Sunday, February 05, 2012

Charlotte Brontë - a review

We are very grateful to Sabina Editorial for sending us a review copy of this book.

Charlotte Brontë
Gloria Fortún
Sabina Editorial. Collection: Luzazul.
Series: Una historia verdadera.
Language: Spanish and English
Translation: Laura Pletsch-Rivera (english)
Illustrations: Isa Vázquez.
ISBN: 978-84-937159-4-6
Charlotte Brontë(1), written by Gloria Fortún and illustrated by Isa Vázquez (and since it is a bilingual (Spanish and English) edition the translator should be mentioned as well: Laura Pletsch-Rivera), is addressed to a young readership. It is a fantastic introduction, not only into the world of the Brontës but also into the nineteenth century. There are plenty of new concepts to keep inquiring minds busy.

Summarising the lives of the Brontës is not easy and it is especially difficult for Brontëites, which we know Gloria Fortún to be(2). But of course readers of an introductory biography may not be all that interested in the kind of tiny details that would make man a Brontëite's day. So in that respect, Gloria Fortún has done a wonderful work: she keeps things simple yet highly informative. All the basic information is there and should a reader want more, there are other biographies to provide that. The beginning, a fictional look at the Brontës arrival in Haworth, is a wonderful entrance into the world of the Brontës. Who really cares whether this is made up?
At that moment the door to a tavern called The Black Bull opened and out came a racket and light that momentarily blinded the girl. A man, probably encouraged by the beer he had just drunk, took off his hat as the carts passed by and greeted them with a pirouette. Charlotte looked at Emily and they both laughed. They were home.
If anything, the book is a bit too much of the falsely feminist side of things. It is one thing that Sabina Editorial's leit motif is 'libros que traen al mundo libertad femenina' (books which bring female freedom to the world) but quite another to claim that,
Branwell on the other hand was irresponsible and lazy, but his father paid for the best teachers and got him interesting jobs in which he made more money than his sisters did, without having to live in gloomy boarding schools or mansions of unfriendly families.
First of all, Charlotte also benefited from the 'best teachers' such as William Robinson, not to mention the fact that while Maria and Elizabeth were once sent to an expensive (too expensive as it turned out) private school and Charlotte, Emily and Anne later on attended Miss Wooler's school, it has never been satisfactorily proved that Branwell received any other education apart from what his father taught him at home with the exceptional help of tutors such as William Robinson. Not to mention the fact that, even though it was Aunt Branwell who paid for it, Charlotte and Emily got to carry on with their education in Brussels while Branwell never even left the country (possibly never even left the county!).

As for his jobs, despite having worked for what was then a novelty, the railway, and his brief stint as a portrait painter in Bradford, it must be recalled that Branwell also had his fair share of living in other people's house: he was a tutor in the Lake District and, more famously, he was also a tutor at Thorpe Green, home to Mrs Robinson.

Patrick is also given a rather Gaskellian personality but that shouldn't come as a surprise as it is still quite a common approach.

But the biography is of Charlotte and except for a small confusion(3) Charlotte's life is all there, told from a light, yet thorough, perspective and intriguing enough to pique even the youngest of readers' curiosity(4).

As we said above, the illustrations that fill nearly half of the book are by Isa Vázquez. These are wonderfully coloured and naive watercolours, not purporting to be real depictions of things but splendidly evocative all the same. A particular tip of the hat goes to the silhouettes, which are quite simply delightful: the deathbed scene on page 15 is intensely sad and while not strictly speaking a silhouette, the three figures in a Brussels square is brilliant as well.

The endpapers of the book should be mentioned as well as they are the opening lines of Jane Eyre in beautiful handwriting (though not Charlotte's own) and are as inviting as it gets.

In this day and age, when classics such as Jane Eyre are compulsory reads in many schools all around the world, this concise and anything but boring bilingual biography of its author should help parents (or aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and even teachers) get there before the 'compulsory read' mood settles in. All involved in reading it will have a delightful time while getting to know a key literary figure.

Notes

(1) We can't make up our minds as to whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that a book like this one needs a state subsidy in order to exist (in this case the Spanish Ministry of Culture). A good thing because it enables it to be published, a bad thing because that means that it doesn't have a wide enough readership to pay for its making.
(2) See for instance her intent at the end of the book:
Gloria Fortún has written this book because she admires Charlotte Brontë and wants to break with the false legend that she was a depressive woman. . .
(3) William Weightman and David Pryce (the curate who proposed to Charlotte after only an afternoon's acquaintance) are fused into one. Contacted by us, Gloria Fortún has admitted it was a mistake, but we think it is a useful poetic licence that prevents the story from heaping too much (unnecessary, really) information on those young ones' minds.
(4) And though for an earlier reading age group, don't forget that there's a board book of Jane Eyre coming out in April.

Comments :

2 comments to “ Charlotte Brontë - a review ”
Anonymous said...
on  

I am Isa Vázquez, the illustrator and a decided Brontëite. Thank you for your beautiful appraisal, it´s part of the wonderful adventure of being a part of the book.

Gloria Fortún said...
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Thank you, my dear friends!

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