THE BRONTS by Juliet Barker


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An unconvincing attempt to rehabilitate Reverend Patrick Bront‰ and son Branwell at the expense of Branwell's famous sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Previous biographies have depicted Reverend Bront‰ (1777-1861) as a remote Victorian patriarch and Branwell (1817-48) as a dissolute wastrel who squandered the family's scant resources while his talented sisters toiled as governesses. Barker, a former curator of the Bront‰ Parsonage Museum in England, strives to show Patrick as a concerned father and Branwell as a gifted artist who had no more financial backing for his training than his siblings received. Although the author succeeds in somewhat softening our impression of Reverend Bront‰, nothing she writes in Branwell's defense can negate the fact that he produced little and died young from drink. Nor do her unsympathetic portraits of Charlotte (1816-55) as bossy and sarcastic, and of Emily (1818-48) as a psychological cripple, reveal any traits that have not been addressed in more balanced fashion by modern biographers such as Winnifred G‚rin and Margot Peters. The author's attempts to build up youngest sister Anne (1820-49) as Charlotte's literary equal are embarrassing; it is typical of Barker's lack of critical perspective that she devotes endless pages to the Bront‰s' artistically negligible juvenilia and hardly any to Charlotte's key works (the groundbreaking bestseller Jane Eyre and the mordantly brilliant Villette) or to Emily's lonely masterpiece, Wuthering Heights. The ""wealth of material . . . never before used"" that she claims to have uncovered consists mostly of contemporary newspaper articles employed to give excessively detailed accounts of Patrick's local activities and a few recently discovered letters that add nothing of significance to the well-known story of the siblings' isolated lives on the Yorkshire moors and tragically early deaths. Carping over such trifles as whether Reverend Bront‰ really gave his children only vegetarian meals does not constitute a valuable new perspective on a much profiled family. Peculiar, even by the often weird standards of Bront‰ scholarship.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 1004pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's