I am currently reading ‘Unquiet Soul‘, a fascinating biography of Charlotte Bronte, and remembered how the idea for Love & Scandal started.
When Charlotte Bronte wrote and published Jane Eyre, it became a huge hit immediately. It was overwhelmingly popular, but controversial, too. It was dark, and sexy, and melodramatic, and had a lot to say about a woman’s right to independence, and her equality of intelligence and depth of soul. George Lewes was fascinated by the book, as was Thackeray. Both praised the author, even while they had criticisms. Though Jane Eyre was published as if written by a man – even her publisher was supposed to think that – many speculated on the gender of the author.
A couple of years ago I was also reading about Charlotte Bronte. What if, I thought… what if someone else, a man, had claimed to be Currer Bell? As retiring at Charlotte was, she still had a true writer’s powerful ego. Would she not have charged off to London in search of the devilish gent who had presumed to pretend authorship of her master work, if her publisher offered her no aid to contradict such a falsehood? I think she would have.
At the Audible.com page for the audio version of Love & Scandal, one reviewer had this criticism: “This book is a classic case of an author trying to (sic) hard to please: Please their editor, their supposed fan base and even, no doubt, their misplaced desire to produce “something more then (sic) just the ordinary romance.” The mere fact that she felt the need to have almost every living author of the time make multiple appearances I think proves both points. I was very disappointed, and yet I think the author does have talent, it was just hidden behind the show she put on here.”
I understand where the reviewer was coming from; I have Trollope, Mrs. Gaskell, George Lewes and the future ‘George Eliot’, Maryann Evans, in the novel. But it was not out of some desire to produce ‘something more then (sic) just the ordinary romance’. Perhaps I didn’t express it in a way that made it clear to the listener/reader, but my choices were made deliberately to explore the outcome had this ‘what if’ scenario happened to Charlotte.
I make no claims that she would have fallen in the sexual sense Collette does in Love & Scandal. But Charlotte had such a deeply passionate nature that if she had ever been met with someone who wanted her so badly, as Charles wants Collette, you never do know. Charlotte’s one great love, for her Belgian teacher Monsieur Heger, was so all-consuming, I can’t help but believe she may have succumbed, had physical love been offered.
I was reminded of this as I read Margot Peter’s ‘Unquiet Soul’ a fascinating, if flawed (I think the author makes unfounded assumptions of the Bronte sisters’ internal, unexpressed feelings) biography. We’ll never know what would have happened had Charlotte gone to London in that first fiery furor over Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (some folks thought the two ‘Bell brothers’, Currer and Ellis, were one and the same writer), but it was so much fun to speculate in my flawed, but hopefully interesting dive into the Victorian literary scene.
So… it is fascinating to look back and remember, for an author, where the ideas for a book came from!