The story of Charlotte & Arthur began on a summer’s day in Haworth in 1979. My granny had brought me on holidays to relatives in Yorkshire. I want to say something grand, and Rebecca-esque like I was accompanying my Grandmama on a tour of England, but I’m rather fond of being a Clooney from St Brigid’s Place in Portlaoise and want to be able to still show my face in the town post-publication…I was proudly raised on a diet of ‘no notions and honesty’. The relatives lived in a town called Brighouse, which is nearer to Haworth than the then untravelled me realised, and my aunt brought us on a day trip to visit the Brontë parsonage museum and walk on the moors. My first published story, ‘Shh’ in Come into the House: Tales of Secrets, History, and Mystery was inspired by that visit. The story includes the walk on the moors I had with my cousin, Declan. I’m sure we talked a lot of teenage rubbish about our then obsession, Gary Numan, or maybe we pondered what chocolate bar we would get from the vending machine the next day at the swimming pool. I had never seen a vending machine before or had hot chocolate from a plastic cup, and I think they were the only reasons I agreed to go swimming almost every day as opposed to ice skating in Bradford. For a Laois young one on her first trip abroad it didn’t get any more exotic than ice skating to ‘You can Ring my Bell’ by Anita Ward, whereas growing up as I did beside the local pool meant swimming was old hat. I was fifteen that year, the age when you are on the cusp of everything, and anything is possible, and from that parsonage visit, and that walk on the moors, one of my everything’s became the Brontës and my anything was to be a writer just like them.
This obsession with the Brontës, and with Charlotte in particular, wasn’t exactly a constant over the subsequent years, I lived a normal life involving education, career, marriages (just two!) and two daughters, and from time to time I dabbled in writing, where something always brought me back to Haworth. In the early 2000s I headed back to college in Maynooth on a part-time basis, and I did an MLitt on the life and works of Charlotte Brontë. Over the course of the masters, I had two wonderful, patient supervisors, Prof. Emer Nolan first and when she was on Sabbatical, Prof. Margaret Kelleher. I think there were times I must have broken Margaret’s heart as my drafts had a flourish, and dare I say, fiction, not in keeping with an academic thesis, but her expertise reined me in, and I was awarded an honours master. At the end of this process, I couldn’t let Charlotte go, and I had also been reminded of how much I loved writing, of how when I was in Leaving Cert, I had wanted to be a journalist. Our career guidance teacher organised mock interviews for the class where professionals in our chosen area for study came in and put us through our paces. During my interview with journalists from the local paper, the Leinster Express, I was horrified to learn that as a journalist you had to be hard-necked, prepared to push yourself into the situation where the story was and ask all the questions no-one wanted to answer. Despite an article in the same paper on the rock band Queen being my first publication, journalism took a back seat after that interview experience, but I never lost the urge to write.
So, back to my Brontë fixation, as I said I couldn’t let Charlotte go, I have visited Haworth six times since 1979, I have amassed quite the collection of Brontë related books, and no doubt I have bored anybody who cared to listen with Brontë trivia. About halfway through a UCD Masters I did in creative writing, I recall one of the other students, who will probably recognise herself here, sighing during a workshop and saying, ‘Christ, are you still going on about them, you’d want to be moving on to something new.’ I’m glad I didn’t! The Brontë Irish connection always intrigued me, their father, Patrick Brontë was from County Down, and Charlotte’s husband, Arthur Bell Nichols was also an Irish man. But the most intriguing fact, and I am discovering the least known one, is that most of Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon was spent in Ireland, something that has not been documented much and never fictionalised. This presented as a compelling challenge to me. And now as Charlotte & Arthur makes its way into the world, I know that I will continue to keep part of Charlotte Brontë and her family very close, and as soon as it is safe to do so again, I will be heading back to Haworth, to walk on the moors and whisper my thanks to the invisible air, where I have no doubt she and her siblings continue to wander.
(c) Pauline Clooney
About Charlotte & Arthur by Pauline Clooney
It is the morning of June 29th, 1854, here is the groom coming up the cobbles in Haworth, for his nuptial appointment with Charlotte Brontë. Only a handful of guests have been invited, and you, dear Reader, are one of them …
Charlotte Brontë, the celebrated author of Jane Eyre, has married her papa’s Curate, Irishman, Arthur Bell Nicholls. At thirty-eight years of age, and the unlikelihood of there ever being further proposals, Charlotte’s dread of the lonely life of the spinster has convinced her that this is a calculated risk she must take.
For the month of July, the couple’s itinerary brings them from the castles of Wales to the most popular tourist attractions in Victorian Ireland, spending some time along the way with Arthur’s family in Banagher, on the banks of the River Shannon. Set against the backdrop of the recent famine, their tour exposes the contrasting lives of the poor and the privileged of Irish society.
Charlotte & Arthur, invites the reader into the heart and mind of the revered author, and it allows that reader to walk beside her as she realises that to have Arthur as her husband was in her own words ‘…better than to earn either Wealth or Fame or Power.’
“Charlotte & Arthur is a story of love and grief as we see Charlotte falling for her husband only after they have wed, and her struggle to cope without her siblings as well as her own faltering health. A masterly work of skill and commitment, no stone or sod is left unturned in this fantastic recreation of Charlotte Bronte’s honeymoon in Ireland.” – Liz Nugent
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