victorian London is bleak but enthralling, and her characters turn Bront's sharp sketches into nuanced creations. The plot is feverish and overly dependent on coincidence, and there are a few anachronisms, but who'll complain? Brontë purists, maybe — but other readers will embrace this as a treasure unearthed. (On sale Apr. 12) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Emma Brown is a powerful and magnificently written novel that does ample justice to the two brief chapters from which it sprang." Miranda Seymour, The New York Times Book Review
"Though Boylan has clearly attempted a work in the Brontëan spirit, incorporating lines from the writer's letters, it's Boylan who deserves credit for the heavy lifting here. She's fashioned a gothic orphan saga from what amounts to a suggestion, one that gives no hint of the complications she has envisioned from it....In Emma Brown Boylan speaks simultaneously from the soapbox and the easy chair in front of the fire." Charles Taylor, Salon.com
"Bold and engrossing — but not, in the final analysis, especially convincing." Kirkus Reviews
"Whether this novel is anything like the one Charlotte would have written is beside the point; Boylan's work succeeds on its own as a compelling tale." Booklist
"Boylan has fashioned a credible Victorian novel....Verging on melodrama, with a plot a little too coincidence-laden, this successor to Jane Eyre is still entertaining and should be popular with readers who cannot get their fill of Victoriana." Library Journal
When Charlotte Brontë died in 1855, she left behind twenty pages of a novel that signaled her most compelling work since Jane Eyre. One hundred fifty years later, Clare Boylan has finished Brontë’s novel, sparking a sensational literary event. With pitch-perfect tone that is utterly true to Brontë’s voice, Boylan delivers a brilliant tale about a mysterious young girl, Matilda, who is delivered to a girls’ school in provincial England. When everything about the girl’s wealthy background turns out to be a fiction, it falls to a local gentleman, Mr. Ellin, and a childless widow, Isabel Chalfont, to begin a quest for her past and her identity that takes them from the drawing rooms of country society to London’s seamiest alleys. With all the intelligence and pathos of the novel’s originator, Boylan develops Brontë’s sketch of a girl without a past into a stunning portrait of Victorian society with a shameful secret at its heart.
About the Author
Clare Boylan is the author of seven novels, which include Holy Pictures, Room for a Single Lady, Black Baby, and Beloved Stranger. She has also written several works of nonfiction.
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