The Brontës: Charlotte Brontë and Her Family Summary

Rebecca Fraser

The Brontës

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The lives of the Brontes, the remarkable family that included the authors of both JANE EYRE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS, is a fitting a subject for compelling fiction as any literary creation. Marked by both brilliance and tragedy, the family’s real-life drama has indeed been the subject of at least one feature film (DEVOTION in 1944) as well as numerous biographies and volumes of literary criticism.

Rebecca Fraser’s exhaustively researched and evocatively written book makes use of documents, letters, and previously undiscovered sources to bring the family to life. Fraser is herself a member of a literary family--her mother is Lady Antonia Fraser, the author of MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS and several murder mysteries, and her sister, Flora, has recently completed a biography of Lady Emma Hamilton--a fact which perhaps accounts for the depth of feeling that informs THE BRONTES.

Beginning with brief background sketches of the Reverend Patrick Bronte and his wife, Maria Branwell, Fraser chronicles the family’s troubled history with a particular emphasis on Charlotte Bronte’s life and work. From its beginnings, hers was a life marked by sorrow and loss: Her mother’s death when she was five was followed four years later by the deaths of her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth. Charlotte would eventually outlive all five of her siblings, with her brother, Branwell, and her younger sisters, Anne and Emily, all dying within a few months of one another when she was in her early thirties.

Fraser traces the events and themes from Charlotte’s own life which found their way into her novels, including the grim girls’ school--where both Maria and Elizabeth first became ill -- that served as the model for the school to which Jane Eyre is sent as a child, and her sojourn in Brussels, which provided the background for VILETTE. Fraser also explores Bronte’s position as a woman writer--and one whose books are noted for the depth of their passions and feelings--in an age when home, hearth, and emotional restraint marked a woman’s existence. THE BRONTES is a fascinating and highly readable account of the life of this remarkable family and a stunning literary debut for Rebecca Fraser.