A few days ago, I listened while my wife, Robbie, streamed a Katherine Reay book event. Katherine was interesting and intelligent. Robbie said Katherine always writes about the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and their cohort of nineteenth-century British authors. Pulling my nose out of a Tom Clancy novel, she handed me Katherine’s The Bronte Plot. I got busy. It was, for me a quick four or five days read. Robbie would have consumed it in three hours flat.
I enjoyed the book, an endearing story, but was left wondering, “What Bronte plot?” As I read, I had been alert for a scheme, nefarious machination, or other “plot” involving the Bronte sisters.
Katherine’s protagonist, Lucy Alling, like Katherine, loves Bronte novels, and Jane Eyre is a favorite. So I googled Jane Eyre and delighted in finding a new term – Bildungsroman. It turns out that Jane Eyre is an exemplar of the Bildungsroman genre, a novel in which the plot’s action occurs in the soul of a protagonist, as she grows psychologically and morally. Epiphany! Bronte novels have Bildungsroman plots. The protagonists’ souls grow in moral strength. Katherine Reay telegraphs foreshadowing for savvy readers (unlike me) that the action in this book occurs within the soul of Lucy Alling.
It spoils little to reveal that Lucy Alling is inveterately dishonest. Sometimes she is so ruthlessly and sometimes with premeditation, but often she simply cannot help herself. Yet she is a sympathetic protagonist we readers come to love and identify with – reminding us, perhaps, that each of us, too, is a sinner.
Lucy, twenty-eight, acquires an octogenarian companion, Helen Carmichael, who is determined to unearth and make right wrongs she thought she had buried forever when she was Lucy’s age. Helen’s quest takes them from their homes in Chicago to London, to the Brontes’ home in Haworth on the English moors, then on to a necessary rendezvous of Lucy’s own.
The pages of The Bronte Plot are saturated with literary allusion to the nineteenth century British greats – Austen, Dickens, Gaskin, Wordsworth, and eminently, Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Bronte. Initiated readers will revel in recognizing them, as I did when the occasional mention of Dostoyevsky or C.S. Lewis struck a chord with me. As we revel in Katherine Reay’s literary pilgrimage, we marvel at the inner, moral journey Lucy travels. We are reminded that dealing honestly with others always demands a little courage. To be honest with others whom we have not been requires us to muster unimaginable depths of courage.
You will absolutely love The Bronte Plot if you have read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and other Bronte plots. You will also love The Bronte Plot if you have not yet read any Bronte plots, but you will resolve to read some. I had not, but I will.
When Lucy’s secret is unearthed, her world begins to crumble. But it may be the best thing that has ever happened to her.
Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious liberties to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend, James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.
In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother, Helen, hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.
As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom as Helen confronts ghosts from her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of impossible circumstances.
Now Lucy must face her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along.