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Fiction and Fact On the Brontes' Lives

By Ruth Johnstone WalesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 27, 1996



BOSTON

Truth makes strange fiction. The story of the Brontes - Victorian writers Charlotte, Emily, and Ann, their artist brother, Branwell, and their clergyman father, Patrick - echoes with overtones of a tragic Gothic tale.

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It's a tale that one of the three sisters might have told, and all of them did to some degree in their own books.

In his historical novel "Bronte," Glyn Hughes has taken the mountain of research on this famous family and shaped it into a readable narrative, producing a kind of biodrama that vividly enhances information with valid interpretation.

Framed by a prologue and epilogue in the voice of Arthur Bell Nicholls, whose marriage to Charlotte might have given the family history some measure of happy ending had she survived pregnancy, the book weaves documented details - all the siblings died young - and insightful suppositions into a believable account of an extraordinary household.

"Their experience had been the flame of the world," Hughes writes. "Love wasn't anything you could touch, except to burn yourself at it, or to extinguish it; which was what they all wrote about those - girls."

In "Bronte," Hughes, a prizewinning author who lives in West Yorkshire, illuminates their dark history with a strong sense of place.

Never falsifying the facts, he adds texture and tone to the bones of biography. While less comprehensive than Julia Barker's recent blockbuster research tome, "The Brontes" - which he acknowledges as a source - his novel is more accessible.