From the beginning sentiments of the book, I could tell this was a novel for me. Almost all Indians are raised with the assumption that to carry on the traditions of the household are best, and that all individual pursuits need be suppressed. I thus immediately was able to realize that this was a novel of dashed dreams and forced conformity – and the struggle, of course, when humans who are placed in such a precarious position, resist. This is not Jane Eyre, not is it Wuthering Heights. It is a book with a structure, purpose, and flavour – yes, that strange little pull that presses itself against the tongue – of its own.
The bravery of the book has been aptly discussed in many of the other reviews. It is the story of Helen Graham, a widow who has moved into a nearby mansion and is proudly living alone. The first part of the novel is told through the first-person narrative of Gilbert Markham, and the second part is told through Graham’s letter, detailing the destruction of her previous marriage. Bronte’s decision to tell her story by dividing it into a male and female perspective was a unique one. It creates the tension of a voyeur observing upon a woman with all the intent of the male gaze, only for the woman to be completely veiled, and with no intention of revealing her face. Without tropes, the novel slowly walks along the path of any other piece of romantic fiction. As if they were two flies orbiting around the same jar of honey, Markham and Graham orbit around each other, as friends, as strangers, and ultimately towards a shared destiny, and love.
One thing I truly appreciated about the book was how Brontë is good at sketching characters in short strokes. Her description of the pastor made him come alive within one sentence, namely about his health.
“He had a laudable care for his own bodily health—kept very early hours, regularly took a walk before breakfast, was vastly particular about warm and dry clothing, had never been known to preach a sermon without previously swallowing a raw egg—albeit he was gifted with good lungs and a powerful voice,—and was, generally, extremely particular about what he ate and drank, though by no means abstemious, and having a mode of dietary peculiar to himself,—being a great despiser of tea and such slops, and a patron of malt liquors, bacon and eggs, ham, hung beef, and other strong meats, which agreed well enough with his digestive organs, and therefore were maintained by him to be good and wholesome for everybody, and confidently recommended to the most delicate convalescents or dyspeptics, who, if they failed to derive the promised benefit from his prescriptions, were told it was because they had not persevered, and if they complained of inconvenient results therefrom, were assured it was all fancy.”
I have never read of a character being humanized through his eating of eggs. Her talent to make people matter in a small space is something that I don’t believe is as present in the other Bronte sister’s work, and thus gives her prose anå edge. She is not as good on the sentence level as Emily, and she does not structure a book in a unique way like Charlotte, but she knows her milieu, and she needs little of drama to make them come alive. There is a spell on the page, and it needs little to be enhanced.
By Kiran Bhat
Kiran Bhat is an Indian-American novelist, short-story writer, educator, and traveller. The author's views expressed are his own.