The novel, by one of Charlotte Brontë's closest friends, traces the lives of four women - Sarah (the "Miss Miles" of the title), Maria, Dora, and Amel...moreThe novel, by one of Charlotte Brontë's closest friends, traces the lives of four women - Sarah (the "Miss Miles" of the title), Maria, Dora, and Amelia - focusing particularly on their efforts to gain economic independence and thus on women's role in society. I thought that perhaps fewer heroines would have improved the plot, as it was a little confusing to be constantly switching viewpoints and plot threads. However, it was extremely refreshing to read a Victorian novel that actually showed women out earning a living for themselves (or trying - one of them fails and pays the price).
(Apparently some people believe that Charlotte Brontë actually wrote the novel, not Mary Taylor. I do not at all believe this -- the style didn't particularly remind me of Brontë (and I've read all of her novels, some multiple times), and the subject matter was far more overtly feminist than Brontë ever allowed herself to be.)(less)
The Brontë Myth is a "metabiography", a book about biography, in which Miller examines the myths and mysteries which have developed around the Brontë...moreThe Brontë Myth is a "metabiography", a book about biography, in which Miller examines the myths and mysteries which have developed around the Brontë sisters, from Elizabeth Gaskell's seminal biography of Charlotte, which portrayed her as a Victorian saint, to the more recent conception of Emily as "the mystic of the moors". It's fascinating stuff, starting with Charlotte's shaping of herself and of her sisters through her comments on their books, her rewriting of Emily's poems, and the stories she told Gaskell.
I did wish for more material on Anne, the oft-neglected sister who wrote perhaps the most scandalous (and underrated) of all their novels, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; perhaps some enterprising scholar will continue Miller's work with more on Anne. That cavil aside, though, The Brontë Myth is a marvelously compelling book, packed with fascinating facts and insights. (less)
As I expected, I found Gerin's account of Branwell more convincing in its details than du Maurier's, though less sympathetic. I'm glad I've read both,...moreAs I expected, I found Gerin's account of Branwell more convincing in its details than du Maurier's, though less sympathetic. I'm glad I've read both, but on the whole, if you're only going to read one, read this one, because it's much less speculative and has a lot of interesting analysis of Branwell's writings. (less)
On the one hand, du Maurier shows a marvelous understanding of Branwell and his imaginary "infernal world", and how...moreHm, this is a tough one to review.
On the one hand, du Maurier shows a marvelous understanding of Branwell and his imaginary "infernal world", and how living in his fantasy life affected his real life. Her storytelling ability is well used here, her writing is excellent, and her research shows, as the book is full of apt quotations from Branwell's own works (poetry and letters) as well as those of his sisters and friends.
On the other hand, she's just full of bizarre off-the-wall theories, from thinking that Branwell helped write Wuthering Heights to supposing that maybe he made sexual advances to his young pupil, Edmund Robinson, rather than to his mother Lydia, as usually supposed. She veers from saying that the Murrays in Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey couldn't possibly have been based on the Robinsons right into quoting a long passage from Agnes Grey, a description of Rosalie Murray, as a description of Lydia Robinson. Not too consistent there, Daphne.
I think I shall get Winifred Gerin's book, and I wonder if they'll make a good pair: I imagine Gerin will be more down to earth and less speculative, but du Maurier surely has the key to Branwell's character.(less)
Peter's Room takes place during the Marlows' school holidays, at their country house, Trennels; the younger Marlows (Nicola, Lawrie, Ginty, and Peter)...morePeter's Room takes place during the Marlows' school holidays, at their country house, Trennels; the younger Marlows (Nicola, Lawrie, Ginty, and Peter) gather with their friend Patrick in the old room which Peter has cleaned up and furnished for himself. Intrigued by Ginty's stories of the young Brontës (about whom she is doing a school project with the rest of her form) and their imaginary kingdoms of Gondal and Angria, the Marlows and Patrick decide to create a similar story and act it out. I wasn't entirely convinced by the ending, which was on the contrived side for Forest (her dramatics are usually more believable), but I loved the deeper look at some of her characters who haven't featured as largely in other books, particularly Peter, Ginty, and Patrick (and his developing relationship with Ginty). (less)
I first ran across this in Lucasta Miller's The Bronte Myth. Virago reprinted it a few years back, but it's currently out of print again; I was please...moreI first ran across this in Lucasta Miller's The Bronte Myth. Virago reprinted it a few years back, but it's currently out of print again; I was pleased when Powell's emailed me that they had a copy.
