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Charlotte Brontë

8 March 2012
... your heart and mind have been excited. I must leave that to you,’ Heger told them, as he told Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte’s first biographer, after Charlotte’s death. Heger encouraged the Brontës’ writing, but demanded that they pay attention to their craft. ‘Poet or not … study form,’ he once admonished Charlotte. He often returned their essays drastically revised – sadly, there ...

Her pen made the first move

Ruth Bernard Yeazell

7 July 1994
Charlotte BrontëA Passionate Life 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Chatto, 418 pp., £17.99, March 1994, 9780701161378
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Shared Lives 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Vintage, 285 pp., £6.99, March 1994, 0 09 942461 4
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The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art of Being Ill 
by Miriam Bailin.
Cambridge, 169 pp., £30, April 1994, 0 521 44526 4
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... from the faint contempt of previous biographers. Ellen may have lacked any feeling for art, but Gordon argues that she could read human character, and that the very ease with which she entered the Brontës’ private world ‘was no mean achievement’. Emily Brontë, we are assured, would never have tolerated mediocrity. Gordon’s Shared Lives, now published in paperback, offers ample precedent for ...

If It Weren’t for Charlotte

Alice Spawls: The Brontës

16 November 2017
... parsonage hall is accurately rendered; perhaps Hassall took it from life.It’s not a particularly remarkable image, just the sort one comes across by accident, one of the many that illustrated the Brontës’ novels and books about them, as well as romances of famous lives, histories of great authors, worthies of the world and other forgotten compilations that conflated fact and fiction and made ...

Angry ’Un

Terry Eagleton

8 July 1993
The Hand of the Arch-Sinner: Two Angrian Chronicles of Branwell Brontë 
edited by Robert Collins.
Oxford, 300 pp., £30, April 1993, 0 19 812258 6
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... however, Heathcliff doesn’t make too impressive a job of impersonating the English upper class. You can take Heathcliff out of the Heights, but you can’t take the Heights out of Heathcliff. The Brontës’ father, Patrick, had pulled off the trick rather better. Born Patrick Brunty into a poor peasant family in County Down (still ‘Brontë country’ for the Irish today), he Frenchified his ...


Rosemarie Bodenheimer: Elizabeth Gaskell

16 August 2007
The Works of Elizabeth Gaskell 
edited by Joanne Shattock et al.
Pickering & Chatto, 4716 pp., £900, May 2006, 9781851967773
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... The new Pickering and Chatto edition of the complete works of Elizabeth Gaskell arrived just in time to mark a century since the publication of the previous standard text, A.W. Ward’s Knutsford Edition of 1906. In the meantime, Gaskell has been transformed from a charming woman who wrote wry nostalgic sketches to a major figure in Victorian studies. Raymond Williams jump-started this re-evaluation ...

What Charlotte Did

Susan Eilenberg

6 April 1995
The Brontës 
by Juliet Barker.
Weidenfeld, 1003 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 297 81290 4
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... Juliet Barker’s The Brontës is an uneasy work. It seeks to defend the family it takes as its subject against those who sought to invade its privacy: the Victorian reading public, with its prurient speculations about the ...

Nothing Nice about Them

Terry Eagleton: The Brontës

4 November 2010
The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal 
edited by Christine Alexander.
Oxford, 620 pp., £12.99, September 2010, 978 0 19 282763 0
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... Many authors begin writing in childhood, but that the Brontës did so seems peculiarly apt. There is something childlike about their sensibility, with its merging of fantasy and reality, its mixture of rebelliousness and awe at authority, its blending of ...

Female Heads

John Bayley

27 October 1988
Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... Since the 18th century, and the novel’s coming of age, inventing female consciousness has become an absorbing masculine activity, a sex-in-the-head game. It is in the male head that Clarissa scribbles and Molly Bloom muses. For many male novelists, like the Austrian Robert Musil, erotic self-metamorphosis becomes mystical, a kind of religious substitute. The sphinx has her mystery, but in the final ...

