The wild freedom of the imagination and the heart, and the tragedy of lives ended just as success is within view—such a powerful story is that of the Brontë children.
Reef’s gracefully plotted, carefully researched account focuses on Charlotte, whose correspondence with friends, longer life and more extensive experience outside the narrow milieu of Haworth, including her acquaintance with the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, who became her biographer, revealed more of her personality. She describes the Brontë children’s early losses of their mother and then their two oldest siblings, conveying the imaginative, verbally rich life of children who are essentially orphaned but share both the wild countryside and the gifts of story. Brother Branwell’s tragic struggle with alcohol and opium is seen as if offstage, wounding to his sisters and his father but sad principally because he never found a way to use literature to save himself. Reef looks at the 19th-century context for women writers and the reasons that the sisters chose to publish only under pseudonyms—and includes a wonderful description of the encounter in which Anne and Charlotte revealed their identities to Charlotte’s publisher. She also includes brief, no-major-spoilers summaries of the sisters’ novels, inviting readers to connect the dots and to understand how real-life experience was transformed into fiction.
A solid and captivating look at these remarkable pioneers of modern fiction. (notes and a comprehensive bibliography) (Biography. 12-16)