Charlotte Brontë: A Life – Claire Harman

Published April 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, Penguin is publishing the definitive biography of this extraordinary novelist, by acclaimed literary biographer Claire Harman.

Charlotte Brontë’s life contained all the drama and tragedy of the great Gothic novels it inspired. She was raised motherless on remote Yorkshire moors and sent away to brutally strict boarding school at a young age. She watched helpless growing up as, one by one, her five beloved siblings sickened and died; by the end of her short life, she was the only child of the Brontë clan remaining. And most fascinating and tragic of all, throughout her adult life she was haunted by a great and unrequited love – a love that tortured Charlotte but also inspired some of the most moving, intense and revolutionary novels ever written in the English language.

Charlotte was a literary visionary, a feminist trailblazer and the driving force behind the whole Brontë family. She encouraged her sister Emily to publish Wuthering Heights when no-one else believed in her talent. She took charge of the family’s precarious finances when her brilliant but feckless brother Branwell succumbed to opium addiction. She travelled from Yorkshire to Europe to the bright lights of London, met some of the most brilliant literary minds of her generation (Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray), and became a bestselling female author in a world still dominated by men. And in each of her books, from Villette and Shirley to her most famous, Jane Eyre, Charlotte created brand new kinds of heroines, inspired by herself and her life, fiercely intelligent women burning with hidden passions.

This beautifully-produced, landmark biography is essential reading for every fan of the Brontë family’s writing, from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights. It is a uniquely intimate and complex insight into one of Britain’s best loved writers. This is the literary biography of the year; if you loved Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens, this event is not to be missed.

What did I think?:

My wonderful boyfriend was kind enough to buy me this beautiful hardback edition of Charlotte Brontë – A Life a couple of years ago for a birthday and I cannot believe I’m only getting round to reading it now. Jane Eyre is tied with Pride And Prejudice for one of my favourite classics, actually if I’m being honest, one of my favourite ever books and I’m eagerly anticipating doing a re-read of my lovely Penguin clothbound edition very soon. I’ve always been fascinated about the life of Charlotte but occasionally, memoirs intimidate me slightly so I’ve putting this off for a while now! I honestly don’t know why I was being so silly because this biography was hugely readable and very enjoyable to boot. I have remained shamefully ignorant about Charlotte and her sisters in the past but found out much more than I could ever have anticipated from Claire Harman’s wonderfully researched tome. It’s definitely made me more keen to catch up on the rest of Charlotte’s novels – Vilette, Shirley and The Professor and I can’t wait to get started.

The reader is spoiled with this book in that not only do we get the life of Charlotte to pore over but we get detailed information on every single member of her family. Of course, who could leave out Anne and Emily who had such great successes of their own? We learn about the difficulties faced by Charlotte’s father when he first came to the country from Ireland and how he managed as a single father of six children after his wife died unexpectedly. Not only does Charlotte grow up without the steady hand and love of her mother whom she barely remembers but she has to suffer unbearable agonies as through her life, each of her five siblings also passes away. We get a fascinating insight into Charlotte’s time at boarding school which were so hideous that they inspired the events at the school in her most famous novel, Jane Eyre. Furthermore, we also learn about her great love, a married Belgian schoolteacher who she never really gets over and who breaks her heart by not reciprocating her feelings. Throughout it all, Charlotte comes across as one of the most determined, headstrong, stubborn and gentle women that I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Her life was filled with heart-ache but throughout it all, she never gave up and managed to do what she had always dreamed of – to be a successful writer.

Oh my goodness, after this stunning, intricately detailed biography, I feel almost like I know Charlotte inside out. My heart broke with hers when her sisters and brother died, I felt her agony at suffering with low self-esteem and at times, fragile mental health and saw her pain when she fell in love to have it ignored. Not only did I enjoy “meeting” Charlotte but I loved learning in greater depth about Emily, Anne and Branwell too who all had their own individual demons to fight. Some parts were completely shocking – like Emily’s treatment of a dog which was not only hideous but thoroughly confusing to me. There is also evidence that Charlotte herself didn’t actually die of TB as was suspected but was instead suffering from quite a different condition that still plagues many women today (although luckily, they don’t usually pass away from it!). I don’t think I’ve read many biographies that touch my heart and make me feel so many emotions but Charlotte Brontë – A Life was definitely one of these. It’s quite dense in places and reads quite slowly in others but it’s all worth it to learn about the enthralling life of such a beloved author in our history.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Charlotte Brontë – A Life by Claire Harman was the twenty-sixth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

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