Ellis imagines Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë as detectives in The Diabolical Bones (Berkley, Feb.).
What made you a Brontë fan?
The exact moment that it started was seeing the “little books” made by the Brontë children. As someone who loved reading, drawing, and crafting as a child, that really caught my attention, because it was exactly the sort of thing I liked to do. Suddenly, these very distant dusty authors seemed like real people to me. Soon after that, I read Jane Eyre for the first time. I was riveted by young Jane’s story, totally swept away by the unfairness, drama, and spookiness of it. I went on to read all the works of the Brontë sisters, and that interest gradually became a love for them, their work, and lives.
What gave you the idea of turning them into investigators?
I was working on a novel set in Ponden Hall, which was part of the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. There’s a thread in the novel concerning the discovery and search for Emily Brontë’s second novel, and a mystery surrounding the 17th-century occupants of the house, a story that Emily was fascinated by. It occurred to me to weave in the thread where the sisters themselves are trying to solve the same mystery as my contemporary heroine is. But as soon as I had the thought, I realized that it was far too much of a good idea to be part of another novel, and that it could be a series of novels of its very own. The Brontë women were fiercely intelligent, curious, and determined. I’m certain they could have been excellent detectives, and though we don’t have any evidence they were amateur sleuths in their spare time, we also don’t have any evidence that they weren’t!
How did you research this series?
The chief resources I use are the many letters that Charlotte wrote, especially to her friend Ellen Nussey, who promised to burn them after reading, and didn’t, thank goodness. There’s so much in those letters that gives us intimate insight into the lives of the family, and Charlotte’s voice. We also have Anne and Emily’s diary papers, which are just wonderful glimpses into their lives.
What are the biggest misconceptions about them?
That they were writing romantic novels. There is very little traditional romance in any of their novels. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall aren’t novels about falling in love. They are novels about the darkest complexities of humanity and obtaining self-agency, and each is, in its own way, a sort of primal scream of fury about the injustice of it all.