Charlotte Bronte is a groundbreaking view of the beloved writer as a young woman ahead of her time. Shaped by Charlotte's lifelong struggle to claim love and art for herself, Harman's richly insightful biography offers readers many of the pleasures of Bronte's own work.
- ISBN-13: 9780307962089
- ISBN-10: 0307962083
- Publisher: Alfred a Knopf Inc
- Publish Date: March 2016
- Page Count: 462
- Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.75 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
Well Read: Charlotte's Passion
Does the world need another biography of Charlotte Brontë? The life stories of the genius behind Jane Eyre and her eccentric siblings have been told many times before, most recently in Juliet Barker’s massive The Brontës. In the case of Claire Harman’s Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, which arrives in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, the answer is a resounding yes. Harman has written a lively, compulsively readable biography that illuminates the eldest surviving Brontë sister in a new light. Humanizing Brontë by exploring her rich inner life, as well as her interactions with her family and the world, this welcome book recasts the writer not as “poor Charlotte” but as an intelligent, passionate woman.
Charlotte’s story is inseparable from her singular family’s, so it is inevitable that her father, Patrick, her brother, Branwell, and her younger sisters, Emily and Anne, share much of the narrative (her mother died when Charlotte was 5, and her two older sisters a few years after that, leaving Charlotte the sometimes unenviable role of eldest). Indeed, Harman suggests that it was the intensely close relationship between the four children, played out in near isolation, which spurred their imaginative storytelling abilities. Their father, a parson, indulged his children’s peculiarities, and none of them was particularly suited to functioning in the wider world beyond the parsonage. Charlotte would prove the most adept at making a living, although she seems to have despised every moment spent working as a teacher or a governess. This disenchantment, of course, would provide much of the narrative fuel for Jane Eyre.
Not unexpectedly, Brontë’s greatest and most beloved novel, autobiographical in many ways, permeates the life story that Harman reconstructs here, and she also offers sharp insights into the real-life origins of Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Agnes Grey and Charlotte’s three other novels as well. Harman celebrates the eldest Brontë’s achievement as a writer, pointing out that she was the first novelist to use a first-person child narrator and to dramatize the injustices of childhood. Contemporary readers were bowled over by this innovation, Harman says. Readers almost two centuries later are no less enraptured. The love story at the heart of Jane Eyre has its parallel in Charlotte’s own life. While teaching at a girl’s school in Brussels, the 26-year-old avowed spinster fell in love with a married professor. It was unrequited, and certainly nothing on the grand scale of passion that would simmer between the fictional Jane and Rochester, but Charlotte transformed this raw material into one of the most enduring, complicated love stories of all time, because that is what geniuses do.
In researching and writing Charlotte Brontë, Harman had access to letters never before available, and she has drawn on previous scholarship with a fresh eye. Harman is herself a gifted story-teller, writing with a congenial flair and eschewing the syntactical convolutions that many literary biographers employ. The result is a sparkling biography that reads with the ease of a novel and will compel the reader to return not only to Charlotte’s masterwork, but to those singular works of genius the other Brontës left us, too.