The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family

Juliet Barker. Pegasus (Norton, dist.), $39.95 (1,200p) ISBN 978-1-60598-365-3
In this updated edition of her landmark 1994 biography, Barker (former curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth and author of Agincourt) expansively narrates the story of a family that left an indelible mark on literary history. The epic volume begins with patriarch Patrick and moves through the lives of his most famous children: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. Despite their compulsive writing habits and creation of fantasy worlds, Barker emphasizes that the Brontës were a normal family, though one that suffered terrible tragedies. Barker restores a rich context to the writers and their works by recounting their education, creative collaborations, and frustrated love lives. Most fascinating is Barker’s attention to the pseudonymous publication and reception of the Brontës’ first poems and novels. Despite the implicit argument that to understand one Brontë requires understanding the others, Emily and Anne remain ciphers. But with extensive quotations from journals, manuscripts, letters, and other primary sources, Barker has performed a heroic feat of archival research, effectively exploding the mythology that inevitably grew to surround these brief, incandescent lives. While its level of detail and extensive footnotes will most appeal to scholars, Barker’s sensitive and elegant writing stimulates genuine pathos for the doomed family. The volume is sure to remain the most readable scholarly standard for years to come. Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, U.K. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/04/2012
Release date: 08/01/2012
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