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When Charlotte Bronte died in 1855, she left behind the beginnings of a new novel - twenty pages of a work in progress called Emma. Now, almost 150 years later, Clare Boylan has returned to this most intriguing of fragments, and turned them into an astonishing story of mystery, atmosphere and page-turning suspense. When Conway Fitzgibbon arrives at Fuchsia Lodge with his daughter Matilda, the headmistress Miss Wilcox couldn't be more delighted. The ladies' school is limited in numbers and eager for new pupils, particularly ones so finely dressed, and boasting a father who is 'quite the gentleman'. But as Christmas approaches, and Miss Wilcox inquires about arrangements for the holidays, she is in for a shock. Conway Fitzgibbon, like the address he left behind, does not exist. So who is Matilda? With Miss Wilcox unable to extract any information out of the girl, it falls to a local lawyer, Mr Ellin, and a young widow, Isabel Chalfont, to unravel the truth. What they discover is a tale that travels the highs and lows of nineteenth-century England, an investigation that begins as curiosity and ends up changing all their lives forever ...

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780349116723
ISBN-10: 0349116725
Format: Paperback
(196mm x 125mm x 29mm)
Pages: 464
Imprint: Abacus
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 1-Jul-2004
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


US Kirkus Review » A vigorously detailed homage to a great 19th-century writer yields mixed results, in Irish author Boylan's unusual eighth novel (following Beloved Strangers, 2001, etc.). When Charlotte Bronte died in 1855, she left behind a 20-page fragment of a piece of fiction tentatively titled Emma, at which she had worked fitfully for nearly two years. Boylan painstakingly extends its arresting premise: a young heiress's arrival at a boarding school in the north of England (probably Yorkshire), the discovery that she is not what she seems, and her sudden disappearance. Emma Brown begins wonderfully, with the voice of Mrs. Chalfont, an elderly widow employed at Fuchsia Lodge, owned by the three maiden Wilcox sisters. Through her eyes, we observe the school's delighted welcome of young Matilda Fitzgibbon and her suave father. Then, in a clever abrupt shift, an omniscient narrative introduces us to William Ellin, a Wilcox adviser asked to investigate the nonpayment of Matilda's bills, her father's unknown whereabouts, and several subsequent interlocking mysteries. The story here is consistently intriguing, and Boylan enlivens it with an impressive wealth of social detail, as Mrs. Chalfont and Mr. Ellin separately plumb their own past histories, attempting to learn What Became of Matilda. In addition to inevitable echoes of Bronte's masterpieces Jane Eyre and Villette, Boylan layers in resonant echoes of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and other Bronte contemporaries-and reveals a huge debt to Henry Mayhew's classic sociological study London Labour and the London Poor. But Boylan's text is littered with anachronisms-ranging from language that would never have been used by proper Victorians to plot expansions that lead us, not just into London's criminal underworld (very vividly evoked, incidentally), but to outraged responses to the evils of child endangerment that sound like the testimony of contemporary victims' advocates. Bold and engrossing-but not, in the final analysis, especially convincing. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Clare Boylan

Clare Boylan was a highly acclaimed novelist and short story writer whose work also regularly appeared in the GUARDIAN etc. She died in May 2006.

Books By Author Clare Boylan

Beloved Stranger by Clare Boylan

Beloved Stranger

Paperback, September 2002
Collected Stories by Clare Boylan

Collected Stories

Paperback, September 2002