Sorcha's Reviews > The Life of Charlotte Bronte

The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
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's review
Nov 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2007

First published not long after Bronte's death - Gaskill was a contemporary and a friend - the first edition suffered controversy, as many of the people referenced were still alive, and some objected to their inclusion. This edition is the 1st edition, with plenty of detail in the appendix to detail the differences with the changed 3rd edition.[return][return]Volume 1 details Bronte's younger years; with much contextual narrative as to both the Yorkshire people's personality type and that of the immediate family; the death of some of her siblings, and her mother at an early age; the solitude the family seemed to prefer and the ill health they all seemed to suffer from. The education is also covered - Charlotte's early schools giving inspiration for Lowood in Jane Eyre for instance. Time is also spent in Brussels learning French and German and provides yet more inspiration for those Bronte girls who were there (e.g. for "The Professor" and "Vilette".) [I am disappointed that this edition does not provide translation of those passages in French for those of us whose French is weak!][return][return]Volume 2 was much more interesting for me. This is the time that Jane Eyre (along with Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey) is published. Less input now from Gaskell, with much of the Volume II provided by letters written by Bronte herself, and shows to some extent how she deals with the fame of having written such a book as Jane Eyre, along with dealing with all the gossip about whether the Bell family are male or female. At the same time she has to deal with her three remaining siblings dying in relatively quick succession (< 1 year) with Branwell having brought shame on the family due to his debts, drink and doomed affair with a married woman. [rumoured to be the inspiration of Causabon's stipulation that Dorothea should lose all money if she ever married Ladislaw][return][return]Her visits to London in particular are interesting, as you hear of her interaction with her contemporaries - Thackery, Dickens etc. Her comments on Jane Austen made me smile (paraphrased as: "Who is she? What's this Pride and Prejudice about then?"). [return][return]In the absence of her siblings, and with her increasing fame, she also travels more, and sees more of friends and other "famous people". [return][return]Her marriage to a curate that she had known for years and which was pitifully short is lightly covered in the final chapter. Her father objected to her marrying at all, which delayed the marriage for several years. The reason for the objections were never made clear in the book - I suspect Mr Bronte was still alive when the book was published - but I personally think by reading between the lines that as an old man used to having the almost explicit attention of his daughter didnt want to share her with anyone else.[return][return]The marriage ended in her death within the year of the marriage, and was due to her suffering an ultimately fatal bout of ill health
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