Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë (Paperback) - A Review

We are very grateful to Oxford University Press for sending us a review copy of this book.

Selected Letters
Charlotte Brontë
Edited by Margaret Smith and Janet Gezari
Oxford World's Classics
978-0-19-957696-8 | Paperback | 09 September 2010
Price: £8.99


'Dangerous as lucifer matches.'

That was how Arthur Nicholls, Charlotte Brontë's husband for the last nine months of her life, described her letters. Full of acute observations, pithy character sketches, and passionate convictions, the letters are our most direct source of information about the lives of the Brontës and our closest approach to the author of Jane Eyre. In them Charlotte writes of life at Haworth Parsonage, her experiences at a Belgian school, and her intense feelings for the Belgian schoolteacher, M. Heger. She endures the agony of the death of her siblings, and enjoys the success as a writer that brings her into contact with the London literary scene. Vivid and intimate, her letters give fresh insight into the novels, and into the development of her distinct literary style. Margaret Smith's fine edition includes invaluable notes on Brontë's correspondents, and Janet Gezari contributes a new introduction that relates the letters to both Brontë's life and her creative accomplishment.

* Includes a chronology, biographical notes on Brontë's correspondents, select bibliography,on-page notes, and index.
Margaret Smith's three volumes of Charlotte Brontë's correspondence are a delight to any Brontë admirer but, let's face it, affordable - save for the odd find - they are not. So when three years ago, Oxford released their Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë we couldn't help but welcome the book. It was a nice hardback edition, quite affordable at about £25.

But now Oxford has released the paperback edition at an even more affordable price. And even more importantly, given that they have included it in their Oxford Classics collection, it will be more widely available. We know that in this day and age of the internet, most books are 'widely available'. But in order to reach that stage you have to know that a book exists in the first place. With this new edition, Brontë readers worldwide will probably find Charlotte Brontë's letters right by Jane Eyre, for instance. And their curiosity will be piqued for sure because who can resist things like,
Is the man a fool? is he a knave a humbug, a hypocrite a ninny a noodle? (to Ellen Nussey, 20 November 1840)
From now on and to the eternal chagrin of Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte will have written not just one but many letters 'to the world', in the words of her admirer Emily Dickinson.

This edition, apart from Margaret Smith's introduction and notes, includes a preface by Janet Gezari. Together they both give a context to this carefully-edited collection of letters that will help any reader or any new Brontëite understand the letters much better.

For a deeper analysis of this selection, we suggest you read our review of the hardback edition.

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