The Brontes at Haworth

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Victorians are characterized as much by what shocked them as by anything they approved of. Yet the tremendous body of work they passed down to us is as insightful in its portrayal of humanity as any, and the frame of prudishness in which it sits serves as an ironic comment on itself. Writing novels, according to Thackery—and many others—was not a fit profession for a woman, and yet the novels of women were widely read and cherished. Often, however, where the delicacy of Jane Austen or Mrs. Gaskell was lacking the author signed an ambiguous name.

Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell are as well known today as Trollope or Thackery, and JANE EYRE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS are more widely read than many of Dickins’ works.

Though their alter egos were discarded in their own short lifetimes, and the Brontes’ own names are more familiar now than are the names under which they wrote, the repression that suggested the masculine bylines haunts the novels it strove to prevent and instead inspired.

The tragic history of the Brontes is well known, and Juliet Gardiner relates it without any great elaboration or conjecture. Her narrative is neat, well researched, and—what makes this biography of special interest—sensitively illustrated. Paintings and photographs of Bronte country give the reader a feeling for the wild, desolate landscape in which the members of this enigmatic family found their muse. The appetite of the Brontephile is satiated with portraits and sketches of and by the Brontes that reveal an expected intensity in their likenesses and much also about how they perceived the world about and within themselves.