World Within

The World Within came about in a different way from my other books. I hadn’t thought about writing about the Brontës until I was approached by a publisher and asked if I was interested in writing a YA novel based on the Brontës when they were growing up.

A long-time fan of their novels and living as I do about 30 miles from the parsonage in Haworth where they lived and wrote their books, I thought that this was an intriguing project.

Jane Eyre has always meant a lot to me, perhaps because I am ‘Jane’ too and, especially as a teenager, could identify with Jane being plain and insignificant, but committed to the truth however much it cost her. I found Wuthering Heights less appealing then – strange, even frightening at times. It was probably too adult for me, I see now.

But when I came to think about writing the novel and started researching the Brontës’ lives, I soon discovered that it wasn’t Charlotte whom I wanted to be the main character even though so much more is known about her.

It was Emily, enigmatic, mysterious Emily, about whom so little is known because so little has survived – she was the one who drew me, who excited my imagination.

From the fragments I have gleaned about her, I guess that she wasn’t very likeable, but it was her apparent refusal to compromise, about anything at all, that I admire. It also set me a challenge – could I make a difficult, prickly character sufficiently appealing to the reader that they would root for her?

A further challenge soon became apparent. Dramatic and terrible things happened to the Brontës when they were older, but my publisher wanted me to write about them when they were teenagers. The trouble was that in those years they led quiet, pretty uneventful lives.

I could have invented some exciting events, of course: Charlotte coming across someone like Mr Rochester when he came to visit her father about parish matters, or Emily running into a Heathcliff when she was out on the moors. I had to use my imagination, but I couldn’t bring myself to invent anything that didn’t seem plausible – what I wrote had to feel authentic to me.

I chose to focus on the inner dramas, the feelings that would have no doubt been felt intensely by four such extraordinary individuals as Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell, all with vivid imaginations, living so closely together and without any of the social connections young people take for granted these days.

When I was researching the novel I spent quite a bit of time at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

There I was able to see Emily’s writing desk just as she left it, with its broken pens, lumps of sealing wax and, touchingly in the light of Emily’s professed indifference to others’ opinions, a newspaper review of Wuthering Heights.

I saw some of the original miniature books, Branwell’s rather wooden portraits, including one of a Robert Taylor, Charlotte’s tiny dresses, and, most movingly, Emily’s original drawing of Grasper.

The house is not exactly as it was in the Brontës time, but I could easily imagine the family living there – Emily playing the piano which is still in Mr Brontë’s study, the young people walking round the dining table, Emily in the kitchen, making bread and looking out of the window at the moors.

And while there I walked on those moors, saw what Emily would have seen, experienced those wide skies and the wind fiercely blowing.

Note: The title comes from one of Emily’s own poems: To Imagination

Reviews

“Although set in the Victorian era, the writing feels contemporary, and teens will sympathize with Emily’s impatience with typically female chores such as sewing and her desire for the freedom and opportunities her brother Branwell enjoys. Most tantalizing, for readers who know and love Wuthering Heights, are the hints of local places and events that may have inspired Brontë’s immortal novel.

Kate Kulpa, Fall River Public Library

“A highly readable and emotionally charged re-imagining. Familiarity with the Brontës or their novels is not required to enjoy this book, and it is highly recommended for young readers and adults alike.”

Arleigh Johnson, Historical Novel Society

“Readers attracted to the in-depth portrayal of female characters in family dramas such as Jane Austen’s novels will enjoy this.”

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“… an interest-piquing look into an intriguing life.”

Booklist (Review journal of the American Library Association

“A window into the difficulties of being poor and female in society in 19th-century England… An inspiring account to aspiring teen authors and historical fiction fans.”

Voice of Youth Advocates