The dust jacket of the hardback edition of The Taste of Sorrow is black – suggesting far more fittingly the depth and power of this wonderful book, and its sources, than the rather prettified 3 maidens in nighties which is the cover of the paperback. The motto is clearly rewritten thus “Don’t judge a book by the cover of its paperback!”
The lives of the Brontës have given rise to almost as many plays, books and films as the books themselves, particularly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The Brontës, by modern reckoning, had wretched, unfulfilled, bleak and narrow lives. Even within their own time they were seen to be socially inept and to be pitied.
It is extraordinary that from the events of those lives came the dark, obsidian revelations of The Professor, Jane Eyre, Villette, Shirley, Agnes Gray, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, – and that from a glittering, dark imagination, with few objectively understood personal biographical events to gestate it, Wuthering Heights was born.
The Brontë sisters wrote dangerous, bleak revelations about life and human nature, exposing as much of the shadow as the great Russian writer Dostoievsky. No wonder they had to disguise their womanly identity and present the fiction of pen names which the world assumed were masculine.
In a neat twist, Jude Morgan is also an androgynous nom-de-plume – in this case we have a male writer beautifully entering into female sensibilities. Morgan writes elegantly, with discipline, poetry and passion, eloquently telling the story of this complex family. This book illuminates both the lives he is writing about, and the books which were the fruits of those lives. The Taste of Sorrow stands both as biography and fiction. It is a wonderful, wonderful book.
One of the many things Morgan does well is to illuminate the lives we know less about, and to take an imaginative, empathetic stance, understanding how those whom the modern student of biography might come to castigate, came into being who they were. In this case, I gained much more understanding of whom the Reverend Patrick Prunty (Brontë) might have been, and therefore, where genes as well as environment played their part in this otherwise sudden-seeming arising of artistic power.
Morgan does this again, brilliantly, in his later imaginative biographical fiction of Shakespeare, The Secret Life of William Shakespeare, where amongst a whole slew of defined characters, Anne Hathaway is given substance, swimming up from the cloudy veil of ‘the woman Shakespeare married’ into a possible flesh-and-blood reality of her own.
I had to search reasonably hard to discover who Jude Morgan is, and his picture, so in keeping with the privacy of the nom-de-plume hiding employed by the Bell siblings I have abandoned my normal insertion of author mug shots.