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The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  387 ratings  ·  103 reviews
In this unique and lovingly detailed biography of a literary family that has enthralled readers for nearly two centuries, Victorian literature scholar Deborah Lutz illuminates the complex and fascinating lives of the Brontës through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed. By unfolding the histories of the meaningful objects in their family home in Haworth, ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 11th 2015 by W. W. Norton Company
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Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd been really looking forward to reading this book and it was every bit as good as I'd hoped. In fact it is one of the best books I have read so far this year.

I've read several books recently that take various objects and build the narrative around them, Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor being a particularly good example.

Lutz has done exactly this - taken 9 objects which are all material remnants and, by exploring them, has managed to expand on the Brontës lives and t
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My favorite kind of book: where the imagination plays and interacts with facts of the past. The Bronte Cabinet uses the physical objects the Brontës left behind (clothing, desks, walking sticks, dog collars, jewelry) to illuminate their lives and world. My favorite chapter was on the sisters’ desks. Emily, in particular, comes to life in this chapter. She left a lap desk covered in ink stains and she drew illustrations of herself writing in her bedroom with various dogs snoozing around her. This ...more
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-grade, nonfiction
Full review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects is a very entertaining, accessible examination of the lives of the Brontë Siblings (most notably Anne, Emily, and Charlotte). Instead of being a linear biography, the book uses historical objects (for instance, a walking desk, a bracelet, and a dog collar) as entry points into the Brontë’s lives. This means that we get a sense of what the Brontës’ everyday lives might have been like, as well as a good sense of what/>The
Robbie Cheadle
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I found it to be a really fascinating autobiography of the Brontë family. The detailed information about specific historical objects that featured in the lives of various members of the Brontë family was really interesting and I learned a lot of new facts about life in the Victorian era.

The Brontë children seemed to be surrounded by death and sadness from a young age. They lost their young mother to cancer and their father was left to bring up six children , five g
Laurel Hicks
Elegant and clever. To be taken with a shaker of salt.
Emily B.
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I admired this book because I felt like it provided a detailed insight into the Brontes' lives. For example, I didn't know that the Bronte sisters had a brother named Branwell, or that Emily Bronte had a pet dog named Keeper. I also got to learn about life in general in the middle of the 19th century. Including a lock of a loved one's hair in jewelry was a common practice back then, as was creating masks of dead people. Some of these practices seem weird to modern readers (especially the customs ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brontephilia
Call me crazy, but I really thought a book called "The Brontë Cabinet" would spend more than one sentence talking about the Brontë Cabinet. It wasn't even one of the nine objects discussed!

Overall I'd call this a very accessible attempt to understand people through their possessions. I didn't get anything especially new about the Brontës out of this, since I've already done a ton of reading about them. I did like the discussion about how important dogs were to Wuthering Heights.

Patricia King
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written and often moving biography focusing on Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte both as individuals and as a (very particular, fascinating) family. Focusing on material objects used by the Brontes in their daily housework, play, and writing, author Deborah Lutz finds new angles into these women's oft-told life stories.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book--I tend to focus more on Jane Austen than the Brontes in my literary reading, but this made me want to dig into the Bronte sisters all over again. There were a few eye-rolling sections, mostly in how the author tried to make the Brontes 21st century feminists ( a section on abortion in discussing Charlotte's death, and a few things early in the book), but overall, a good work of scholarship and an intriguing look into the lives of the Br ...more
Melissa Joulwan
I read this in preparation for the trip to the Brontë parsonage in Haworth, England, and I'm very glad I did. The background of the objects in the book added so much to my experience at the parsonage.

