The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

The Taste of Sorrow is a fictional retelling of the lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, beginning with their childhoods and ending just after Charlotte’s wedding. Before I started reading this book if you’d asked me how much I already knew about the Brontës, I would have said I knew very little. And yet a lot of the story felt familiar to me – their early attempts at writing stories set in the fantasy worlds of Angria and Gondal, their experiences of working as governesses, their brother Branwell’s alcoholism – so I must have known more than I thought.

Although The Taste of Sorrow does seem to stick to the historical facts as far as I could tell, it’s important to remember that this is a novel and not a biography. Jude Morgan brings the Brontë sisters to life by giving us insights into their feelings and emotions, their hopes and dreams. His fictional Brontës are realistic, complex and three-dimensional, and would have been interesting characters to read about even if they had not been based on real people. We can obviously never know exactly what thoughts would have gone through the minds of the real Charlotte, Emily and Anne, but I had no problem believing that they may really have said and done the things that Morgan has imagined them to have said and done. And that’s the highest praise I can give to an author writing this type of historical fiction.

The Taste of Sorrow, as the title suggests, is not the happiest of books. The Brontës had a lot of sorrow in their lives, beginning with the death of their mother and two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth. They also had to deal with the usual challenges and obstacles that came with being a woman in the 19th century. When Charlotte suggested that she would like to be an author she was discouraged by her father simply because she was female. Instead, Mr Brontë pinned all his hopes on his son, Branwell.

I had read very little about Branwell before I started this book, though I knew he had caused his family a lot of pain because of his drinking. I thought Morgan portrayed him quite sympathetically, attempting to show the pressures and disappointments that contributed to his downfall, and how his sisters struggled to reconcile their love for him with their despair in him. Although I couldn’t like Branwell, his character felt as real to me as the characters of Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

The book itself is very well written, although the style is unusual and takes a while to get used to, but the strong point of the book is the characterisation and each sister is shown as having her own distinct personality. Morgan does focus more on Charlotte than the other two, though I can see that as the sister who outlived the others it probably made sense to tell most of the story from her perspective. But my favourite Brontë book is Wuthering Heights (I love it even more than Jane Eyre, which I know puts me in a minority within the book blogging world) and for that reason, the sister I was most interesting in reading about was Emily. Although we don’t get to spend as much time with Emily as we do with Charlotte, I thought Morgan’s portrayal of her was excellent and I could easily believe that his Emily was the person who wrote Wuthering Heights.

I was also pleased to see that Morgan does give Anne a lot of attention and she is not shown as being in any way inferior or less important than her sisters. Personally I loved both of Anne’s books, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey, and I think it’s sad to see how often she is overlooked or dismissed.

The Taste of Sorrow will obviously be of particular interest to Brontë fans, but I think it would also be enjoyed by a wider audience as an interesting and compelling historical fiction novel in its own right. Now I just need to read the remaining two Brontë novels I still haven’t read: The Professor and Shirley.

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16 thoughts on “The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

  1. Nymeth says:

    This was one of my favourite reads of last year – so glad you enjoyed it too! I agree; his portrayal of Emily and Charlotte felt very real and you could easily imagine them writing the novels. I can’t comment on Anne because I guilty of the neglect myself and have yet to read her. I must fix that soon…

    • Helen says:

      I only read Anne’s books last summer myself and I wished I hadn’t waited so long to read them. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was one of my favourite books of 2010 and although Agnes Grey wasn’t such a great story it was still interesting in its descriptions of the life of a governess.

  2. Jo says:

    I read this last year when it first came out, as I had previously read one of Morgan’s other novels. (I have just gone back to read my review!)

    I thought that he portrayed the Branwell character very well. It took me a while to get used to the writing of this book but I am glad I persevered by the end. It is a good book if you want to get a feel for the Bronte’s without having to plough through academic texts. A more personal touch I suppose.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve never read any of Morgan’s other books, though I like the sound of Passion. I didn’t like the writing style at first but soon got used to it and loved it by the end.

  3. The Book Whisperer says:

    I’m glad you said about it taking a while to get used to the writing style as I started the first 10 pages or so last year and put it back on the shelf for later as I wasn’t in the mood then. I am a HUGE Bronte fan and keep thinking I should read this book (you have read all the same ones as me it seems; I only have Shirley & The Professor left to read too). I must give this one another go soon.

    • Helen says:

      I think it’s definitely a book you’d need to be in the right mood for, which luckily I was! I hope you find it easier to get into the next time you try it.

  4. Veens says:

    I love the cover. I myself have no idea about the sisters. And have not read any of there books, though I did try to get into Vilette at one point. I must definitely read more classics, I know. I love your review, and I am sure I would at some point – after reading their works – love to read this book as well.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, the cover is beautiful! I read Villette earlier this year and I liked it, but I did find it hard to get into. I think if you want to try again, Jane Eyre might be a better one to start with.

  5. wutheringwillow says:

    “But my favourite Brontë book is Wuthering Heights (I love it even more than Jane Eyre, which I know puts me in a minority within the book blogging world)…”

    Well, then ‘put’ me in that minority as well because I feel the same way. I love Wuthering Heights more than Jane Eyre and am glad to find a kindred soul.

    I have read Shirley and didn’t really think much of it. I hope you like it better when you eventually read it.

    • Helen says:

      I’m not really expecting too much from Shirley or The Professor as I think I’ve probably read the best of Charlotte’s work already. I’m still looking forward to reading them though.

      And I’m glad to hear someone else loves Wuthering Heights too! I know many people think it’s too dark and depressing, but it’s always been one of my favourite books.

  6. Anbolyn says:

    I got this for Christmas last year (it’s called Charlotte & Emily here) and have still not read it. I adore Charlotte Bronte because I identify with her for some reason so I know I will really enjoy it. Thanks for reminding me about it!

    • Helen says:

      I can’t understand why the US version is called Charlotte & Emily. I thought Anne appeared in the book as much as Emily did, so it’s not really fair. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

  7. lissa says:

    I don’t understand the name change for the US version either. Perhaps “The Taste of Sorrow” is too depressing? I brought both copies thinking the author wrote two books. oh well… still a good read.

    I also recommend, “Emily’s Ghost” by Denise Giardina which I love though I wish the author has written more about Emily than Charlotte, still a wonderful book.

    • Helen says:

      I suppose “Charlotte and Emily” makes it more obvious what the book is about. It’s not fair on Anne though, and I’m sure you won’t have been the only person who thought they were two different books. And I’ve never heard of “Emily’s Ghost” – thanks for the recommendation!

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