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Juliet R.V. Barker

Författare till Agincourt: The King, The Campaign, The Battle

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Inkluderar namnet: Dr. Juliet RV Barker

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This very comprehensive biography of the Bronte family is a very hefty tome and in small print, with many chapter notes at the back, but was well worth the effort of reading. I found it very informative, and it was also a useful corrective of Daphne Du Maurier's short biography of Branwell Bronte, tackled at the same time - plus it will be again when I get round to reading Mrs Gaskell's famous biography of Charlotte.

The book starts with Patrick Bronte, father of the family, as a young man going to one of the colleges in Cambridge. As an Irishman, and from a not-wealthy background, he had done well to obtain an education in Latin and Greek - which anyone going to such a university had to have in those days - and to win a scholarship. With his hard efforts, he won prizes every year to supplement his grant, but still had to survive on a shoestring. Eventually he graduated and was able to apply to be a clergyman in the established church (Church of England). He then started on a series of jobs as a curate and worked his way up to being the vicar of Haworth, the town made famous by its Bronte association, where he served for many years.

Patrick has apparently been much maligned because of unsubstantiated stories about him in Mrs Gaskell's biography, which relied on malicious gossip from those with various axes to grind, including a servant sacked for unsatisfactory service and Charlotte's friend Ellen Nussey who wanted to monopolise Charlotte and was extremely jealous of her eventual husband. With the documented sources used in this biography, which includes local newspaper reports and the letters Patrick wrote urging reform of various social ills of the day, he comes across as a very tolerant clergyman who had a great deal of sympathy for the poor of his parish and for the Dissenting movements (non Church of England), and who held much more conciliatory views than most of his contemporaries. He campaigned for education of the local people and for improved sanitation - in a deplorable state in the town and causing a lot of premature death - and worked very hard for a comparatively low salary into old age, when he was forced by frailness and failing sight to hand over to the curate who eventually became Charlotte's husband. His only real faults are that as a younger man he had had rather unrealistic ideas about his eligibility as a marriage partner.

His children are each delineated although, as the author says, there is a paucity of material on Emily and Anne, resulting in previous biographers taking at face value Charlotte's published statements about them - which portray Emily as a wild, free spirit and Anne as a patiently enduring, rather depressive woman with strong Christian views whose talent wasn't a patch on Emily's. However, Barker is able to show that a lot of this over praises Emily, who had a selfish side and was content to live at home and keep house while her siblings had to work away on jobs they hated, and does injustice to Anne who had a tough, practical streak and was (certainly from what I am seeing now, being in the process of reading 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall') a much more talented writer than Charlotte was prepared to admit. Their early deaths, together with the ruin of their sole brother, Branwell, are a tragedy, but Barker also shows that Branwell lacked the industry and perseverence of his sisters and had an arrogant sense of entitlement which alienated the publishers of Blackwell's Magazine and others to whom his early attempts at being published were directed.

Barker destroys a few myths created in biographies such as du Maurier's, and establishes that Mrs Robinson, wife of Branwell's last employer, was culpable in the love affair which he blamed for his sacking. It was this and the dashing of his pie-in-the-sky hopes that Mrs R, widowed shortly after, would ever consider marriage with him rather than the lord to whom she promptly attached herself, that drove him into the bottle and the laudanum phial. Branwell was the first of the siblings to die, followed shortly afterwards by Emily and Anne, a sad sequence to read.

An interesting aspect is the depiction of Charlotte's stubbornness and almost bullying tactics in forcing her sisters to publish their poetry, then novels. She went so far, after their deaths, as to rewrite parts of their work, especially Anne's poems, and deplored her two sisters' choice of subject matter for their novels, which had been considered scandalous by many critics. She produced very odd defences of this, portraying them both almost as unlettered simpletons, cut off from any society - Barker shows that the area, although deprived, had a thriving cultural climate including libraries, lecture rooms and concerts - and despite the fact that both had received an education as good as Charlotte's own: Emily alongside Charlotte in Brussels, and Anne at school with Charlotte. In Anne's case she was even able to teach basic Latin to her pupils when a governess, which was unusual as this was usually taught by male tutors. In fact, it seems that Emily had at least commenced on a second novel and it is likely that Charlotte destroyed it, as it would have contributed further to her sister's bad reputation from the then-shocking "Wuthering Heights".

