"The Brontës and the Shelleys - Crafting Stories from Lives" : A talk by Juliet Gael at Keats-Shelley House in Rome

Juliet Gael at Keats and Shelley House - Rome
It's been a very pleasant afternoon spent in one of the most spectacular landmarks in Rome, Piazza di Spagna, and more precisely at the Keats and Shelley HouseJanice Graham, writing as Juliet Gael, is the author of the critically acclaimed historical novel Romancing Miss Brontë, and is currently working on a follow-up novel that deals with the fascinating lives of the Shelleys. She was the guest author at today's meeting and she gave a  talk  about crafting stories from the lives of iconic literary figures like Charlotte Brontë and Mary Shelley.

Part literary reading, part discussion, and part work-in-progress seminar, Juliet Gael addressed the creative problems involved in romanticising the lives of authors and gave us some tantalising sneak previews into the process of writing her book about the Shelleys.
Starting with E. M Forster's definition of events and story, Juliet conveyed the sense of great respect with which she approached her research and then her creation of a  story - line for Romancing Miss Brontë  .

She enriched her account with a few anecdotes from her visit at Howarth, she told us about the deep feelings that the walk  through the moors and the visit to the parsonage arose in her. The lives of the Brontës , so full of sorrows and talent, would have been material enough for a TV mini-series,  but writing a novel,  she had to work as if she were writing  a feature film script. 
Due to her experience as a scriptwriter,  Juliet had learnt that a very successful strategy to design a biopic is focusing on one conflict, so she decided to build Charlotte Brontë 's novel around the conflictual relationship between the patriarcal figure of the father, Patrick Brontë,  distant and authoritative, and his talented daughter,  who feared and revered him.

Juliet Gael gifted the audience with the lively reading of a compelling passage from  Romancing Miss Brontë : Charlotte had become a successful published writer with Jane Eyre  but she hadn't had the courage to tell her father or brother about it. When she decided to let her father know she terribly feared his stern criticism, but was instead  rewarded with his final recognition of her talent.
One curious fact about the writing of   Romancing Miss Brontë  is that it was written in a very unromantic environment like a Starbucks in Kansas. Couldn't that be the most promising place where to write a successful novel? Don't forget that J. K Rowling revealed she started writing her Harry Potter series in a pub or cafeteria!

View from Keats and Shelley House
The second part of the talk was dedicated to Juliet's work in progress, her novel telling the lives of the Shelleys. Sixteen-year-old Mary Godwin eloped with Percy B. Shelley,  who was already married and had a baby son with his wife. Since then on,  they travelled a lot and experienced the ostracism of friends and acquaintances, the company of great artists like Byron and a series of devastating tragedies like the loss of their young children. 
Differently from what happened in her research on the  Brontës, this time Juliet Gael had to cope with a mine of events and that didn't help her at all. She faced a writer's block after the other, trying to find the right angle from which to look at those incredible lives: Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron and Clara. Not an easy task. 
After reading numerous volumes of poetry by Shelley and Byron which didn't actually help her , she has finally found what to focus on to write Mary Shelley's story: her interior conflict on a journey of self - knowledge. In Juliet's version , Mary Shelley understood who she really was only while aging. She was the creature of men of great culture like her father, the philosopher Godwin, and her husband, poet Percy B. Shelley. But only when she was abandoned by her creators one after the other, only once she was alone,  she started realizing who she was and what she wanted: she loved a little glamour, wanted to marry a Lord, was an affectionate mother and a shy woman. She always talked about what she thought and never about what she felt. 

Now I look forward to reading both novels. One it's on its way to me from amazon.com USA and the other is still being written by Juliet  in her small flat in the countryside in Tuscany.
Romancing Miss Brontë is now out in Italian published by TEA both as a paperback and an e-book.

The author
Juliet Gael was raised in the Midwest and obtained her M.A. in French literature before pursuing graduate film studies at USC and English literature at UCLA in Los Angeles, California. She has lived abroad for more than fifteen years, primarily in Paris, where she worked as a screenwriter. She now makes her home in Florence, Italy.

