Review: Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman

Published March 1st 2016 by Knopf

Hardcover, 462 pages

Source: Library 

25739007

A groundbreaking biography that places an obsessive, unrequited love at the heart of the writer’s life story, transforming her from the tragic figure we have previously known into a smoldering Jane Eyre.

Famed for her beloved novels, Charlotte Brontë has been known as well for her insular, tragic family life. The genius of this biography is that it delves behind this image to reveal a life in which loss and heartache existed alongside rebellion and fierce ambition. Claire Harman seizes on a crucial moment in the 1840s when Charlotte worked at a girls’ school in Brussels and fell hopelessly in love with the husband of the school’s headmistress. Her torment spawned her first attempts at writing for publication, and the object of her obsession haunts the pages of every one of her novels–he is Rochester in Jane Eyre, Paul Emanuel in Villette. Another unrequited love–for her publisher–paved the way for Charlotte to enter a marriage that ultimately made her happier than she ever imagined. Drawing on correspondence unavailable to previous biographers, Harman establishes Brontë as the heroine of her own story, one as dramatic and triumphant as one of her own novels.

What a short and sad life.  Really what sad and short lives all of the Brontë children had.  So much talent lost to consumption, to a strangely unhealthy family lifestyle and to opium in the case of Charlotte’s brother.  Though this book was about Charlotte it would be impossible to tell her story without the context of her family.  It was fascinating to read about the Brontë siblings writing and sharing as children and how that grew into the three sisters publishing as the Bells.  The letters that Harman accessed for source were moving and gave such thoughtful context to the eventual writing of Jane Eyre.  I suppose as a reader I should be thankful for the unrequited love in Charlotte Brontë’s early life because without that story there would be no Rochester and that would be a loss!    

I might not be raving about this book quite as much as Romantic Outlaws, but it was still fascinating to read about how really revolutionary Charlotte was for her time.  Really though in the end, I was just sad.  I wonder how much happiness Charlotte missed out on with her early death and how many books she might have had left to write.  I am absolutely more inspired now to read Vilette, reread Wuthering Heights to see if I can hate it less and to try Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Obviously I have to reread Jane Eyre as well.  A Fiery Heart felt long while reading, but despite the depth was really easy to lose myself in the Brontë’s world every morning.

Next nonfiction though will be Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell based on The Paperback Princess’s raves about it.  What biographies are you loving now? 

 

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Waiting on Wednesday — Bossy Sister Edition

Amanda

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause, Heath Hardage Lee

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From amazon.com:

Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis was born into a war-torn South in June of 1864, the youngest daughter of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his second wife, Varina Howell Davis. Born only a month after the death of beloved Confederate hero General J.E.B. Stuart during a string of Confederate victories, Winnie’s birth was hailed as a blessing by war-weary Southerners. They felt her arrival was a good omen signifying future victory. But after the Confederacy’s ultimate defeat in the Civil War, Winnie would spend her early life as a genteel refugee and a European expatriate abroad.

After returning to the South from German boarding school, Winnie was christened the “Daughter of the Confederacy” in 1886. This role was bestowed upon her by a Southern culture trying to sublimate its war losses. Particularly idolized by Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Winnie became an icon of the Lost Cause, eclipsing even her father Jefferson in popularity.

Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause is the first published biography of this little-known woman who unwittingly became the symbolic female figure of the defeated South. Her controversial engagement in 1890 to a Northerner lawyer whose grandfather was a famous abolitionist, and her later move to work as a writer in New York City, shocked her friends, family, and the Southern groups who worshiped her. Faced with the pressures of a community who violently rejected the match, Winnie desperately attempted to reconcile her prominent Old South history with her personal desire for tolerance and acceptance of her personal choices.

Seriously, could there be a better book for my sister to request (unless its one of my other 45 library recommendations)?  You’re welcome Holly.