A massive, almost certainly definitive biography that both demystifies and restores one of England’s most legendary literary families.
In this updated, entirely revised version of her 1994 biography, Barker (Conquest: The English Kingdom of France, 1417-1450, 2012, etc.) completely submerges herself in the world of her subjects, delivering a rich, illuminating group portrait of the real and imaginative lives of a family of writers: the father, Patrick Brontë, a Church of England parson, and his children: Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their legendary if lesser-known brother Branwell, a poet and painter. (Two other children died young.) Barker knows the Brontës and their 19th-century world on an intimate basis, almost as if she breathes the clammy air of the Haworth parsonage where they lived. She knows what they read and how they imagined. Barker pays especially close attention to the contemporary journalism, which had a demonstrable impact on the Brontës' own fantasy worlds of Angria and Gondal. The Brontës would, in turn, become myths themselves. Indeed, part of Barker’s ambition is to save the family from its legend. Her particular nemesis is the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, whose 1857 classic The Life of Charlotte Brontë, writes Barker, whitewashed Charlotte’s life, ignored or misread the lives of her siblings and depicted Patrick as a cranky, eccentric tyrant. Barker sees Charlotte as a selfish, manipulative literary genius; Patrick, the book’s major figure, is convincingly rendered as a dominant but loving father and a pioneer of liberal reform. While not a critical biography, Barker doggedly traces the inspiration of all the novels and, especially in Charlotte's case, astutely matches fiction to fact.
A triumph—it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever again getting quite this close to the Brontës.