I just finished reading Juliet Barker’s biography The Brontes and am feeling a little time travel weariness. I look outside and I’m in the mid-nineteenth century, filled with consumption and spinsterhood and political turmoil, and then I go and turn on a light with this magical thing called electricity and bam! back into the twenty first century just like that. This book took me a long time to read because of its great number of pages and tiny little font but I found the entire thing fascinating and enthralling. Barker curated the Bronte Parsonage Museum from 1983 to 1989 and has put unpublished manuscripts of the Bronte siblings (poems, letters, juvenilia) out into the market.
Much of the book focuses on Charlotte, as she was the eldest (who lived past childhood), who had friends that she corresponded with, and was the instigator in publishing first the three sisters’ poems and next the novels. There is a wealth of knowledge about Branwell, Emily, and Anne as well, not to mention their father, Patrick, but it seems that Charlotte was the most prolific letter writer or had the most letter-hoarding friends. This book has illness and death scattered throughout, as well as an interesting glimpse into the differing degrees of crippling shyness all three sisters shared. It also lets us into the extreme imaginative worlds the siblings all shared – Charlotte and Branwell immersed themselves into Angria whereas Emily and Anne created Gondal. All four wrote massive histories, stories, poetry, and romances of these fictional places and carried this on into adulthood.
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) is definitely one of my favorite books and truthfully I prefer Mr. Rochester to Mr. Darcy (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice leading man). Charlotte also wrote another three novels, but I haven’t read them yet. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) is a love-it-or-hate-it type of book, and I hated it the first time I read it and loved it the second time around. Maybe because I listened to it off of Librivox that time? Possibly. I finally read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte) last year and wasn’t very impressed with it. She definitely had a point to make and that came through loud and clear. They were all prolific poets as well. I “discovered” Emily’s poems a few years ago and was absolutely blown away by their rawness and emotion.
Needless to say, I highly recommend this biography, though you may want to set aside a good chunk of time to get through it. At over 800 pages with small print, it can be daunting, but so worth it.