Charlotte Bronte, A Passionate Life

Overview

“[The] contradictions in [Bronte¨’s] life are not only fully chronicled by Lyndall Gordon’s splendid new biography, but also gracefully explicated to give the reader a vivid and emotionally detailed portrait of the novelist and her work. . . . [Gordon] chooses to use her imaginative sympathies—honed to precision with earlier biographies of Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot—to delineate her subject’s rich interior life.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
This highly acclaimed biography looks beyond the insistent ...

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Overview

“[The] contradictions in [Bronte¨’s] life are not only fully chronicled by Lyndall Gordon’s splendid new biography, but also gracefully explicated to give the reader a vivid and emotionally detailed portrait of the novelist and her work. . . . [Gordon] chooses to use her imaginative sympathies—honed to precision with earlier biographies of Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot—to delineate her subject’s rich interior life.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
This highly acclaimed biography looks beyond the insistent image of the modest Victorian lady, the slave to duty in the shadow of tombstones. Instead we see a strong, fiery woman who shaped her own life and transformed it into art. Lyndall Gordon looks at the shared gifts and class ambitions of the Bronte¨ family, and also at significant people—the active feminist Mary Taylor, the demanding mentor Constantin Heger, the rising publisher George Smith—whom Charlotte strove to possess in life and fiction. Drawing on unpublished letters, the “Roe Head Journal,” early stories, the manuscript of Villette, and her last, unfinished novel, Lyndall Gordon explores the gaps in Charlotte Bronte¨’s life. How did she arrive at her understanding of passion from a woman’s point of view? Could she resolve the testing conflict between a writer’s life and a seemingly incongruous marriage to the devoted curate Arthur Bell Nicholls? Looking into the shadow between the facts, Gordon takes biography into that unseen space where this woman of genius was able to live.

Drawing on unpublished letters, her early stories, the Roe Head Journal, and the manuscript of Villette, her last, unpublished novel, this unconventional biography takes the reader into that dark unseen space in which this woman of genius was able to live. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this eloquent revisionist biography of English novelist Charlotte Bront (1816-1855), Gordon (Shared Lives) argues that she hid a passionate nature beneath the facade of a dutiful Victorian woman. She and her sisters Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) and Emily (Wuthering Heights) penned fiction and poetry during Yorkshire evenings at the Haworth Parsonage where they lived with their dictatorial father. Although the sisters initially published under male pseudonyms, Charlotte revealed their identities after she wrote Jane Eyre (1847). Gordon draws on letters and her analysis of Charlotte's autobiographical fiction (Shirley; Villette) to reveal an ambitious writer with tart humor who raged against the constraints society placed on her sex, as well as a woman who, after two unrequited love affairs, embarked on a brief but happy marriage. Earlier accounts that portrayed Charlotte as a lonely, tragic figure, Gordon maintains, were skewed because of the morality of the times and Charlotte's grief at the deaths of her two sisters and brother Branwell. Illustrations. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In this passionate take on the life of the undervalued English novelist Charlotte Bront, Gordon (Shared Lives, LJ 5/1/92) unfolds the painful tale of smoldering genius struggling to come to light. In the Victorian age, when women of little means or beauty were relegated for the most part to menial teaching professions, Charlotte and her sisters Emily and Ann (and brother, Branwell, though as a boy he had more opportunities) wrote in the cold, lonely parsonage of West Yorkshire where they grew up. Under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, they all published and soon after died-except Charlotte, who in 1849 received instant success with Jane Eyre, the novel which proved that a heroine could in fact be plain and passionate. Gordon's reconstruction of Charlotte's brief, tempestuous life reveals an admirably careful reading of her letters and novels, though she too summarily touches on the work of the other sisters. The suppressed rage of this "quivering mouse" is palpable on every page. A sterling biography for all collections.-Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
School Library Journal
YA-After her death, Charlotte Bront's father, husband, lifelong friends, and her first biographer set about to whitewash her character. While this may be a somewhat harsh evaluation, it does seem that the efforts of these original guardians of her legacy have served to lessen the impact of her personality and made the passionate life of Gordon's title into one befitting a proper and pious Victorian wife and daughter. In this fascinating look at her true motives and desires, Gordon shows that Charlotte continually desired to push to the limits the situation of women in Victorian life. In a readable and engrossing account, the author leads readers into the mind and even the soul of her subject. They can follow her development from a romantic, solitary child, happy only in the company of her siblings; through her life as a student, teacher, governess; and finally as a wife. YAs will come to understand why, in the end, she willingly sacrifices her art for her marriage. This is a vivid description of the place of women in Victorian society as well as an excellent biography. It includes extensive notes, a bibliography, both primary and secondary sources with much coverage of the Bronts' juvenalia, as well as photographs and sketches.-Susan H. Woodcock, King's Park Library, Burke, VA
Michiko Kakutani
[The] contradictions in [Bronte's] life are not only fully chronicled by Lyndall Gordon's splendid new biography, but also gracefully explicated to give the reader a vivid and emotionally detailed portrait of the novelist and her work… [Gordon] chooses to use her imaginative sympathy—honed to precision with earlier biographies of Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot—to delineate her subject's rich interior life.
New York Times
Brigitte Weeks
Intensely felt and argued… Bronte has found in Gordon a biographer whose intelligence and passion are worthy of her own.
Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393314489
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 456
  • Sales rank: 884,587
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Lyndall Gordon is the prize-winning author of T. S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life and Lives Like Loaded Guns. She is a Fellow at the Royal Society of Literature and a member of PEN. She lives in Oxford.

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