The best Brontë sequels, prequels, spin-offs and biographies

Claire O'Callaghan Author Of Emily Brontë Reappraised
By Claire O'Callaghan

Who am I?

I am a writer and academic based at Loughborough University specialising in the lives, works, and afterlives of the Brontës. As a Lecturer in English, I teach and research different aspects of the Brontës writings. Alongside my own biography of Emily, I have published widely on the Brontës, including material on Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Emily Brontë’s poetry, and Charlotte's letters. I have also written about how the Brontës inspire contemporary authors, poets, and screenwriters. As well as rereading the siblings’ novels (I love Charlotte’s Shirley!), I’m fascinated by the many biographies and bio-fictions generated about this great Yorkshire family. I hope you enjoy these recommendations!


I wrote...

Emily Brontë Reappraised

By Claire O'Callaghan,

Book cover of Emily Brontë Reappraised

What is my book about?

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is one of the most cherished novels, with Heathcliff being the ultimate romantic hero – or villain. It is a work that has bewitched us for almost 200 years. But Emily herself remains an enigmatic figure, often painted unfairly in a negative light, portrayed as awkward and as “no normal being.” That’s the conventional wisdom on Emily Brontë as a person, but is it accurate or fair?

Emily Brontë Reappraised takes up these issues and conjures a new image of the great writer by looking at her afresh from the vantage point of the new millennium. It’s a biography with a twist, taking in the themes of her life and work – her feminism, her passion for the natural world and will make you think about her anew.

The books I picked & why

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Wide Sargasso Sea

By Jean Rhys,

Book cover of Wide Sargasso Sea

Why this book?

An iconic prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre that recreates a backstory for the first Mrs. Rochester. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys presents the life of Antoinette Cosway, a beautiful Creole heiress, who marries Edward Rochester of Thornfield Hall, England. Set amidst the fallout of the 1833 Emancipation Act, the legislation that decreed the freedom of all slaves in the British colonies, Rhys presents Antoinette’s troubling marriage from her point of view, showing how she is inexorably driven towards madness. Exploring the complexity of power in relationships alongside the themes of race, identity, and colonialism, Rhys’s beautiful masterpiece will change forever how you read Brontë’s so-called madwoman in the attic. 


The Lost Child: A Novel

By Caryl Phillips,

Book cover of The Lost Child: A Novel

Why this book?

Caryl Phillips’s The Lost Child is a poignant novel that brings together a rewriting of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights with a reimagining of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, as well as a quick visit to the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth. In a bookended narrative, Philips gives us the backstory of how Heathcliff came to be in Liverpool before being taken to Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw. In the centre, however, is the story of Monica Johnson, a young woman living in Windrush Britain whose marriage to Julius, an African-Caribbean graduate with whom she has two children, causes a fracture with her family. An outcast like Heathcliff, The Lost Child examines Monica’s struggle to raise her sons in the north of England, showing her family’s experience with racism, trauma, and mental ill-health. Philips’s storytelling gets to the heart of what it means to be an outcast in society.


Ill Will

By Michael Stewart,

Book cover of Ill Will

Why this book?

Another incredible rewriting of Wuthering Heights and one that’s as dark and Gothic as Emily’s momentous original. In Ill Will, Michael Stewart picks up Emily’s narrative at the point when Heathcliff, having heard Cathy declare that it would degrade her to marry him, departs the Heights. Stewart unravels the tale of where Heathcliff went during the three years that he was missing from Cathy’s world and imagines what happened to him to make him return in such a vengeful guise. Ill Will is also a rewriting that takes up the issue of race, for here, Heathcliff is a young black man and his departure from the Heights prompts him to trace Mr. Earnshaw’s walk to Liverpool in the hope of finding out who he is. 


Rebecca

By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of Rebecca

Why this book?

Daphne Du Maurier’s classic novel is very much indebted to Jane Eyre. Reflecting Jane’s discovery of Bertha Mason, here the newly married second Mrs. de Winter is haunted by her husband Maxim’s first wife, the titular Rebecca. Though an indirect Brontë spin-off, the books bear striking similarity: two young, shy female orphans are married to rich men, both of whom live in country houses marked by the secrets and shadows brought about by their respective first marriages. And then it all goes wrong! Aptly, Du Maurier was infamously fascinated by the Brontës, and while the echoes of Wuthering Heights can be found in novels like Jamacia Inn, she also published The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë in 1960.


Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre

By Tracy Chevalier,

Book cover of Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre

Why this book?

Tracy Chevalier edited this incredible anthology of short fiction to mark the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. Comprising contributions from sixteen authors, including Helen Dunmore, Sally Vickers, Susan Hill, Emma Donoghue, and Audrey Niffenegger, among others, these incredible stories are far more than fan fiction. Indeed, while the anthology’s title is the infamous first line of the final chapter of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a romantic collection, for Chevalier’s contributors may take inspiration from Jane Eyre, but they rework it in a huge variety of ways, producing stories that unsettle as much as they celebrate Brontë’s novel. And if you like that, the companion volume, I Am Heathcliff edited by Kate Mosse, operates in the same spirit but is dedicated to Wuthering Heights.


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