Fifteen Wild Decembers by Karen Powell

This is the imagined detail of the wild story of the Bronte siblings – how so many writers came from such an isolated place – Haworth, but who had an enormous impact on the world of literature. It is created from the gaps between what we know and what research has given us, including the letters from Emily Bronte to her siblings and friends and those that she received.

The story imagines a way in which these writers were created: inventing complex fictional worlds which sustained them over years, writing and acting out plays, reading aloud, writing around the table together but also events such as spying on a young farmer from fields away and yearning for him until he turns out to be cruel and unlovely.

Told from Emily’s point of view, we are shown a clear character for each of the siblings, especially Charlotte who is depicted as small and plain but bossy. It is she who convinced her sisters to try and get their work published under pseudonyms although once success came she was glad to let people know who she really was. Emily kept her anonymity as Ellis Bell until she died. She was restrained, even subdued, but wild in her writing.

The moors and their weather are integral to the story and run alongside these characters in their lowest moments – when they are teachers and governesses – and their highs. I loved Emily’s constant companion, her bull mastif who never let anyone near her. This was a thoroughly enjoyable listen and would make a good book club choice with plenty to discuss.

The title is taken from a poem written by Emily: Remembrance

Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring;
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Possible questions

  • Have you read other books where a real character’s life was imagined? What do you think of this genre?
  • How were each of the siblings depicted? Did they feel believable?
  • The Nero Book Awards judges said about the book ‘The passionate attack of the writing is remarkable, and the picture of Haworth as a volatile hive of creativity is wonderfully imagined.’ Is that how you felt about the book?
  • What role does the setting have in the book and in the characters’ lives?

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