It’s fair to say that virtually everyone who loves to read has at the very least heard of the Brontë sisters. The genius of Charlotte, Emily and Anne brought us the corner stone classics of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall– but what about the people behind the pages? Here’s 5 great reads to introduce the lives of the three Brontës:
1. The Brontës: A Life in Letters by Juliet Barker
The best way to learn about the real Brontës is to hear it in their own words. This collection of letters mainly focuses on Charlotte, with her chatty notes to friends as well as references to her unrequited love for one ‘Monsieur Hedger’. It also includes notes from Emily and Anne, as well as from their brother Branwell.
It was from a letter to her publisher that Charlotte writes the name taken for the new BBC drama To Walk Invisible, as she speaks of the joys of writing under a pen name:
“What author would be without the advantage of being able to walk invisible?”
2. The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller
Moving away from a simple biography, this book instead looks at different interpretations of the sisters over time, looking at the variety of works written about them, and trying to separate fact from fiction. Focusing mainly on Charlotte and Emily, The Brontë Myth discusses the art of the biography itself in relation to our changing perceptions of these authors.
3. The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier
Although this biography does not focus on one of the three sisters, the forgotten life of their brother Branwell seems to be a significant piece of their lives to recognize. Despite showing promise in childhood, Branwell suffered from a crippling drink problem and subsequent madness following an ill-fated affair. Unable to sell his paintings or publish his books, Branwell remains in the shadows of his sisters’ success. This moving account is made all the better by the fact that it’s compiled by du Maurier, the brilliant author of Rebecca -who could arguably rival even the Brontës.
4. The Brontë Sisters by Catherine Reef
If you’d prefer a biography in the more conventional sense, this is probably one of the best. Well-written and thorough, Reef’s account of the lives of the sisters covers Charlotte, Emily and Anne, as well as including Branwell. This book is made even more special with its collection of more than sixty black-and-white archival images included.
5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Although not strictly about the lives of the Brontës, this 1966 classic is essential reading to broaden the appreciation of Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre. This book acts as a prequel, finally giving a back-story and a voice to the ‘mad woman in the attic’ of Jane Eyre, Bertha Rochester. Exploring post-colonial issues of race and gender expectations, this book perfectly embellishes Charlotte’s original, as well as holding its own as a modern classic.
So there’s 5 great books to read to expand your view of the Brontës and their works- Happy Reading!
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h/t The Radio Times