The three Carne girls live with their mother and the youngest girl's governess, in a London house inhabited by the people of their imagination, real people whom the family have made up stories about and turned into imaginary friends. When Deirdre, the eldest, meets one of these imaginary friends in real life, and the Brontes appear during a séance, the Carnes have to figure out how to reconcile their fantasy life with reality. This is a very quirky but entirely fascinating book, and worth the trouble of seeking out.(less)
Branwell Brontë's father once gave him a set of wooden toy soldiers, which Branwell and his sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne played with and wrote s...moreBranwell Brontë's father once gave him a set of wooden toy soldiers, which Branwell and his sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne played with and wrote stories about, which eventually became masses of childhood writing about the kingdoms of Angria and Gondal.
In The Return of the Twelves, a boy named Max discovers the soldiers and finds out that they're alive; the imagination of the Brontës endowed the toys with names, personalities, and histories of their own. Max and his sister Jane cherish the soldiers and play with them as the Brontës did, until word gets out that they've been discovered, and Max and Jane must figure out how to keep them safe and restore them to their rightful home.
You needn't know anything about the Brontes to enjoy The Return of the Twelves, though it's even more enjoyable if you do. Clarke provides all of the necessary information in the text, and the true joy of the book is her imaginative portrayal of the soldiers themselves and of Max's relationship with them, as he insists on not treating them just as toys and allowing them to control their own destiny.(less)
I knew I was going to like this biography when Chitham started out in the introduction being very firm about working from facts and clearly identifyin...moreI knew I was going to like this biography when Chitham started out in the introduction being very firm about working from facts and clearly identifying speculation. This is especially important in Bronte biography, since so many legends and misconceptions have grown up around all of the sisters, and perhaps particularly Emily. Chitham calls this "investigative biography", and I think he does an excellent job staying true to his standards.
Chitham does take for granted, I think, that his readers are already at least somewhat familiar with the Brontes' story, and so I was happy that I'd read other biographies both of Emily and of the family. I might recommend the more detailed biography by Winifred Gerin to go along with Chitham (though he does identify some instances where even Gerin has apparently accepted tale as fact), but this is on the whole a very enlightening, lucid account of Emily's life. I've already ordered Chitham's biography of Anne and am looking forward to reading it.(less)
On second reading, I still think this is quite a good biography of Charlotte and give it four stars on that account. However, I would argue with the t...moreOn second reading, I still think this is quite a good biography of Charlotte and give it four stars on that account. However, I would argue with the title, because it really is a biography of only Charlotte; Fraser doesn't pay much attention to the other Brontes except as they affect Charlotte, and she often simply sees them through Charlotte's eyes. I thought this was particularly clear with Anne, whom Fraser sees as the "passive" and "virtuous" sister, as Charlotte saw her, rather than acknowledging her strength of character.(less)
If you're looking for a really detailed biography of Charlotte Brontë, this may not be exactly what you want, but if you're already familiar with her...moreIf you're looking for a really detailed biography of Charlotte Brontë, this may not be exactly what you want, but if you're already familiar with her life and want a lively revisionist interpretation of Brontë's life and writings, then look no further.
Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë, written immediately after Brontë's death, makes her into a tragic figure, mourning for her dead sisters and brothers and trapped in a life of duty to her stern father: "a figure of pathos in the shadow of tombstones", as Gordon puts it. In contrast, Gordon shows the vivid, intelligent, and most of all passionate woman who wrote Jane Eyre and Villette, a woman who was far stronger than the suffering martyr she's been seen as for many years.
