A gifted Yorkshire novelist tackles his region's most famous literary family, illuminating their inner lives and the sources...



A gifted Yorkshire novelist tackles his region's most famous literary family, illuminating their inner lives and the sources of their creativity. Hughes (The Rape of the Rose, 1993, etc.) lives not 20 miles from Haworth, staging ground for the Bront‰s' short, tragic lives, and he ably captures the harsh natural beauty and even harsher human attitudes that informed the siblings' writings. More importantly, he sensitively delineates their thorny personalities: Charlotte, furious at the world for the injustices it visited on a poor, plain parson's daughter, prone to turning her anger on her family before she found a more fulfilling outlet writing Jane Eyre; Branwell, weak and dissipated, but possessed of a genuinely loving heart; Emily, whose mystical connection with the Yorkshire landscape left little room for human ties; and gentle, devout Anne. Their father, the Reverend Patrick Bront‰, gets a more measured treatment than some biographers have accorded him; Hughes emphasizes his pride in his daughters over the selfishness that also characterized the minister. The author hews to the known facts about this much-profiled family, though he imagines some intriguing local tales as the foundation for Emily's Wuthering Heights and speculates intelligently about the emotional wellsprings of Charlotte's novels. Sensibly, he focuses more on the siblings' intense relationships among themselves and with the divine order (questioned by all four with anguish) than on their literary achievements, which have been amply examined by generations of critics. Although Hughes paints well-rounded portraits of Charlotte and Emily, he basically reiterates the conclusions drawn by such biographers as Winnifred G‚rin; he really excels in depicting Anne and Branwell, whose death scenes are almost unbearably moving. The author evokes with fierce passion the dreadful seven months in 1848-49 during which consumption claimed first Branwell, then Emily, and finally Anne, almost equalling in intensity Charlotte's ghastly letters from that period. Nothing really new here, but, still, a sensitive, full-bodied rendering of the always fascinating Bront‰s.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996


Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996