Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date – 7 November 2019
Source – review copy
A young woman has gone missing from her home, Chester Grange, leaving no trace, save a large pool of blood in her bedroom and a slew of dark rumours about her marriage. A few miles away across the moors, the daughters of a humble parson, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified, yet intrigued.
Desperate to find out more, the sisters visit Chester Grange, where they notice several unsettling details about the crime scene: not least the absence of an investigation. Together, the young women realise that their resourcefulness, energy and boundless imaginations could help solve the mystery – and that if they don’t attempt to find out what happened to Elizabeth Chester, no one else will.
The path to the truth is not an easy one, especially in a society which believes a woman’s place to be in the home, not wandering the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…
A woman has gone missing from her home. A pool of blood is left in her room. The news reaches three sisters, Anne, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, across the moors in Haworth. Incensed by the lack of an investigation, the sisters determine to find out what has happened to Elizabeth Chester.
The Brontes. That fascinating, talented family, who all tragically had their lives cut short. Now they are starring in their own novel, lead characters in The Vanished Bride.
On hearing about the disappearance of Mrs Chester, Anne suggests they become detectors, and so they set out, intent on finding out what has happened to Elizabeth Chester. This is a time before fingerprints and DNA. Women were expected to be seen and not heard and so a group of women asking questions and uncovering secrets are not met with open arms.
Having been to Haworth and the Parsonage, and because most days I drive through moors not so far away, it was easy to imagine the setting of the novel. The land and the village are very much part of the story, much as they were very much a part of the lives of the Brontes. I could envisage the large table the sisters sat around, picture the kitchen they stomped through and the paths through the village they walked upon.
Patrick Bronte is depicted as a loving father. Concerned with matters of the parish, he leaves the sisters much to their own devices, though is perhaps more aware of their comings and goings than it appears. He trusts his daughters to do the right thing, and seems to understand that to do that, they may have to stretch what is acceptable in society. Branwell is there to help when he can. That is when he’s not getting inebriated in the local tavern. His actions cause concern for the sisters and they try to hide Branwell’s misadventures from their father.
As for the sisters themselves Charlotte is the more sensible of the sisters. Aware of what is expected of them, she is more conscious of how society with perceive them. However, her steely determination does not stop her doing what she feels is right, and discovers she is perhaps more willing to bend the rules than she would have once thought. Anne is perhaps treated as the baby of the family. The investigation allows her to grow. It is her who suggests they look into the disappearance. It is she who is struggling with the ignominy of being sent home after Branwell’s affair with her employer’s wife. Then there is Emily, perhaps the most strong-willed of the three. She is immune to Branwell’s charms, but perhaps because of this, receives more respect from him. She is more fanciful, disappearing to imagined worlds. She is also less conscious, or rather less inhibited, by the rules of society, and so perhaps is rasher. All three of the sisters discover more of themselves as a result of their escapades.
The story does reflect some of the Brontes’ actual writing. The mysterious first wife of Mr Chester, the lonely house on the moors and the mistreated governess all make an appearance, as if forshadowing the stories yet to come.
It is a careful line that has to be trod when using real people as fictitious characters. There is clearly much love for the Brontes, and some fans may balk at the idea of using them as characters in a story. Others, such as myself, will find themselves caught up in a well written, entertaining story. The author clearly loves the sisters and their novels. This shows in the writing. Each of the sisters are shown to be individuals, rather than ‘a Bronte’ but also shown to be able to work with, rely on and aid each other without a shadow of a doubt that each will be there for the other.
The Vanished Bride is an entertaining tale that sees the Brontes cast in a new light. A fun, windswept story. I’m looking forward to more detectoring Brontes in the future.