THE BRONTES by Thomas Winnifrith


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The latest entry in Louis Kronenberger's Masters of Worm Literature series, this brief study begins reasonably enough by pointing out that some preposterous biographical-critical games have been played with the basically trivial Brontë juvenilia, and that the poetry has suffered from the same sort of inflation. Most sensible; but it is harder to tell what to make of Winnifrith's strictures about ""the biographical school"" by the time we get to the novels. Is the term also supposed to include the recent psycholiterary analyses of critics like Ellen Moers and Helene Moglen? And what is ""the feminist view"" which Winnifrith now and then mentions in the Brontë novels, as casually as if it were an Rh factor or some other simple component needing no definition? A patronizing air hangs alike over the treatment of Anne's undeveloped efforts and the mature novels of Charlotte; understanding the faults of The Professor is supposed to put us ""in the properly charitable frame of mind for Jane Eyre and Villette""! Understandably, it is Wuthering Heights that is treated with the most straightforward respect. But even here Winnifrith can't resist the concluding judgment that the work is ""in the last resort. . . incoherent."" As applied to one of the most fiercely purposeful works in the English language, this claim bespeaks some basic muddle of critical categories. Winnifrith can employ any critical method to suit the occasion, from biblical typology to ""Can this marriage be saved?""--but no method ever takes on a distinctly defined role. Even the undergraduate-term-paper audience, one suspects, will detect a certain lack of focus in an analysis which can tell us that ""the fact that Villette is not a well-known novel"" will always help to ""prevent it from achieving proper recognition."" Sadly insubstantial.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1977
Publisher: Macmillan