Martin Davey's Reviews > The Brontës: A Life in Letters

The Brontës by Juliet Barker
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Apr 02, 12


An extraordinary book, this one.

Having said that, I think one of the book's greatest strengths is the same thing that can sometimes make the reading of it a little uncomfortable. None of these letters were written to be made public and so every now and again the reader might feel a little voyeuristic in reading some of the more personal letters dealing with anything from grief to jealousy to triumph.

But then that to me is also the joy of these letters. Letters written in the knowledge that they might one day be published can be grandiose, self-consciously witty etc, but these show true emotions, show the truth of these extraordinary women (and men). Charlotte (obviously most of these letters are written by her) can sometimes come across as shallow, jealous, possessive, harsh but also witty and full of loves and hopes and dreams and it is often these faults in her that make her more real to the reader, sometimes with an immediacy that almost takes the breath away.

This book made me turn the page as much as any mystery or thriller, but here it was because I never knew what I would find on the next page, which nugget I would find that would bring this amazing family back to life once more. Sometimes it would be something as heart-breaking as reading of Patrick's grief at losing his wife and two eldest daughters so soon after one another, and sometimes it would be something so simple as hearing of Emily admiring some apples she had been sent as a gift, or hearing of the girls trying to ignore their aunt who was telling them to 'pillopotate'.

Then there's Charlotte's brief flirtation with the handsome young curate William Weightman and then his tragic death of cholera, and the girls hopes for their school that came to nothing...I could go on, but enough to say that the book brings the whole family to life in a way I would never have thought possible and Juliet Barker does an incredible job of letting the Brontes speak for themselves.

One of those books you want to keep forever and to anybody with the slightest interest in the Bronte's or the history of the region it's indispensable.
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