“A wonderfully entertaining and often spellbinding account of . . . the process of mythification.” —The New York Times Book Review
Title: The Bront‘ Myth
Author: Lucasta Miller
Imprint: Anchor Books
“Absorbing. . . . Ms. Miller writes with such lucidity, wit and plain common sense that she is able to shed new light on the Bront‘s. . . . [An erudite and clearheaded book.” —The New York Times
In a brilliant combination of biography, literary criticism, and history, The Bront‘ Myth shows how Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bront‘ became cultural icons whose ever-changing reputations reflected the obsessions of various eras.
When literary London learned that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights had been written by young rural spinsters, the Bront‘s instantly became as famous as their shockingly passionate books. Soon after their deaths, their first biographer spun the sisters into a picturesque myth of family tragedies and Yorkshire moors. Ever since, these enigmatic figures have tempted generations of readers–Victorian, Freudian, feminist–to reinterpret them, casting them as everything from domestic saints to sex-starved hysterics. In her bewitching “metabiography,” Lucasta Miller follows the twists and turns of the phenomenon of Bront‘-mania and rescues these three fiercely original geniuses from the distortions of legend.
“A juicy new biography of the Bront‘ sisters. . . . Miller ticks off [the] dizzying shifts in the Bront‘ Zeitgeist with great erudition and wit. . . . Miller’s own scholarship is formidable, her voice informal and fresh.” —The Washington Post
“A brilliant, wide-ranging studyÉmeticulously researched, written with wit and relish, and packed with irresistible detail.” —The Times (London)
“Miller unravels the Bront‘ myth with tenacity, detail, and grace–from souvenir tea towels and Haworth Parsonage mugs to Hollywood visions of wind-swept moors. In the process, she restores life to Emily and Anne, and especially to Charlotte.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Provocative The Bront‘ Myth is a first-rate work of scholarship and criticism, and a surprisingly entertaining read. Thanks to Miller’s clearheadedness, it seems unlikely that the Bront‘s will ever again be marginalized into the spooky spinsters of the myth.” —San Jose Mercury News
“[An] ingenious book.” —The New Yorker
“Brilliant and rivetingÉ.Miller’s unputdownable and erudite book has not only left us with a clearer picture and greater understanding of the Bront‘s and the nature of biography, but tells us a lot about ourselves.” —Daily Mail (London)
“Sharply intelligent, original and wittyÉLiterary history is seldom related with such a pleasant combination of brio and erudition.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“Excellent. . . . Lucasta Miller strips away all those inaccurate accretions which have turned Charlotte, Emily and Anne into uncanny, coughing geniuses. . . . Miller’s book is so good, clever and necessary that, far from making biographical writing redundant, it shows us just how wonderful it can occasionally be. The Bront‘ Myth is essential reading.” —Sunday Telegraph (London)
“A witty deconstruction of Bront‘maniaÉdone with a deft, light touch..” —Guardian (UK)
Although the book is heavily indebted to recent Brontë scholarship (most notably Lyndall Gordon's superb 1994 biography Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life), Ms. Miller writes with such lucidity, wit and plain common sense that she is able to shed new light on the Brontës and the Brontë industry, while at the same time raising important questions about changing fashions in biography writing and academic scholarship. Michiko Kakutani
If Miller has a slant of her own, it goes like this: The Brontës (particularly Charlotte) were ambitious, talented, hardworking artists, self-conscious craftswomen who were fully aware of the impact of their fictions on the reading public, including the fiction of their pseudonymous identities and the carefully tended myth of rustic Yorkshire. To the modern ear, this may sound self-evident -- why would anyone doubt that two of the greatest novelists of the 19th century were conscious artists? -- but Miller's impeccably researched book shows us the extent to which the sisters have been deployed as ideological weathervanes, or (to use an image more appropriate to their much-discussed gender) handmaids of intellectual history.
Although a collaborative first book of poems sold only two copies, the Brontë sisters were in their own time subject to the kind of cult fascination that persists today, with thousands of pilgrims journeying every year to the Brontë home, in Yorkshire. Miller’s ingenious book traces this fascination, beginning with Mrs. Gaskell’s famous 1857 biography, which sought to excuse the “coarseness” of novels like “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” by embellishing details of the authors’ gothically miserable childhood. Miller provides a corrective—a biography of a biography—showing how successive generations, including Stracheyan, Freudian, feminist, and poststructural critics, remolded the Brontës to fit their own agendas. Like Mrs. Gaskell’s, these treatments often focussed more on the authors’ lives than on their work, in spite of Charlotte’s plea: “I wished critics would judge me as an author, not as a woman.”
In her Preface, British editor and literary critic Lucasta Miller observes that the authors of the classics Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights have themselves become "mythic figures." Her stated purpose is "to trace the historical route by which the Brontds' lives came to take on this unusual prominence." Her book is less a biography of the Brontds than it is a "book about biography." Miller suggests that over the years too much emphasis has been placed on the lives of the sisters and too little attention has been focused on their abilities to transform experience into art. While she does not claim that she can provide the absolute truth about the lives of the Brontds, she does offer an historical perspective of the myths surrounding the "three weird sisters," as Ted Hughes called them. Since Anne Brontd as an individual does not have the "mythic stature" of her sisters, the book concentrates mostly on Charlotte and Emily. Miller's examination is entertaining, thoroughly researched, and extraordinarily informative and insightful. The reader is reminded that the classic Brontd novels were originally published under male pseudonyms. Earlier, Charlotte had sent a few of her poems to Poet Laureate Robert Southey. In reply, Charlotte was told, "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life." Jane Eyre was published and caused an "immediate sensation." When it became known that Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights were, in fact, written by women, the accusations of "coarseness" generated by the emotional intensity of the books led to the beginning of the Brontd myth. Following the death of the last Brontd sister, Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of CharlotteBrontd, with its inaccuracies and half-truths, demonstrated the power of biography to shape public perception of the Brontds. Over the years, Brontd biographers have espoused a number of bizarre theories that Miller successfully debunks while offering her own more balanced and less fictionalized views. Miller suggests that we are "living in a golden age of Brontd scholarship" as errors, misunderstandings, and myths give way to historical accuracy and reason. Miller's work is an excellent example of that scholarship. KLIATT Codes: ARecommended for advanced students and adults. 2001, Random House, Anchor, 351p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 17 to adult.
Ever since Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte, the Bronte sisters have assumed a mythic stature that often exceeds that of their novels, sometimes approaching cult status. An ex-Hell's Angels' biker claimed at the 1994 meeting of the Bronte Society to channel Charlotte's spirit! Their lives have been the subject of many biographies but also the inspiration for numerous plays, poems, novels, movies, and television. Miller, deputy literary editor of the Independent, here offers what she terms a "metabiography" to trace the developing biographical image that informs the various myths, and to recover the writer's life of Charlotte, Emily, and to a lesser degree Anne. Miller is conversant with the various biographical readings of the Brontes-romantic, sentimental, psychoanalytical, feminist, Marxist, postfeminist, and even postcolonial-which she examines with clarity, insight, wit, and verve. Miller's book represents cultural studies at its best and makes for an important contribution to the specialist but also a joy to the enthusiast. Highly recommended.-T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.