The days are getting shorter and the air is getting crisper and the stores are filled with purse-sized candies, which means that the time has come for charming but secretive widows and lonely manses on the moor and mad relatives. By which I mean, Brontes.
Gilbert Markham is totally occupied with courting the vicar’s charming daughter until the lovely, reclusive Helen Graham moves into Wildfell Hall. There are several accidental encounters, a few walks along windswept cliffs, and Gilbert’s in love. But! Helen swears they can’t be together, because she has a Terrible Secret. And! There are rumors of Helen’s…not trampiness, but whatever the Victorian equivalent of that is. Indiscretion? So! Gilbert believes none of it until suddenly he believes all of it, and Helen gives him her diary (!) and suddenly we’re whisked back in time (not, you know, literally) to the advent of Helen’s Big Secret .
To wit: a MAD RELATIVE! And his name is Huntington, and he is dastardly! And not sexy-dastardly, Rhett-Butler-style, and not careless-dastardly, like Willoughby, but dastardly like I’m pretty sure I used to date him. And so there’s this whole long bit with a younger, less damaged Helen and Huntington, and I read it all in one stretch before bed and then couldn’t sleep for the pounding rage, but that’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to ruin it.
And then, of course, near the end there is some romantic tension, and while the hearts and happinesses of several people hang in the balance, Bronte wanders over here for a minute to tell you what happened to this and that and the other peripheral character in the end, which is kind of awesome because THE TENSION!!!! And just when you think that everything’s been resolved, this Other Unforseeable Thing throws a wrench into everyone’s plans! And then, of course, there is hand-wringing and emotional torment and a hilarious Wayne’s World II ending (‘Cassandra, noooooooooo!) and everyone is happy. Except for those people who die.
And they’re all so frightfully proper and repressed and terribly, terribly aware, which is why, in a brief compression of lips, they can read stark disapproval, a vague wariness, and a teaspoon of scorn, where all we can see is Maybelline.
And then they have these emotionally-charged conversations:
‘No, Miss Eliza! that’s false.’
‘Do you charge me with a falsehood, sir?’
‘You are misinformed.’
‘Am I? Do you know better then?’
‘I think I do.’
Can you feel the angst!? And this is after the speaker-who-isn’t-Eliza has just recieved some earth-shattering, dooming-to-eternal-unhappiness news! THERE IS ONLY ONE EXCLAMATION POINT AND NO ALL-CAPSES!!!! Anne Bronte, your heart is made of ice.
On the whole, I was riveted and endeared and mildly spooked.