This is an excellent companion to a more traditional Brontë biography because it provides a personal look at Charlotte, Emily, and Anne through their possessions—their dresses, personal writing desks, walking sticks, dog collars, hair jewelry, and more. It's a fascinating context in whic
Karen Brown
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am intrigued by objects and the stories they tell about the people that owned them, and Lutz's book provides the historical and biographical details that make the Brontë family come to life. Beautifully written, Lutz's choice of objects is unique and sometimes--as the in the case of the amethyst bracelet Charlotte wears, formed from the entwined hair of her dead sisters, Emily and Anne--deeply moving. I found myself browsing antique Victorian lap desks on ebay, and imagining each of the sister ...more
I really enjoyed this. It reminded me a lot of Paula Byrne's The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things in its attempt to share new information or interpretations of the subjects' lives through the material things they owned or would have been familiar with. I'm pretty well conversant with about every aspect of the Bronte story. I've read all of the three sisters' books (except for The Professor. I promise I'll get to it someday, Charlotte!), I've read some of their letters, I've read a couple of bi ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this book that my darling niece Lauren picked out for me for my birthday knowing how much I love the Bronte family.

I learned a lot of very interesting information about the Bronte family in this very creative collective biography. I've read other biographies about them but not from the point of view of "objects" that were important to them.

In learning about the objects, I also learned a lot of really fascinating domestic history that I didn't already
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Any reader with an interest in the Bronte family, or simply in their era will find this book fascinating. Lutz tells the history of the time and the biographies of the Bronte writers by looking at their stories through the lens of objects. Chapters include the importance of letter writing, the family dogs, and death relics (such as locks of hair), showing how these things were incorporated in the lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne- while at the same time creating the biography surrounding them. ...more
Susan Liston
This is an interesting way to read about someone, through objects they owned. The Brontes themselves are not "stuck to", talking about their letters, for example, will segue off onto a description of the postal service at the time. I was amazed at the amount of research that must have gone into it. Very detailed. If the particular subject was not of particular interest to me I did start to bog down a bit, but then turned the page and got interested all over again. This is not a book for everyone ...more
May 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Looking at the lives and times of the Brontes through 9 objects. Interesting as it's not just a biography of the Brontes, and or a critique of their novels, this uses objects they used, owned or were part of their lives (as with Emily's dog Keeper), but Lutz looks at the society in which they grew up and lived in. The social changes which were taking place and how people lived/behaved in Victorian Britain (eg Victorian's view of death and dying).
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-riot-2015
This book is a must read for fans of The Brontë sisters, period fans, and literature nuts. This is definitely a more scholarly read and takes time to digest but well worth it. The framing of using nine objects to tell about the Brontë family, their friends, time period, fans, and scholars is brilliant. It allows for am interesting glimpse into the lives of many other writers as well.
A fine addition to my Bronte shelves. If you haven't read a lot about the Brontës, I would maybe read a full biography of them first, but if you have, this provides a lot of interesting little details about their lives by examining some of the objects associated with them.
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book on how the Bronte' authors wrote using their daily lives, which is clearly the most useful way to write. LOVED THIS BOOK!
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library_copy
A fascinating description of the everyday ephemera of an extraordinary family of writers.
Girl with her Head in a Book
Review originally published here:

I stumbled across this one just before Christmas, too late for it to make it on to my Christmas list but just in time for me to tell my Dad that I wanted it. I read it during my recent holiday and kept looking up to tell my friends how good it was, which didn’t really mean much given that I am the only Brontë fan in the group. Really, it’s so good that I have the website – I would bore my friends and family totally rigid if I did not. The concept behind
Walter's Writing
Wuthering Heights is one of my favourite novels which is the main reason I picked up this book. I had a very limited knowledge of the Bronte family (little more than they lived on the moors). This book probably isn't going to be that interesting to serious Bronte fans, but for me, I enjoyed the overview of their lives.

It takes a series of objects owned by the Brontes and discusses the importance of said objects to the sisters, and how they were used in their novels to advance plot and add depth
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: challenge-2017
Fabulous book. I've read every Bronte biography going for over three decades so it's rare that there is anything new, but here - there was.