Together with Lucasta Miller's The Brontë Myth, Gordon's biography sheds new light on a marvelously talented woman. (less)
I can do no better to begin with than to quote George Eliot, who upon reading Villette called it "a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre".
Villett...moreI can do no better to begin with than to quote George Eliot, who upon reading Villette called it "a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre".
Villette is darker and more realistic than Jane Eyre, and more autobiographical (and perhaps thus even more powerful). Drawing on Charlotte Brontë's experiences in Brussels, Villette tells the story of Lucy Snowe, who leaves England in flight from a shadowy, unhappy past; she comes to "Villette" (i.e., Brussels) and becomes an English teacher at Madame Beck's school, where she meets the mercurial, autocratic Monsieur Paul (based on Constantin Heger, the married schoolmaster with whom Charlotte fell in love during her time in Brussels).
Lucy is a complex character: repressed, yet deeply emotional, cold on the outside (like her name), but fiery within. Her narration is reticent; unlike Jane Eyre, she holds back, never telling the reader everything, rarely allowing herself to show her feelings. A key passage occurs relatively early on the book, soon after Lucy has begun work at the school:
"Oh, my childhood! I had feelings: passive as I lived, little as I spoke, cold as I looked, when I thought of past days, I could feel. About the present, it was better to be stoical; about the future -- such a future as mine -- to be dead. And in catalepsy and a dead trance, I studiously held the quick of my nature."
I do admit that Villette is not as easy to read as Jane Eyre. Lucy's reticence as a narrator forces the reader to reach out further to engage with her; yet her depth of feeling and her humor are engaging. I defy anyone (all right, anyone who likes Victorian fiction) to read fifty pages of Villette and be able to put it down; every time I read it, I feel as though I could pick it right back up after finishing, start it over, and be just as enthralled as though it had been years since I'd read it. (less)
Anne Bronte's second novel is often overshadowed by her sisters' more famous novels, Charlotte's Jane Eyre (and three others) and Emily's Wuthering He...moreAnne Bronte's second novel is often overshadowed by her sisters' more famous novels, Charlotte's Jane Eyre (and three others) and Emily's Wuthering Heights, but it is equally worth reading. It tells the story of Helen Huntingdon, a mysterious woman who comes to live at Wildfell Hall with her child and one servant, and Gilbert Markham, the young man who is powerfully drawn to her and eventually learns her secret: that she left her dissolute, drunken husband in order to shield their son from his influence. The first and last sections are from Gilbert's point of view; the central, and most powerful, from Helen's, as Gilbert reads the diary in which she narrates the events of her marriage.
Victorian readers found the scenes of Huntingdon's drunkenness and infidelity revolting and coarse, and they remain powerfully compelling today, though the subjects are less shocking to today's readers. Helen is a strong, willful, intelligent heroine, and to my mind, the novel's one real fault is that too much of the narrative is given to the less interesting Gilbert; once finished with Helen's diary, the story loses much of its power, though it regains some through the use of Helen's letters in the chapters leading up to the climax.
Anne Brontë's voice is as passionate as her sisters', and her fierce truthfulness pervades the novel; as her preface to the second edition says, in response to the censures of critics and readers, "I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it." In penning this challenge to the conventional morals of Victorian society, Brontë told truths about the role of women and the potential pitfalls of marriage that are meaningful more than 150 years after the publication of her book. (less)
I haven't read this in years and had forgotten how much I like it. It's far more restrained than her sisters' novels, yet the treatment Agnes receives...moreI haven't read this in years and had forgotten how much I like it. It's far more restrained than her sisters' novels, yet the treatment Agnes receives from her employers, the way they deny her equality and humanity because she's only a governess, is as horrifying in its own way as anything suffered by Charlotte's Jane Eyre. On this reading, I especially noticed also Anne's quiet wit, rather akin to Austen's, and her feeling for nature and the outdoors, akin to her sister Emily's.(less)