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Emma Brown
By Clare Boylan & Charlotte Brontė

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Emma Brown - A Novel
By Clare Boylan & Charlotte Brontė
Charnwood - Large Print Edition, (2004)
ISBN: 1-84395-366-8
Genre: Historical Fiction

Other Editions: Standard Print - Hardcover | Standard Print - Paperback

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 21, 2004

Emma Brown is an amazing story that begins with a twenty-page fragment written by Charlotte Bronte. This fragment is the beginning of a story that remained unfinished when Bronte died in 1855. Clare Boylan has taken this tenuous fragment and extrapolated a detailed story that fully compliments Bronte's writing style and the atmosphere of her most famous work, Jane Eyre. The first twenty pages of Emma Brown are the work of Bronte, after which the book is a product of Boylan imagination and her writing so closely matches that of Bronte that it is nearly impossible to tell where Boylan picks up Bronte's story.

A compelling story set during the Victorian Era, Emma Brown examines the life of Matilda Fitzgibbon, a young girl who is dropped off at Fuchsia Lodge and entrusted into the care of the Misses Wilcox. The Wilcox sisters, Mabel, Lucy, and Adelaide had recently opened a school for young ladies. Their establishment is very similar to the real-life school that Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte attempted to open. It was a complete failure. The Wilcox sisters, however, have slightly better luck, although as the story opens the school is still struggling to turn a profit. When Matilda is enrolled as a pupil, the sisters feel that they are well on the way to making their school a success. The girl's father, Conway, appears to be wealthy and his daughter is lavishly attired and he is willing to pay a handsome fee to ensure that his daughter receives only the best of everything.

As events transpire, it soon becomes clear that Matilda is not what or who she appears to be. She says that her name is Emma, and all attempts to contact her father prove fruitless, and worse, the address he gave to the school turns out to be false. In a true Dickensonian twist, Matilda goes from being the pampered pet of the school, to a virtual outcast. A friend of the Wilcox sisters, Mr. William Ellin manages to befriend the young girl and discovers that she had been sold when she was younger to an unknown man, and that she has little memory of her past life or who her real family is. Horrified by this story, Ellin sets out to discover the truth about Matilda's past.

This melodramatic mystery is further complicated when Matilda is taken in by Mrs. Isabel Chalfont, a young widow who sees specks of her own history in that of Matilda's. Chalfont's own painful history is interwoven with that of Matilda's. Safe in Chalfont's care, Matilda, who is moody and prone to fainting, is ill at ease. She develops an overwhelming desire to find her real mother and she betrays Chalfont's trust and runs away. Making her way to London, Boylan takes the reader on a melancholy tour of the underside of London society. Dressed in rags, and out of money, Matilda finds that she is viewed as nothing more than a beggar. Worse, unschooled in the ways of the poor, Matilda is ill prepared to sleep out in the rough, find food, and to protect herself from those that prey on the week and the innocent. While Matilda hunts for her mother, Ellin hunts for her.

Emma Brown is a well-wrought mystery in its own right. The intricate mysteries surrounding Matilda's life, her search for her own history, and Ellin's search for Matilda is arresting. In addition, Boylan manages to captures the nuances of Victorian society - and all its ills, from work houses to the restrictive life of women. However, what makes this book truly outstanding is its connection to Charlotte Bronte and Boylan's ability to construct a story that is so similar in style to Bronte's own writing that one can easily image that Bronte wrote it herself. This is a must read for anyone who loves to immerse themselves in the tumultuous world of Victorian Literature.

Emma Brown can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of Charnwood.

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