Made the mistake of getting it on Audible, though - not the Kindle version, first. The narrator is, quite easily, the worst I have ever heard. Ever. Without exception. Mispronounced even 'Haworth' and not once but the entire book through. And many other simple words, too. Just so distracting from an otherwise outstanding book. And not a US narrato
This was my first book about the Brontë's, I was expecting... more . There's nothing wrong with the information, but if you've read even one book or done the tiniest amount of research, you'd probably know most of the information about the family that this book offers.
There was just as much material about the Victorian era and other notable people of that time as there was about the Brontë Family.

3 Stars because:
Upon reflection, I was left with the inclination that I hadn't cultivated enough knowleexpecting...
Michelle Atno-hall
This was a fascinating and inspiring examination of how several material objects ("relics") of the Brontes can teach us so much about the world they inhabited. Those who are already familiar with the novels and the human stories of the Bronte sisters will get a new perspective on the personalities, work, and celebrity status of the three women who rose to literary fame in the most surprising of circumstances. As a bonus, the reader will also learn a lot about the details of everyday life for mid ...more
Philip Battle
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A really unusual biography looking at the physical items of the Brontes and putting them into historical context. I really enjoyed this book and found it totally fascinating; I wouldn't say there was anything particularly new on the Brontes, everything that has been written, HAS been written, but this is certainly a new take on their story and offers the reader a deeper insight to the world in which they lived. It's also a very quick read! :)
Kayla Tornello
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
This was an interesting look at the lives of the three famous Bronte sisters, organized somewhat chronologically around nine of their possessions. I liked seeing the similarities and differences between each of the sisters. The author did a great job of providing enough detail to get to know the Brontes without adding so much that it becomes overwhelming and tedious. It does help to have already read the novels written by the Bronte sisters as they are alluded to frequently in this book.
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Detailed and intimate look into the lives of Charlotte, Emily, an Anne Bronte through several of their possessions. Lutz does an exceptional job of examining the Brontes’ lives in the context of Victorian England.
Elise Barker
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When she focused on the Brontës, it was lovely and thrilling, but I lost interest when she talked about Victorians in general. There’s a lot of padding in some of the chapters. Some context is good of course, but I needed less and craved more Brontë-specific content.
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
The Bronte sisters had some interesting habits and I liked the photos. This book was written just well enough to keep me reading.
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Deborah Lutz is the Thruston B. Morton Professor of English at the University of Louisville. The author of The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
“This mania for scribbling wasn’t an unusual activity for literary middle- or upper-class children in nineteenth-century England (many poorer kids were working at a young age, including Charles Dickens, who pasted labels onto jars at Warren’s Shoeblacking factory and warehouse when he was twelve years old and his father was in debtor’s prison). In the late eighteenth century, young Jane Austen filled the beautiful notebooks her father had bought her with sparkling imitations and parodies of fashionable society novels, calling them “Volume the First,” “Second,” and “Third.” John Ruskin made a forty-five-page book with red covers, ruled with blue lines, when he was just seven. Using a “book print” like the Brontës, he included illustrations and called it “Harry and Lucy.” Mary Ann Evans (who later took the pen name George Eliot) wrote a fragment of a historical novel in a school notebook when she was fourteen. Charles Dodgson scribbled family magazines, sewn into cardboard covers, with his ten siblings, such as one called “Mischmasch.” His adult writing continued in this same vein of delightful ramblings, published under the name Lewis Carroll. The young Stephens had their family magazine, produced weekly, in the 1890s, with Thoby and Virginia (later Woolf) as the main authors and editors and Vanessa and Adrian as contributors. It was an early practice run for the Bloomsbury Group.15” 1 likes
“We can never know if Charlotte and Ellen had a sexual relationship—there is certainly no proof that they did—and perhaps it doesn’t matter. Their correspondence attests to a fervent love that included romantic, and perhaps even erotic, feelings. It’s likely that Charlotte had heard of women who took women as lovers or “wives,” such as fellow Yorkshirewoman Anne Lister, or perhaps even knew some. 38” 1 likes
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