A Student's Guide to The Brontë SistersEnslow Publishers is a publishing house which specialises in K-12 Nonfiction Library Books and defines its goal on their website with the following words:
Series Understanding Literature
Publication Year: 2009
Interest Level: Grades 6-up
The mission of Enslow Publishers, Inc., is to publish high-quality educational nonfiction books for children and young adults, who will access these materials in schools and public libraries. Our goals are that readers will be able to trust our products and that the books will satisfy their needs.We don't know about the other titles included in their Understanding Literature series but its latest addition, Naomi Pasachoff's A Student Guide to The Brontë Sisters, is quite well described by the above statement and the following one which collectively defines the framework of the series:
An introduction to literature and literary criticism for middle and high school students. A fresh, pleasing visual layout and clear explanations of literary techniques and styles are designed to make the great works of literature more accessible to readers. Also includes sidebars which feature definitions of common literary terms and explanations of related contentThe author Naomi Pasachoff is not a neophyte biographer. She teaches Reading and Writing Biography at Williams College and has a long experience in the field (1). She knows her craft and has made her homework reading the Brontës' works and several Brontë biographies(2). The result is a quite consistent Brontë Readers' Digest with the logical limitations of a volume of this sort but overall very satisfactory.
The book begins with an introductory and motivational chapter which is followed by a succession of chapters following the chronology of events of the Brontë family. Particular attention is paid to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights with a chapter devoted to each novel. Anne Brontë's works are not forgotten or glossed over as the author keeps a chapter for the younger sister which is particularly interesting as Ms Pasachoff goes beyond the mainstream literary agenda and praises The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey which she considers a precedent in many aspects of Jane Eyre itself(3). The final chapter exploring the legacy and everlasting influence of the Brontës' works is probably the least satisfactory(4). The book is completed with a glossary, a paltry bibliography and an embarrassing selection of internet addresses.
The author knows well the target of a book like this and uses adequate vocabulary and simplifies the many critical approaches that the novels have given way to. Nevertheless sometimes the insets where literary terms are explained are quite unnecessary as they literally double the definitions already made within the text and there are a couple of instances of clarifications à la Lemony Snicket which are clearly superflous (is it necessary to clarify that in the Brontës' time there were no computers?).
The illustrations are in black and white but the criteria for their inclusion is a bit erratic. Branwell's portrait of Emily is included but George Richmond's portrait of Charlotte is not (instead we have the beautified 1873 painting by Evert A. Duyckinick based on Richmond's). The novels are illustrated by stills of Jane Eyre 1996 and Wuthering Heights 1992 which are a poor choice when there are plenty of Brontë country landscapes probably more fitting and evocative.
The book appears with a reinforced library binding and clear and not overwhelming typeface in order to appeal to all those students which don't limit themselves to the Wikipedia articles or the same old online Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights essays and want to discover the basics of the lives and works of the Brontës. If some of them comes across this book in their local or high school library we are pretty sure they will not be disappointed.
(1) No less than fifteen books can be found on her bibliography. Including biographies of T.S. Elliot, Marie Curie, Niels Bohr, Ernest Rutherford or Linus Pauling.
(2) The notes to the text suggest that Juliet Barker's The Brontës, Margaret Smith's Letters of Charlotte Brontë, Edward Chitham's Life of Anne Brontë and his Life of Emily Brontë, and Harold Orel's selection of The Brontës: Interviews and Recollections are the most quoted. Surprisingly Gérin's biographies are practically absent.
(3) It's a pity that the independence of thought that Ms Pasachoff shows in her treatment of Anne Brontë is not applied to Charlotte. The author joins the ranks of the recent critical trend that bitterly punishes Charlotte for 'editing' and 'manipulating' her sisters' works.
(4) There's even a mistake in one of them. As far as we know the comic show Withering Looks is not by Monty Python but by LipService Theatre. (p. 130)