Eccentric Musings (jakaEM)

"I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy." Emily Brontë


still figuring this place out - Jen W

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Currently reading

Friend of My Youth
Alice Munro
Progress: 115/288 pages
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Margaret Atwood

Reading progress update: I've read 708 out of 1184 pages (61%)

The Bront√ęs - Juliet Barker

Tragedy strikes. Branwell, Emily and Anne all die within 9 mos. of each other. So sad. This is making me want to read all of their books, all at once in a great, orgastic Brontathon.


For all the Brontophiles out there, I do have a question for you:  What are the two or three strongly-held beliefs you have about the Brontës and their lives, based on "common knowledge"? 


E.g., what do you believe about their father, Patrick?  About their brother, Branwell?  About each sister's personality? About the sisters' relationships with each other?


I ask because, this is the only biography I've ever read of the Brontës so I don't know where Barker is overturning commonly-held beliefs and where she's shoring up existing knowledge.


I am finding Barker's style, which is original-source, evidence-based, very compelling in that she does not hesitate for a second to call out previous biographers - esp. Gaskell - for their incorrect assumptions or interpretations. Yet at the same time, I feel she's drawing her own conclusions too - sometimes, she almost seems to be 'proving the null hypothesis' - where she can find no evidence to support a conclusion, she'll say, it must not have happened; or it must not have happened that way. This may be totally valid.  Or it may be her own bias coming out. Her agenda may be one of repairing the reputations - esp. of Patrick and Charlotte.


She glosses over some stuff that seems to need more explanation. In particular, what happened in the years leading up to Branwell's death that turned Charlotte from his closest ally and literary partner to someone who seems cold and compassionless until she totally LOSES it upon his death and finally grants him a morsel of sisterly understanding?


Barker seems intent on showing Charlotte's support for Emily's talent and writing (she acknowledges that C dismisses Anne's work pretty much out-of-hand). She talks about how Charlotte was the driving force behind the sisters being published in the first place; she documents how Charlotte tried to get Anne and Emily to move to her publisher when their own was not publishing WH and AG quickly enough, nor paying them enough. She shows the extraordinary lengths Charlotte went to to honour Emily's desire for anonymity. She positions Charlotte's prefaces to the two sisters' works after their deaths not as undermining their value (as others seem to believe? As an indication of C's professional jealousy toward her other sisses, esp. E?), but as a way to protect and defend their reputations against the harsh criticisms levelled at both. She positions Charlotte as their literary advocate, in other words.


Barker only grudgingly acknowledges that it seems pretty clear that Charlotte destroyed Emily's second novel after her death. Barker concludes that it is likely that Charlotte did not believe the subject matter / topic of Emily's second book would reflect well on Emily's overall legacy/talent. I dunno if I buy that and ...




And ...


OMG CHARLOTTE DESTROYED IT!!!! Is that colossal arrogance or just a really crazy grief response?  Some combination of the two? Something else?