The Book
In this astonishing novel, a brilliant mélange of fact and fiction, Juliet Gael skillfully and stylishly captures the passions, hopes, dreams, and sorrows of literature’s most famous sisters—and imagines how love dramatically and most unexpectedly found Charlotte Brontë.

During the two years that she studied in Brussels, Charlotte had a taste of life’s splendors—travel, literature, and art. Now, back home in the Yorkshire moors, duty-bound to a blind father and an alcoholic brother, an ambitious Charlotte refuses to sink into hopelessness. With her sisters, Emily and Anne, Charlotte conceives a plan to earn money and pursue a dream: The Brontës will publish. In childhood the Brontë children created fantastical imaginary worlds; now the sisters craft novels quite unlike anything written before. Transforming her loneliness and personal sorrow into a triumph of literary art, Charlotte pens her 1847 masterpiece, Jane Eyre.

Charlotte’s novel becomes an overwhelming literary success, catapulting the shy and awkward young woman into the spotlight of London’s fashionable literary scene—and into the arms of her new publisher, George Smith, an irresistibly handsome young man whose interest in his fiercely intelligent and spirited new author seems to go beyond professional duty. But just as life begins to hold new promise, unspeakable tragedy descends on the Brontë household, throwing London and George into the background and leaving Charlotte to fear that the only romance she will ever find is at the tip of her pen.

But another man waits in the Brontës’ Haworth parsonage—the quiet but determined curate Arthur Nicholls. After secretly pining for Charlotte since he first came to work for her father, Arthur suddenly reveals his heart to her. 

The Keats and Shelley Memorial House

Situated at the right foot of the Spanish Steps, the Keats-Shelley House is a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets, who were spellbound by the Eternal City.
26 Piazza di Spagna is most famous for being the final resting place of John Keats, who died here in 1821, aged just 25, and to this day Keats’s bedroom is preserved as a shrine to his tragic story and extraordinary talent.
Displayed through a chain of beautiful rooms, the collection contains a great many treasures and curiosities associated with the lives and works of the Romantic poets, as well as one of the finest libraries of Romantic literature in the world; now numbering more than 8,000 volumes.


Stephanie Cowell said...

I would have loved to have been at that talk! I loved "Romancing Miss Bronte." Many years ago I went to the Keats-Shelley house (I think it was just called the Keats house then)and was so very moved to be standing in the room where that young poet died! I look forward to the new novel.

Maria Grazia said...

Hello, Stephanie!
I find that house a very special place for many reasons. I also was there before. Once while studying at the university and once with my students.
I love the atmosphere there but felt such sorrow looking at the little bed yesterday. After watching Jane Campion's Bright Star, John Keat's tragic story touched my heart even more deeply.
The talk was interesting and the entire experience so pleasant. Juliet Gael was very kind and available to answer all our questions.
Have a very good Sunday!

Flo said...

I visited the "Keats-Shelly house" some years ago with some friends from the Bronte Society. It's an amazing place! If I had knew about that lecture, I wouldn't have missed it! I loved Juliet Gael's novel so much that I have already read it twice! I'm looking forward to reading her next novel.

Maria Grazia said...

I'm sorry you missed the event, Flo. I posted about it on my facebook wall as Fly High and also Juliet Gael did. I'm sure you would have liked the talk and the following chat very much.
Looking forward to reading the book, now. I ordered it from Amazon.com because I wanted to read it in English but the Italian translation (TEA)was on sale yesterday. Who read it said it is a very good, brilliant translation.
Thanks for dropping by.
Enjoy your Sunday, Flo!

lunarossa said...

Brilliant event! So many interesting info, thanks. I've never been to Keats-Shelly House unfortunately. Studied them for the maturita' many years ago and then lost interest in them. Maybe it's now time to "fresh them" up a bit. All the best. Ciao. A.xx

Maria Grazia said...

Ciao, A.!
Their poetry is so distant from their real lives, so abstract and idealistic. That is something that Juliet Gail pointed out in her talk, especially referring to Percy Shelley. You can't find his persona in his lines. This is why there is so much interest in their biographies at the moment: films, biofics, historical fiction.
Enjoy your rediscovery of the Romantics and thanks for your visit!