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A Fiery Heart
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Accomplished biographer Harman (Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, 2010, etc.) returns with a lively account of the life of Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855).

After the deaths of her two older sisters in 1825, Charlotte, at age 9, was the eldest of the four surviving Brontë children. Isolated in the parsonage at Haworth on the Yorkshire moors, they built for themselves a fantasy world centered on an imaginary African kingdom; their sojourns there over the years resulted in a torrent of related prose and poetry, written solely for each other in matchbox-sized books. As they matured, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne directed their literary talents to the depictions of more realistic topics, resulting in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and the other novels for which each ultimately became famous. Groundbreaking in many ways, their works were driven by fury at the constraints on occupational and social choices available to Victorian women and, upon their pseudonymous publications, aroused reactions ranging from astonished enthusiasm to disgust. Neither deferential nor awestruck, Harman clearly feels strong affection for these reclusive, dysfunctional siblings. She confidently makes sympathetic characters of Charlotte and her sisters, even while conceding that they were by all accounts difficult and generally unpleasant company. The author remains focused on her subject's life story, expending little space on general information about the historical setting and explaining just enough of the content of Brontë's novels that readers unfamiliar with them can understand their significance, the public’s reactions to them, and the extent to which Charlotte drew upon her own experiences in their production. She vividly portrays a life of loneliness, anguish, tragedy, and suppressed rage in serene and elegant prose with frequent flashes of ironic humor; the underlying scholarship is extensive but never obtrusive.

A delightfully engaging biography of a highly talented but deeply troubled prodigy of English literature.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-307-96208-9
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2016


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