Author roots novel in facts of Charlotte Bronte's life

The Romantic period of English literature and romance itself figure into the title of the new novel " Romancing Miss Bronte" (Ballantine, 414 pages, $25) , says author Juliet Gael. She has taken the life of Charlotte Bronte — author of "Jane Eyre" — as a subject. The book is fiction, but based on the facts of Bronte's life: her tragic family life that included the loss of her mother and all of her siblings, her and her sisters' foray into writing and pseudonymous publishing, her later fame as an author, and, ultimately, her marriage to her father's curate at an age long past when she'd been considered an "old maid."

Gael, a Wichita native and North High graduate who now lives in Italy, studied literature at KU and went on to become a screenwriter. She turned to novels, she said in an e-mail, for two reasons: storytelling and control. "I'm a reader and I love words — I love the flow of words and language and I love storytelling." In Hollywood, she said, "I met a lot of screenwriters who never read novels."

And screenwriting is an inherently collaborative process, since ultimately it takes hundreds of people to produce a film. "But the work of a novel," she notes, "begins and ends with the writer. The novelist takes full responsibility for what ends up on the printed page."

"Romancing Miss Bronte" is her first foray into novel-writing, but the seed was planted nearly two decades ago when Gael visited Haworth, the Brontes' home village in the Yorkshire moors, in the course of a graduate seminar on the Bronte sisters. She found the story of Charlotte's life in particular fascinating, and kept the story of "Romancing Miss Bronte" very close to the events of Bronte's life.

But Gael's work hasn't ended with the Brontes. She is working on a novel about "Frankenstein" author Mary Shelley, who eloped at 16 with poet Percy Shelley, resulting in her father cutting off all contact with her. So Gael says she's currently reading biographies to research that novel, and "all of her novels as well as Shelley's and Byron's poetry."

Gael said she's hoping readers of her book will rediscover "Jane Eyre" and other Bronte novels. "There are a lot of readers who will, hopefully, be drawn to read and discover the Bronte literature from reading about their lives and the creation of their work," she said. "'Jane Eyre' continually engages readers. Charlotte captured, in that little plain-Jane governess, the heart and soul of all passionate women who long to be seen and loved for qualities other than their appearance."