After watching the film “To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters,” I became interested in learning more about Charlotte Bronte. A positive review in PubAfter watching the film “To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters,” I became interested in learning more about Charlotte Bronte. A positive review in Publisher’s Weekly led me to Claire Harman’s book “Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart.” This thoroughly researched biography succeeds in bringing to life the world of the Brontes and their home in Haworth in the West Yorkshire part of England. Patrick and Maria Bronte had 6 children, four of whom survived into adulthood. Of these four survivors, three became celebrated authors but not a single one of them lived to see their fortieth birthday. Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Bronte were close as children and all had active imaginations which led to the creations of epic fantasy worlds and role-playing games. The creation of these worlds led to their first writing efforts, often in the form of miniature, handmade books that needed a magnifying glass to be read.
Tragedy haunted their lives, first with the death of their mother, then with the death of the two oldest Bronte girls, Maria and Elizabeth who at ages 10 and 11 contracted TB while away at a boarding school. Cancer took the life of their aunt, who helped raise the surviving children and cholera took the life of a close friend, but tuberculosis was the specter that seemed to stalk the entire family. Branwell’s descent into alcoholism and drug-addiction, another family tragedy, gave the disease an easy target and brought about his early demise.
Even before his death, Branwell’s illness spurred his sisters to find a way to support themselves. Realizing that their father was getting old and would at some point no longer be able to perform his duties as curate at the parsonage where they lived, and that Branwell would never be able to provide a means for helping support them, the sisters took various jobs as teachers and governesses. When these positions didn’t work out, they retreated to the safety of their beloved parsonage home in Haworth. It was in the parsonage where they began writing in earnest and with Charlotte’s prodding led them to start looking for ways to be published. Their first book, basically a self-published collection of poems didn’t sell well, but gradually it began to bring them some attention.
Within a year of Branwell’s death, both Emily and Anne would also be felled by TB. Fortunately, Emily and Anne did live to see the publication of their novels (“Wuthering Heights,” Agnes Grey,” “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”) and to witness the even greater success of Charlotte’s ground-breaking, “Jane Eyre.” Charlotte’s masterpiece, published under a gender-neutral pseudonym (as were the works of her sisters) took the literary world by storm. Its powerful testimony from a child’s point-of-view (it was the first novel to use a child as a first-person narrator) of abuse in a boarding school and its rebellious heroine was an eye-opener to a public that was conditioned to children being seen and not heard. The book ended up being a hard act for Charlotte to follow and though she published two more novels before her untimely death at age 38, neither of them found the success of her first work.
If you're a fan of the Bronte's, I highly recommend this engaging and fascinating biography. ...more