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The fact that there has been no major biography of Charlotte for more than 20 years is an unusual hiatus in the ongoing saga of her reception. Claire Harman's new book has benefited hugely from this breathing space, and suggests that we have got beyond the need to demythologise the Brontës. With no particular interpretative or ideological axe to grind, Harman is able to tell the story straight, and to get rid of all argumentation and clutter.The Economist reviews it too.
And what a story it still is [...]
Harman steers a commonsense path, neither over-pathologising Charlotte, as some have done in the past, nor over-normalising her. She gives us Charlotte the Victorian woman cramped by the everyday limitations on her life; but she does not underplay the weird escapist intensity of the young Brontës' imaginative lives. This led to the creation of their private make-believe worlds of Angria and Gondal and opened the floodgates of what Charlotte called their "Scribblemania". The masturbatory eroticism of Charlotte's juvenilia, with its stories of Byronic rakes and their mistresses, ultimately caused her to experience a moral crisis over her addiction to fantasy. With such a well-known subject, it would have been a miracle had Harman found any significant new material; yet she adds freshness and texture to her account with some original speculations. She suggests, for example, that the teenage Charlotte used opium in the form of laudanum – then readily available over the counter – to enhance her obsessive visions (her brother Branwell, who began as the family's pride and hope, failed to fulfil his promise and went on to become an addict). [...]
As someone who once wrote a book about the Brontës' afterlives, few people can have read as many biographies of them as I have. I thought I was Brontë-ed out, but reading this book – which will be equally accessible to someone coming to Charlotte for the first time – has drawn me back in.
“Miss Austen and Thackeray have admirers; Charlotte Brontë has worshippers.” So it seemed to one critic half a century after her death. But it was less the novels than the life itself that stirred the public imagination. The lonely genius of the Yorkshire moors and her doomed sisters, Emily and Anne, touched a romantic nerve. So much so that Henry James was driven to complain that the Brontë legend had “fairly elbowed out” “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights”. A photograph in Claire Harman’s excellent new bicentennial biography, of a crowd jostling towards the Brontë parsonage when it first opened to the public in 1928, seems to bear him out. [...]The author presents today her book at the Words in Walden Festival and in the Sheffield Off the Shelf Festival:
No wonder, then, that Ms Harman’s Charlotte Brontë is angry. Anger explodes from her early journals and anger, she says, is the predominant emotion of “Jane Eyre”, the penniless orphan who is hired as governess to the ward of the mysterious Mr Rochester. Charlotte and Jane represented a new kind of woman. “Women are supposed to be very calm,” says her heroine; but neither she nor her author could keep quiet. Utterance was a necessity: “something spoke out of me”, says Jane, “over which I had no control”.
Ms Harman tells a story about a “bog burst”, a methane explosion on the moors when Ms Brontë was eight. The sense of a verbal substratum burning under the “feminine” crust runs through this biography, as it did through Lyndall Gordon’s brilliant study, “Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life” (1994). Ms Harman is less inward than Ms Gordon, but she brings to the theme an eloquence of her own—most movingly when Ms Brontë finds a language for the man she loved, Constantin Heger, the married French literature master at the Brussels school where she taught: “the union she craved with Heger was one of souls; a possession, a haunting, a living-through, a sharing of ideas, intensely verbal, profoundly silent...”
Ms Harman writes with warmth and a fine understanding of Ms Brontë’s literary significance. Above all, she is a storyteller, with a sense of pace and timing, relish for a good scene and a wry sense of humour. Here is the writer, but also the woman people knew—thick spectacles, bad teeth, slipping hairpiece and all.
Claire Harman: Charlotte Brontë - A LifeThe Trinidad and Tobago Guardian mentions writer Caryl Phillips and his novel The Lost Child.
7.30pm, Friday 30th October
Venue: Dame Bradbury's School Theatre
One of the protagonists in Phillips’ novel is Heathcliff, anti-hero of Emily Brontë’s equally canonical Wuthering Heights (which has already been reworked, or Creolised in Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé’s Windward Heights).
A major theme which emerged throughout the conversation, was immediately introduced by Phillips in his initial gloss—the personal and opportunistic elements of creative writing. He explained how after migrating to England with his parents in the 1950s he had grown up Leeds, in the north of England, ten miles from the West Riding village of Haworth, where the Brontë sisters lived.
For 15 years a picture of Emily Brontë sat on Phillips’ desk but there was no connection for him until years later he began to wonder about the “seven-year-old child who shows up on the docks at Liverpool,” one of the British city-ports built on the profits of the slave trade. (Simon Lee)
Nine pieces will be sculpted and on show across the city centre as part of the Discovering Bradford project.The Guardian discusses the North of England.
Jamie Wardley, of artists Sand in Your Eye, was working on a large sculpture of Emily Brontë at the city's Waterstones store today.
The group is importing more than 30 tons of sand for the displays, commissioned by Bradford Council, which are on show between November 5 and 12. (Mark Stanford)
Yet now, before you can say chippy northerner, plays about the north are like London buses. Suddenly there are two of them on at the same time at the National. First a pacy adaptation of Jane Eyre, and now [National Theatre’s new production of Husbands and Sons] three plays reshaped into one.The Creightonian on Crimson Peak:
Emerging three hours later, I wasn’t so sure. My problem wasn’t with Lawrence or his play or with the production, which was tense, tough and taut, especially about the lives of women in mining villages. What nagged me was that a southern audience might think the north is actually still like this, alongside a recurring suspicion that the south is somehow a bit too comfortable with a sepia-tinted retro view of a Brontë and Lawrence – and Coronation Street – north that bears decreasing relation to contemporary realities. (Martin Kettle)
Based on early trailers, “Crimson Peak” may look like the love child of “The Shining” and “Jane Eyre. [...]Les échos (France) considers Daphne du Maurier as halfway between the Brontës and Agatha Christie.
Fans of the Brontë sisters, people who like creepy period pieces and viewers who prefer more subtle scares will likely enjoy the movie.
FRIDAY 30 OCTOBER, 7.30pm
BRONTË PARSONAGE MUSEUM
Museums at Night:
Linger with Ailís Ní Ríain
To celebrate Museums at Night, experience the historic and atmospheric Brontë Parsonage by
candlelight. Visitors to this very special ticketed event will be welcomed with a glass of wine and
invited to explore the Museum after dark to the sounds of contemporary classical composer Ailís ní Ríain playing her new Parsonage-inspired compositions on Emily Brontë’s piano. This event promises to be completely unique, and to add to the intimate ambiance, numbers will be strictly limited.