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Charlotte Brontë. A Life200 years ago Charlotte Brontë, the 'tiny, delicate, little person, whose small hand nevertheless grasped a mighty lever which set all the literary world of that day vibrating' (as Anne Thackeray Ritchie once described her) was born. Much has been written about her ever since, and the bare facts remain the same, but the focus does change with the times and the different biographers. Elizabeth Gaskell portrayed her as she had portrayed her sisters herself: a wild creature shaped by her remote and world-forsaken circumstances, a misunderstood woman to be pitied. Over a century later, Charlotte was a genius for Winifred Gérin in her 1960s biography. Juliet Barker famously didn't like her very much and made it clear in her portrayal of her in her family biography The Brontës in the 1990s. Claire Harman's biography is the biography of the 2010s but also, importantly, of her bicentenary.
29th October 2015
little sense of perspective or the relation from one object to another--even of one limb to another--and it would be hard to find a worse depiction anywhere of a hand under a book on a table.She also tends to take some things for granted which may or may not be true but can't be known at this point. If she's basing her opinion on some previous source, then she fails to mention this. Here are some examples of her seemingly base-less assumptions:
Charlotte therefore found herself somewhat lost in the middle of her sibling group--not the paragon, Maria, not the reliable lieutenant Elizabeth, not the son and heir Branwell, not the endearing individualist Emily, not the baby Anne, who was most to be pitied, most motherless. (p. 36)
Perhaps the Gun Group was destroyed because it featured Branwell, whom Nicholls only knew from 1845 onwards and for whom he had no feelings other than disgust. (p. 82)
Miss Wooler was not sorry to see Emily go: she had found her queer and non-compliant. (p. 89)
[Speaking of Jane Eyre] for, as not many people notice, the action of the book starts in the 1810s (p. 237)Thus dismissing the many papers and essays and articles that have been written on the subject. Not many people 'notice' because there are many arguments for and against. And while on the subject of Jane Eyre, a book whose composition and writing are, in our humble opinion masterful, Harman considers that '[t]he Gateshead and Lowood episodes, for all their extraordinary power, certainly relate to the main narrative rather oddly'. We couldn't disagree more with this(3).
[Arthur Bell Nicholls] preserved many of Charlotte's manuscripts and mementoes as an act of private homage to a woman he remained intensely devoted to, but very few personal letters survive that were written to Charlotte and only one of hers to him (the preservation of which seems accidental) (p. 344)This one letter intrigued us as we had never before heard about it and couldn't trace it anywhere. We made some inquiries which eventually wound their way to Claire Harman herself. She replied that it was a mistake and that although it is too late to correct it in the paperback, it will be corrected in future editions.