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Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
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A Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Brontë

A-EmmaBrownJust prior to her death in 1855, Charlotte Brontë began a novel about an orphan who resembled Jane Eyre. Her surviving 20 pages inspired this Victorian facsimile, which uses Brontë’s beginning as the starting point for a 19th-century thriller. When an elegant gentleman dumps the young Matilda Fitzgibbon off at boarding school, the headmistress, Mrs. Wilcox, treats the girl as an heiress. But tuition goes unpaid, and Matilda falls from grace. A kind neighbor, Isabel Chalfont, takes her in, but Matilda runs away to pursue her identity amid London’s seamy streets. Chalfont and her friend, Mr. Ellin, seek the truth about the girl they’ve come to love, now "Emma Brown"—but can they save her?
Viking. 448 pages. $25.95.

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"…Boylan’s achievement is in another class. … Emma Brown is a powerful and magnificently written novel that does ample justice to the two brief chapters from which it sprang." Miranda Seymour

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Stamping her novel with Brontëan authenticity, Boylan develops the plot within London settings, places that Brontë had actually visited—the Foundling Hospital, Newgate Prison, and, perhaps most successfully, the Great Exhibition, the Victorian Era’s most illustrious cultural event. … Jane Eyre notwithstanding, Emma Brown succeeds as compelling entertainment." Katherine Bailey

Orlando Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Certainly, Boylan’s prose replicates Brontë’s so perfectly that the transition from one writer’s words to the other’s is seamless. … Boylan and Brontë’s novel is the tale Brontë fans have longed for and have finally found." L. Elisabeth Beattie

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book should be an enjoyable supplement to Brontë’s slender corpus for fans who aren’t purists. It’s virtual proof that nonpurists have more fun." Laura Demanski

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Boylan is clearly a lover of English novels in general, not just Brontë’s, and she brings to life all of the old standby characters and themes. … There is no character in the novel as powerful and captivating as Rochester, or Jane herself." Mary J. Elkins

Critical Summary

Emma Brown is a notable achievement. Borrowing elements from Brontë’s novels and the first 20 pages of an incomplete manuscript, Boylan has written a Victorian thriller full of drama, mystery, and romance. She largely succeeds in this daunting endeavor, creating a novel fully her own. Not surprisingly, Emma Brown begs comparison to Jane Eyre. Some critics praised Boylan for mimicking Brontë’s prose, tone, and characters perfectly; others saw her attempts as anachronistic. The novel lacks the intensity of, say, Mr. Rochester and Jane’s great love, but nonetheless brings to life Victorian England and its dramatic themes. It’s not only "a reasonably authentic facsimile," but, more important, "compulsively readable fun" (Baltimore Sun).