charlotte

I’ve tried several times to read biographies of the Brontë family, but they’ve always seemed so dull, morose and really didn’t hold my attention. When I got a pre-pub copy of Claire Harman’s new biography of Charlotte Brontë I didn’t have very high expectations of it and had plans to merely flip through and skim. But as soon as I started reading I was hooked.

Harman’s style is novelistic, smooth and compelling. She starts the book off by exploring the summer of Charlotte’s unhappiness in Brussels after Emily left the school where they had both been studying French. Charlotte was desperately infatuated with Monsieur Heger, the husband of the school’s mistress. I think Monsieur Heger would be what we now term ‘a player’; a manipulative flirt who courted women’s affection with no care for the emotional consequences. Harman shows how this relationship and Charlotte’s feelings about Heger colored her whole existence, including her writing, for the rest of her life.

Though the novel is centered on Charlotte, we learn much about her parents and siblings as they were all so close and creatively connected. I was fascinated by the story of how the Brontë sisters came to be published and intrigued by public reaction to their novels. Harman really focuses on Charlotte as a writer and an artist and on her development as a novelist. I think this approach illuminated Charlotte’s life and her character in a way which previous biographies I’ve tried to read didn’t and it worked for me.

If you have an interest in the Brontës this is a must read. But you don’t have to be a Brontë fan to enjoy this biography – it’s also fascinating if you’re interested in how someone develops as a writer.

What other books about the Brontës would you recommend? Since it’s the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth next month I’m in the mood to read more about the family. I’m currently reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne for my book club next week and am kicking myself that I didn’t read it before now – what a captivating book!

14 Comments

  1. piningforthewest

    Thanks, I’m definitely going to read this one. If you ever go back to England for a visit you should try to make time to visit the Haworth Parsonage. I think you would love it. It’s quite far from London mind you!

    • I’d love to go to Haworth Parsonage! Is it close at all to Manchester? The next time I go to England I have a friend that I plan to stay with in that city.

  2. I haven’t read much about the Brontë family, so I will keep this in mind. I really enjoyed Harman’s biography of Jane Austen. I think she has a gift for literary biography.

    • I think I’ll read her Jane Austen bio one day – we have it at the library and I have it on my mental TBR. She’s a wonderful writer.

  3. I really must get round to reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë; as I have heard great things about it 🙂

    • I am about 3/4 of the way through Tenant and it is very good. Anne’s writing is very passionate and polished. I do recommend it!

  4. There’s going to be a great event, Brooding about the Brontes, at Girl With Her Head in a Book next month. I’m sure you would gather many more recommendations there! Meanwhile, ven though it’s fiction and has to be taken with a grain of salt, I enjoyed Lynne Reid Banks’s novel Dark Quartet.

    • Thanks for letting me know about the event – I will keep an eye on it for suggestions. I haven’t heard of Dark Quartet, but it looks very good!

  5. I’ve actually read almost nothing about the Brontes apart from this biography! It made me want to read at least something by Anne Bronte, and then at least one thing about her. She comes off better than the rest of the Brontes in this book, didn’t you think? Not quite as ineffectual?

    • I do! She seems more even-tempered and practical minded. And she’s a great writer too – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is just wonderful.

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  7. Oh this sounds marvellous! The down side to these sort of biographies is the potential for dryness, glad to hear this doesn’t suffer from that.

  8. piningforthewest

    Haworth Parsonage is only 44.7 miles from Manchester, so an easy hop, and the countryside is lovely. I hope you manage to get there. Sadly we’re a lot further away so we have to stay overnight when we go there. You can really feel the Brontes when you’re in the house.

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