After giving a copy of The Brontes: Wild Genius of the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family, by Juliet Barker, twice to my brother--once for Christmas and once for his birthday, because I had forgotten that I already gave it to him--I was thrilled that it was selected by the GoodReads Tuesday Read-Along group for September.
It's a long book--979 pages, not counting footnotes--but extremely readable. Barker did a bio of the entire family--patriarch Patrick, wife Maria Branwell, and all six children, five daughters and one son.
It was fascinating. I know the story of the Brontes well, having read a couple of bios, visited Haworth, and gone to the exhibit last year at the Morgan Library in NYC. Nevertheless, it was interesting to get a take on the story from someone who was curator and librarian at the Bronte Parsonage Museum for six years in the 1980s.
Barker did much to soften the image of Patrick Bronte from crusty, eccentric firebrand to crusty, but well-meaning father, and to mostly exonerate Branwell Bronte. She couldn't change the fact that he completely fell apart at the end of his life, but she did much to prove that he wasn't the spendthrift, thieving talentless wastrel that has been his role in the family for 150 years.
My only real gripe, but it was a doozy, was that Barker seemed bent on discounting and discrediting Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte. I found Barker's condescending tone with regards to Gaskell very annoying, especially since Barker bragged on the fact that she had access to documents no other biographer had and so was able to refute much of the myths surrounding the Brontes. It hardly seems fair to sneer at someone for getting the facts wrong when they had no access to the facts, and were reporting first-person remembrances.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I admire Elizabeth Gaskell, the novelist and the woman, so I did have a hard time understanding why Barker felt she had to prove that she was a superior biographer to Gaskell.
I don't want to end on a sour note--I did end up enjoying the bio immensely, tweaked my own view of the family as a whole, and am eager to read Villette, Shirley, and Agnes Grey, all of which have been on my TBR shelf for far too long.
|From the BBC film, To Walk Invisible|