cover image A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Bronte

A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Bronte

Katherine Frank. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $21.95 (302pp) ISBN 978-0-395-42508-4

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, ``a saga of . . . transcendent, death-defying love,'' is also ``a book profoundly concerned with food and hunger and starvation,'' observes Frank. Bronte's oft-celebrated mystical temperament, in Frank's persuasive diagnosis, was a manifestation of anorexia nervosa, as evidenced by her refusal to eat, her extreme slenderness, her retreat into an interior fantasy world. In an extraordinary, remarkably intimate biography that is as emotionally charged as a Bronte novel, Frank ( A Voyager Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley ) dismantles the conventional, rhapsodic family story of the storm-tossed Brontes. She deftly limns Emily's older sister, Charlotte, wracked by ``religious depressions''; her brother, Branwell, dosing himself with laudanum; and Anne, meekly reconciled to ``her assigned family role as the insignificant little sister.'' Emily Bronte emerges as a ``hunger artist'' who sustained a fragile illusion of control through self-denial, but also as a woman of courage and inflexible will, indifferent to the world's opinions. Illustrated. (Nov.)