CHARLOTTE BRONTE by Lyndall Gordon


A Passionate Life
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 A highly wrought biography depicting a literary woman's self-authorship. Veteran literary biographer Gordon (Eliot's New Life, 1988, etc.) shows Charlotte Brontâ (181655) transmuting her deadening life into the flame and flesh of great fiction. The early death of her mother, Maria, in 1821, followed by the loss in 1825 of her two older sisters, 11-year-old Maria and 10-year-old Elizabeth, left young Charlotte to care for the remainder of her family and to ``shape herself,'' as she later did her fiction. Although self- described as the `` `puniest' of Papa's children,'' Charlotte outlived her n'er-do-well brother, Branwell (181748), and sisters Emily (181848), author of Wuthering Heights (1847), and Anne (182049), author of Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). The remote locale and inhospitable climate of the English moors were put to creative use by Charlotte, firing her fortitude and determination to write despite the obstacles that a woman of talent and ambition faced in Victorian England. In Gordon's account, Charlotte endured the numbing toil of two positions as governess, first in 1838 and again in 1841, and transformed these draining and disappointing attempts at economic independence into vital aspects of Jane Eyre (1847), her most famous novel, and Shirley (1849). As a teacher in Brussells from 1842 to 1844, Charlotte's unrequited love for the married headmaster of the Pensionnat Heger school resulted in the first of several depressive episodes and also sparked her first novel, The Professor (written in 1846, published in 1857), and illuminated aspects of her last, Villette (1853). Gordon gives us a Brontâ who forged self and work alike by dint of an inner fire, previously unseen within mythologies of the Brontâ family. The book certainly earns its subtitle: Gordon writes with such high drama that her language and imagery threaten to overwhelm her themes.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1995
ISBN: 0-393-03722-3
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994


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