Charlotte also suffered from depression and hypercondria. I did wonder whether Branwell's swings from high spirits to depression might have been due to bipolar disorder (or as it would have been termed at the time this biography was published in the 1990s, manic depression) and also whether Charlotte had a touch of this too though not to the same degree as she was able to pull herself out of her lows by hard work. Both siblings did form unsuitable attachments and were desperately unhappy as a result, although Charlotte did manage to control her feelings more than Branwell despite sending lovelorn letters to her ex-Professor in Brussels and becoming rather too close to her sympathetic publisher. This tendency did, however, impact her ability to write anything, especially after the loss of her sisters, which threw her into a deep depression, especially when the anniversary of their deaths arrived. It was heartening to see that her all-too-short marriage to Arthur, the curate, was happy despite her initial doubts about accepting his proposal, but it was cut short by her wasting away from pregnancy-related uncontrollable vomiting, something the biographer speculates could have been triggered by an infection which in modern times would have been curable.

The book finally winds up with the fates of the two men in the parsonage - Patrick and his son-in-law Arthur who took care of him, carried out all his duties, and was treated disgracefully when Patrick died. It also describes the start of the Bronte cult with all the attendant myths, mostly derived from Mrs Gaskell's biography.

On balance I have rated this at 4 stars as I did find the lack of any suggestion of bipolar disorder affecting the two best-documented Bronte siblings rather an omission. There were also so many people to keep track of, especially clergyman colleagues of Patrick's, that it wasn't always possible to remember who someone was when reintroduced later. But other than that, it was a very satisfying read.
… (mer)
kitsune_reader | 16 andra recensioner | Nov 23, 2023 |
Really, really massive biography. Though personally I found myself less interested in the political and religious context than the personal, it was thorough and incredibly well-sourced. No wonder it's considered the definitive biography of the Brontes.
I neglected other books on hand in order to finish it in under a month... very compelling, but due to the length, best suited to intense enthusiasts!
Alishadt | 16 andra recensioner | Feb 25, 2023 |
Second read, 2022: Reading Charlotte's letters is an Experience, which age cannot wither, nor custom stale (to borrow from Shakespeare). I find myself just as riveted and reflective the second time through, if not more so. So much of what she says goes straight to the heart and resonates there.
It's an odd feeling (and of questionable soundness) to be reading private letters at a remove of nearly 200 years and think, "This person is my friend," and yet that is the power of Charlotte's writing. At least for me. So much so that, paradoxically, I'm even uneasy with the fact that they've been published and that I'm able to read them. Part of me is always like, "She wouldn't like this..."
But I do love these letters so.

Original review from 2018:

I find the Brontes utterly fascinating. And their letters are as captivating as I would expect.
This book is almost entirely made up of letters, with a few editorial asides to explain context as needed. And really, how could one ever learn about them better than through their own words?
Most of the letters are Charlotte's. She's the only one of the sisters who really managed to develop strong friendships outside the home (thus giving her people to write to). There are letters and diary papers giving tantalizing glimpses of Anne and Emily, but they remain mysterious as ever when all is said and done.

If you've ever read Jane Austen's letters, you may have felt as I did that they are a tad... disappointing (though who wants to admit that they found Jane Austen's letters disappointing??!). She is a correspondent who relays mundane facts and sometimes skewers people with her satire, but one doesn't feel that she is opening her heart. Why do I bring that up? Because that is not the case with Charlotte Bronte's letters. She is earnest, thoughtful and passionate, and the words seem to spill from her heart directly to her paper.
(Incidentally, people kept telling her she should read Jane Austen, but they weren't compatible from a literary point of view. Charlotte found Austen's novels well crafted, but felt that her characters were too distant and their emotions too tidy. Her critique needn't offend ardent Austen fans... she isn't dismissive; she merely differs.)

But ANYWAY, this is not about Austen, this is about the Brontes. I'm still no closer to understanding how they learned to write with such power, but Charlotte's letters do make me feel that she would be my friend. As any biography of the Brontes must be, it's by turns tragic or triumphant, but always relatable.
… (mer)
Alishadt | 5 andra recensioner | Feb 25, 2023 |
A detailed biography that is sympathetic to the great Romantic poet. A huge amount of research. Vast supply of notes and references. Juliet Barker treats her subject with respect and objectivity. I enjoyed it, despite having to make a determined effort to complete the reading.
The cast of relations and friends is massive, so much so that often one is lost for remembering who is related to whom, in a welter of cousins, in-laws and the families of friends.
What stands out is the prodigious walking these Lakeland people did; the elaborate and long trips they made (before and after the introduction of the railway) and the truly exhaustive hospitality that they provided and expected. The Wordsworths were so often at the mercy of sudden debt or financial misfortune that one must admire their resilience and unfailing ability to assist each other when illness, death and disaster struck.
Alongside this of course, is the creation of the poetry by WW himself and Barker plots this progress thoroughly.
… (mer)
ivanfranko | Oct 26, 2020 |



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