Although their lives were filled with darkness and death, their love for stories and ideas led them into the bright realms of creative genius. They were the Brontes – Charlotte, Emily, and Anne – who lived with their brother Branwell in an unassuming 19th-century Yorkshire town called Haworth. Their house, a parsonage, sat on a hill, with the enticing but sometimes dangerous moors above and a cemetery, their father’s church, and the industrializing town below. It was a dark little home, with little more than a roof to keep out the rain, a fire to keep things warm at night, and books and periodicals arriving from Edinburgh and London to excite their imagination. And from this humble little town, these three sisters and their active, searching minds exerted an influence on English literature that can still be felt nearly two hundred years later.
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Writing about the Scottish-born novelist Margot Livesey, the author Alice Sebold remarked, “Every novel of Margot Livesey’s is, for her readers, a joyous discovery. Her work radiates with compassion and intelligence and always, deliciously, mystery.”
How has Margot Livesey managed to create this suspense in novel after novel, including in contemporary classics such as The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The House on Fortune Street, and her most recent work, Mercury? Host Jacke Wilson is joined by the author for a conversation about her readerly passions and writerly inspirations, including Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.
Before answering your letter, I might have spent a long time in consideration of its subject; but as from the first moment of its reception and perusal I determined on which course to pursue, it seemed to me that delay was wholly unnecessary.
You are aware that I have many reasons to feel gratified to your family, that I have peculiar reasons for affection towards one at least of your sisters, and also that I highly esteem yourself. Do not therefore accuse me of wrong motives when I say that my answer to your proposal must be a decided negative. In forming this decision — I trust I have listened to the dictates of conscience more than to those [of] inclination; I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union with you — but I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you. It has always been my habit to study the character of those amongst whom I chance to be thrown, and I think I know yours and can imagine what description of woman would suit you for a wife. Her character should not be too marked, ardent and original — her temper should be mild, her piety undoubted, her spirits even and cheerful, and her “personal attractions” sufficient to please your eye and gratify your just pride. As for me, you do not know me, I am not this serious, grave, cool-headed individual you suppose — you would think me romantic and [eccentric — you would] say I was satirical and [severe]. [However, I scorn] deceit and I will never for the sake of attaining the distinction of matrimony and escaping the stigma of an old maid take a worthy man whom I am conscious I cannot render happy.
Farewell—! I shall always be glad to hear from you as a friend –