WE think of the Bronte sisters as three rather solitary figures, and tend to forget that Charlotte spent most of the last year of her life as a married woman.

This chapter of her life is the focus of Pauline Clooney’s compelling debut novel, which re-imagines Charlotte’s wedding day in Haworth and honeymoon in Ireland in the summer of 1854.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Charlotte & Arthur by Pauline Clooney Charlotte & Arthur by Pauline Clooney

Charlotte & Arthur is a beautiful, complex love story. At times it seems Charlotte has entered marriage with reluctance and regret. She has already rejected a proposal from Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, and after accepting the Irishman’s second proposal it’s as though she’s going through the motions of a wedding she has little enthusiasm for. “Oh, Ellen, if I could swap this day for the yesterdays of hope, when I dreamed of a different today and a different tomorrow,” Charlotte sobs to her friend Ellen Nussey, who holds out her wedding dress as “the hope for your future”. Grieving the loss of her siblings, Charlotte can only recall the past: “Where is my Anne, my Emily, my Mama? The noise these ladies would make this day, the clamours of joy that would burst forth to our beloved moors. Alas, only the sound of the clock on the stairs lurking like King Hamlet’s ghost, ticking out his plaintive words, ‘remember me, remember me’.”

As she travels to North Wales then on to Ireland with her new husband, Charlotte’s journey brings trepidation, soul-searching and ultimately great love.

Charlotte is, frankly, unlikeable at times and cruelly mocks Arthur as an intellectual inferior, but it is to Pauline Clooney’s credit that she doesn’t over romanticise the couple. There are enough letters written by Charlotte to establish that she was no simpering Victorian bride. By the time of her marriage she was the celebrated author of Jane Eyre and, aged 38, she knew that taking a risk with Arthur would spare her the lonely life of a spinster.

I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant novel. It has warmth and humour and its sensitive depiction of an intimate relationship is a glimpse of a largely untold part of Charlotte’s life, while remaining respectful to the Bronte legacy.

It is thoroughly researched too, with Pauline visiting locations the newlyweds stayed at or passed through. Their story unfolds against a backdrop of Victorian Ireland; as they travel through the country and stay with Arthur’s family in Banagher, on the banks of the River Shannon, the impact of the famine is felt, and their tour highlights the poor and privileged of Irish society.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: An 1829 handwritten manuscript by Charlotte Bronte, titled Anecdotes of the Duke of Wellington, donated to the Bronte Parsonage Museum by a family in Canada related to Arthur’s second wife, Mary AnnaAn 1829 handwritten manuscript by Charlotte Bronte, titled Anecdotes of the Duke of Wellington, donated to the Bronte Parsonage Museum by a family in Canada related to Arthur’s second wife, Mary Anna

As I read on, I warmed to Charlotte and was rooting for her and Arthur. Their time together is brief, and Charlotte’s hope of having children is particularly poignant when you know that she died, nine months after her wedding day, from a complication in pregnancy. But in this book at least, she does find happiness; realising that to have Arthur is, in her own words, “better than to earn either Wealth or Fame or Power”.

At the end of her honeymoon she writes to Ellen Nussey: “I make no effort to describe the scenery through which we have passed. Some parts have exceeded all I ever imagined. Much pleasure has sprung from all this and more perhaps from the kind and ceaseless protection which has ever surrounded me and made travelling a different matter to me from what it has heretofore been.”

As a child, Pauline travelled from her home in County Laois to Brighouse, to visit relatives. One summer day in 1979 her aunt took her to the Bronte Parsonage Museum, which inspired Pauline’s first published story, Come into the House: Tales of Secrets, History, and Mystery. Recalls Pauline: “The story includes a walk on the moors I had with my cousin, Declan. I was 15, the age when you’re on the cusp of everything and anything is possible. From that parsonage visit, and that walk on the moors, one of my ‘everythings’ became the Brontës and my ‘anything’ was to be a writer like them.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Pauline at the Bronte Parsonage MuseumPauline at the Bronte Parsonage Museum

In the early 2000s Pauline left her teaching career to do an MLitt on the life and works of Charlotte Bronte, gaining an honours master. “At the end of this process, I couldn’t let Charlotte go,” she says. “I’d also been reminded of how much I loved writing. I have visited Haworth six times since 1979, I have quite the collection of Bronte related books, and no doubt have bored anybody who cared to listen with Bronte trivia.

“The Bronte Irish connection always intrigued me; their father, Patrick, was from County Down, and Charlotte’s husband Arthur was also an Irishman. But the most intriguing fact and, I am discovering, the least known one, is that most of Charlotte’s honeymoon was spent in Ireland, something that has not been documented much and never fictionalised. This presented as a compelling challenge to me.

“Now, as Charlotte & Arthur makes its way into the world, I will continue to keep part of Charlotte Bronte and her family very close and, when I can, I will head back to Haworth, to walk on the moors and whisper my thanks to the invisible air, where I have no doubt she and her siblings continue to wander.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Pauline signing copies of her bookPauline signing copies of her book

* An award-winning short story writer, Pauline is currently working on her next novel, about the relationship between Irish poet William Butler Yeats and his wife, George Hyde Lees.

* Charlotte & Arthur is published by Merdog Press, priced £12, and is available from the Bronte Parsonage Museum shop, Wave of Nostalgia in Haworth and Waterstones in Bradford and online.

Visit merdogbooks.com/product/charlotte-arthur/