The critical studies about the Brontës in Spanish do not abound. For this alone, the book by J. Manuel Barbeito Varela: Las Brontë y su mundo(Series: Historia de la Literatura Universal. Literatura en Lengua Inglesa) has a special interest.
The intentions of the book are very ambitious: to summarize the critical approaches to the Brontës' opus (especially Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), to contextualize the work of the sisters in their time and to introduce some new readings (mainly based on previous research by the author). And everything with a suitable and accessible language for the general public. The problem when the ambition is so all-including is that the reader's degree of exigence has to be also large enough.
In order to achieve all the previous goals in just two hundred pages, some sacrifices have to be made. The biographical data (which in the case of the Brontës are really important) are just very briefly but aptly summarized(1) in Chapter 2. The English 19th century novel and the social context of the Brontës are discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. Although nothing new is said or commented, these chapters should be counted among the best of the book. Basically, because they give the basic facts and introduce the Brontë topics and age in an accessible way (as promised) to an audience - the Spanish readers - that does not have the wide range of Brontë literature available to English readers.
One cannot say the same about the chapters that follow. Chapter 5 traces the similarities and common subjects of the three sisters. Here, Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is treated as an equal to Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights(2). Chapters 6, 7 and 8 review critical approaches to Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Emily Brontë's poetry respectively. The reasons why some critical views are quoted and others are ignored are not always clear. Jargon abounds. Of course, this is not a problem per se, but it should be borne in mind that the book is addressed to a general audience not specialized on the subject.
The book is completed with an outstanding bibliography where practically every quoted mention can be traced. Nevertheless, we notice some perplexing absences as the Oxford Companion to the Brontës (3).
We cannot end this review without reporting a (very) important drawback to this first edition of Las Brontë y su mundo that we hope will be corrected in future editions. Paraphrasing Charlotte Brontë, the mistakes, typos and inconsistencies in names and words are 'mortifying to a degree'. Some examples: Lowood's Jane Eyre is written as Lockwood constantly. Brocklehurst is newly baptized as Blocklehurst, several Cateshead, Edingburgs, etc. appear. Sometimes, the mistake is not just a typo, but something rather more serious: a letter from Mary Taylor to Charlotte Brontë is attributed to Martha Brown (p. 68). The quality of the book is thus endangered by these distracting, confusing mistakes. (1) Worthy of notice is the splendid chronology included at the end of the book comparing biographical data of the Brontës with contemporary historical, artistic and cultural events.
(2) Probably the limitations in space are behind the decision of only devoting chapters to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The interest of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall's discussions needs its own chapter.
(3) More unexplainable is the complete absence of any Spanish book on the Brontës. There are few of them, but there are some.