The Perfect Plot Device

Dinah Birch: Governesses

17 July 2008
Other People’s Daughters: The Life and Times of the Governess 
by Ruth Brandon.
Weidenfeld, 303 pp., £20, March 2008, 978 0 297 85113 4
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... Governesses don’t wear ornaments. You had better get me a grey frieze livery and a straw poke, such as my aunt’s charity children wear.’ George Eliot’s Gwendolen Harleth is sour because it looks as though she will have to support her family by teaching the daughters of a bishop, but most would have shared her depression at the prospect. The efforts of the governess were exploited and undervalued ...

Kitchen Devil

John Bayley

20 December 1990
Emily BrontëA Chainless Soul 
by Katherine Frank.
Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 9780241121993
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... generation of critics did, that she must have been in love with some unknown man or woman. Emily’s passion was all inside. Katherine Frank has produced a highly readable study, more about the Brontës than about Emily specifically, which also makes some original suggestions. Did Emily suffer from what would now be called anorexia nervosa, virtually a clinical condition? It seems quite likely ...

Unhappy Childhoods

John Sutherland

2 February 1989
Trollope and Character 
by Stephen Wall.
Faber, 397 pp., £17.50, September 1988, 0 571 14595 7
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The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope 
by R.H. Super.
Michigan, 528 pp., $35, December 1988, 0 472 10102 1
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Dickens: A Biography 
by Fred Kaplan.
Hodder, 607 pp., £17.95, November 1988, 0 340 48558 2
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Charlotte Brontë 
by Rebecca Fraser.
Methuen, 543 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 9780413570109
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... Stephen Wall sees as crucial those passages in An Autobiography where Trollope rhapsodises on his equality with the personages of his fiction: ‘There is a gallery of them, and of all in that gallery I may say that I know the tone of voice, and the colour of the hair, every flame of the eye, and the clothes they wear. Of each man I could assert whether he would have said these or the other words ...

Shopping for Soap, Fudge and Biscuit Tins

John Pemble: Literary Tourists

7 June 2007
The Literary Tourist 
by Nicola J. Watson.
Palgrave, 244 pp., £45, October 2006, 1 4039 9992 9
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... as the domain of The Lady of the Lake. The contrast at the heart of Watson’s book is between Abbotsford, the showcase that Scott constructed to exhibit himself, and Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës, which ‘dramatises female authorship as unsuccessful to the point of invisibility’. Abbotsford is a forlorn witness to failed apotheosis. It was built for visitors; but few now come and its ...

Burners Go Raw

Anne Carson

26 February 2009
... Burners medieval dark mud on a road a dark morning, falling back through memories a faint pain, dark uphill way the usual alone and gravel picking my step out where nothing, out hoping, hope sinking, slope rising, that dark colour, almost rain, a thing impending, how to get home the perfect lamplight from which out where nothing though I can almost taste it oh yes today, if today is your example today ...
8 May 1997
Eve’s Renegades: Victorian Anti-Feminist Women Novelists 
by Valerie Sanders.
Macmillan, 249 pp., £42.50, September 1996, 0 333 59563 7
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... Anti-feminist women puzzle and infuriate their feminist sisters. How can a capable and rational woman persuade herself to oppose a cause from which she has gained so much? Is it self-hatred, or misguided self-interest? Craven subservience to men, or mean-minded jealousy of the success of other women? Understandably, feminist scholars have often preferred to focus on the onward march of liberation ...


Ronald Blythe

24 January 1980
A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature 
by Margaret Drabble.
Thames and Hudson, 133 pp., £10.50, October 1980, 0 500 01219 9
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... When Margaret Drabble says that, like Trollope, ‘Henry James admires the inimitable, unpurchasable gleam of time’, and describes his Poynton as ‘a Mentmore in miniature’, or when she writes of ‘the allegorical significance and sexual innuendo of the medieval garden’, or remarks that architectural irregularity, to English eyes, ‘seems to be a key, a touchstone, a mystic pledge of some ...

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