Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, by Claire Harman. Published 2016 by Knopf. Nonfiction. Biography.

Award-winning critic and writer Claire Harman portrays the author of Jane Eyre as an introverted genius devoted to her craft and her family in this novelistic and deeply satisfying biography.

I don't read a lot of biographies, but when I do it's usually because I'm already a fan of the person being written about, so you'd have to get up pretty early in the morning to leave me dissatisfied. In other words, the chances of me not liking a book about the author of one of my favorite novels are pretty slim. That said, I did love Harman's new Brontë biography, which covers her entire, short life, from birth to the start of her life after death.

Harman portrays Brontë's family as close and inwardly-focused, dominated by the paterfamilias Patrick, a minister with a temper and a tight rein on his five children Maria, Branwell, Emily, Anne and Charlotte. Charlotte was very close to all of her siblings and a biography of her is in large part a biography of this family. Maria died too young to be a part of the creative hive that the remaining four developed later, which continued until Anne and Emily passed within months of each other. Branwell's story is also tragic, his life lost to alcohol and addiction and a hopeless and scandalous love affair. Charlotte's career was bumpier than I realized, even after the success of Jane Eyre, and she remained haunted by a failed love of her own, until she married and briefly settled down until her premature death in her mid-30s, possibly, Harman tells us, due to complications related to pregnancy.

Charlotte Brontë is absorbing read that held my attention completely; I read it at the gym so it was competing with a lot of ambient noise and I could only read it 45 minutes at a time, but I actually started working out more so I'd have more time for it. It's a treat to hear Brontë's voice through her letters and early writing and to learn about Brontë family, especially her father and sisters. Emily in particular seemed like someone with a rich interior life. Brontë's relationship with Elizabeth Gaskell, also an important Brontë biographer, is a big part of Brontë's adult and professional life. I'd recommend the book strongly to fans of any or all of the Brontës, or for anyone who likes a good character-driven novel. It would make a great brainy summer read.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Knopf.

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