A Chainless Soul

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

A CHAINLESS SOUL is a life of Emily Bronte (author of WUTHERING HEIGHTS and a great deal of lyric poetry) intended more for the general reader, student, and teacher than for the specialist scholar. It is not based upon any genuinely new information about the Brontes, since there has been...

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A CHAINLESS SOUL is a life of Emily Bronte (author of WUTHERING HEIGHTS and a great deal of lyric poetry) intended more for the general reader, student, and teacher than for the specialist scholar. It is not based upon any genuinely new information about the Brontes, since there has been no important new information about Emily or her sisters Charlotte Bronte (author of JANE EYRE) and Anne Bronte (author of AGNES GREY) since Winifred Gerin’s detailed study in 1971. The justification for this study, then, lies in its approach to and interpretation of the facts, rather than in the presentation of the facts themselves.

Frank argues, on the whole convincingly, that previous portraits of Emily Bronte have overemphasized the romantic and sentimental aspects of her life and writings. In place of this view, Frank presents an Emily Bronte of steely independence, fierce self-control, and at times obsessive privacy. These qualities led not simply to a life of unusual, almost morbid isolation, but, more important, to a pattern of behavior that Frank interprets as anorexic. Whenever Emily found herself in circumstances where she could not be in control, she starved herself until she got her own way. This occurred first when Emily was sent to school with Charlotte at Roe Head, again when she accompanied Charlotte to the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels in 1842, and finally when she refused both food and medical care in 1848 and died of tuberculosis. Emily was happy and productive only when at home in the parsonage of Haworth, Yorkshire, where she filled her days with cooking and baking and her nights with writing. The miracle is that Charlotte was able to break through Emily’s reticence and convince her to publish (albeit under a pseudonym), first some of her poetry and then her only novel.

Frank’s portrayal of Emily necessarily involves almost equal attention to Charlotte and incidental treatment of Anne and Branwell Bronte, the prodigal brother. The lesser figures are depicted rather sketchily, but Charlotte and Emily are portrayed in admirable detail. The prose is readable and precise; the narrative line is clear and dramatic. Frank has re-created an Emily Bronte that both readers and scholars will have to take seriously in any subsequent account of her extraordinary life and writings.

Sources for Further Study

The Guardian. November21, 1990, p.38.

Kirkus Reviews. LVIII, September 15, 1990, p. 1298.

Library Journal. CXV, November 1, 1990, p.91

The Literary Review. #149, November, 1990, p.8.

London Review of Books. XII, December 20, 1990, p.2.

Los Angeles Times. December 24, 1990, p. E2.

New Statesman and Society. III, November 30, 1990, p.36.

The New York Times Book Review. XCV, November 11, 1990, p.13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, October 5, 1990, p.83.

Self. XII, November, 1990, p. 114.

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