Today we're excited to talk with Syrie James, author of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
FQ: How much did you know about the Brontës before you started this project? How did your perception of Charlotte change (if it did) once you started writing?
Before I started my research for this novel, I knew nothing about the Brontes, other than the fact that they were sisters who wrote two of the world’s most famous novels. I was incredibly curious to find out who Charlotte and Emily were, and what inspired them to write these books that I so admired. I was astonished to discover the incredible volume of writing the Brontes did as children, and what wonderful artists and poets the sisters were. I was delighted to “meet” Anne. I was surprised to learn that Charlotte was secretly in love with a married man, and that he was the partial inspiration for many of the heroes in her novels.
It was intriguing to discover what a private and introverted woman Emily was, considering the very passionate novel she penned. I was touched to learn that Mr. Nicholls was secretly in love with Charlotte for so many years, before he had the nerve to propose. It's a remarkable story, and the Brontes were a complicated and fascinating family.
FQ: Bronte remarks that she didn't care for Jane Austen's literature because it was "lacking in sentiment." Since you have also written a book about Austen, what do you think she would have made of Jane Eyre?
I believe Jane Austen would have greatly admired Jane Eyre, for it is one of the most perfectly conceived gothic novels ever written. It has romance, mystery, horror, and the classic medieval setting of an ancient manor home that resembles a castle. Jane Eyre's story is very appealing: the rise of a poor orphan girl against seemingly insurmountable odds, and a tormented hero who is ultimately redeemed by her love and determination.
Jane Eyre also has serious things to say about timeless issues, such as women's struggle for equality, the realization of self, the relations between men and women, and the nature of true love. These are topics which were all dear to Jane Austen’s heart—and Austen always loved a good story. Although Austen did write her mature novels with more restraint (when it came to passion) than any of the Brontes, she enjoyed gothic novels, and wrote incredibly torrid and passionate stories in her youth which are very similar in subject and tone to the works of the Brontes.
FQ: Did you need to change Charlotte's tone or the narrative to make the book appeal to a contemporary audience?
I made a concerted effort to stay true to Charlotte’s life story and to the voice in her novels and correspondence, and to represent the people in her life as accurately as possible. For much of her romance with Mr. Nicholls I was obliged to use my imagination, since we do not know exactly what transpired between them in the early years of their acquaintance—nor can we know exactly what occurred on their wedding night. I may have romanticized a few things about their relationship for today’s audience, but in the end, I wrote the story that I would love to read!
FQ: You begin the book with a marriage proposal. Why did you choose to lead with that diary entry?
My goal is always to keep the reader turning pages: to begin with a hook that poses a question, and keeps the readers in suspense to find out how that question is resolved. This is such a huge story. I didn’t want to tell it in linear fashion. This seemed to be the most interesting way to structure the novel.
FQ: What is your next project?
It’s entitled Dracula, My Love. It's a retelling of Bram Stoker's famous Victorian novel from the point of view of the heroine, Mina Harker: the untold story of her secret, scandalous passion for the man who is not her husband—the young, gorgeous, charismatic, intelligent Count Dracula, who she deeply loves, despite herself.
This is a Dracula unlike the one we usually see in film and print: a vampire with a heart and soul, who struggles against the evil within him, and has been misunderstood. The novel will be published by Morrow in 2010. I’m having such a fabulous time writing this book. If you liked Jane Austen's Mr. Ashford, I promise this is a Dracula you will love!