& Nicolson, 1994: ISBN: 0-297-81290-4
Phoenix Giants, 1995: ISBN: 1-85799-069-2
US: St Martin’s
Press, 1994: ISBN: 0-297-81290-4
St Martin’s Griffin, 1996: ISBN: 0-312-14555-1
Japan: Sairyusha, 2006: ISBN: 4-7791-1203-6
Juliet says: "If anyone had asked me what was my ambition when I was a teenager I would have said that it was to write a biography of the Brontës. I had been immersed in the Brontës since childhood, and, living near Haworth, loved the landscapes that had inspired them as much as their novels. I always thought it would be impossible to realise my dream: so many books had already been written – how could there be room for one more?
It wasn’t until the 1980s, when I was working at the Brontë Parsonage Museum as the librarian and curator, that I realised just how much unpublished manuscript material there was available, particularly for the hitherto vilified men in the Brontës’ lives – their father Patrick, brother Branwell and Charlotte’s husband Arthur Bell Nicholls. I also realised that the published editions of letters, juvenilia and poetry upon which most previous biographers had relied were incomplete and unreliable. When I left the museum in 1989 I therefore made it my mission to track down as many of the manuscripts as possible and transcribe them as accurately as I could. This was especially difficult in the case of the juvenilia, not just because of the minute size of the handwriting but because the manuscripts had been divided up and sold off page by page to different collectors. Reconstructing them was like doing an immense jigsaw puzzle but the reward was to see Branwell emerge as the leader and originator of the Brontës’ childhood stories: where he led his sisters followed and without him there would have been no Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights or Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
As a historian it was also clear to me that previous biographers had also neglected to make full use of the historical records available. The most valuable source turned out to be local newspapers, which revealed not only many original Brontë contributions but also a wealth of information which radically changed the received view of what Haworth was like at the time. Mrs Gaskell’s description of a remote village cut off from civilisation and caught in an eighteenth century time-warp turned out to be completely wrong: Haworth was a busy industrial township with dozens of working mills, a thirst for self-improvement (fostered by an enlightened and self-educated Reverend Patrick Brontë) and a thriving arts culture, particularly in the field of music.
Rather to my own surprise, therefore, I discovered not only that was there room for a new biography of the Brontës but that it was an absolute necessity to set the record straight. Time to put Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë back on the fiction shelves where it belongs! "
What the cover says: The story of the tragic Brontë family is familiar: we all know about the half-mad, austere and repressive father, the drunken wastrel of a brother, wild, romantic Enily, unrequited Anne and Charlotte, the sole survivor, virtually imprisoned by her father’s demands. Or do we?
Juliet Barker’s landmark book is the first definitive history of the Brontës – and it demolishes many myths. Based on eleven years of research among newly-discovered letters by every member of the family, original manuscripts and the newspapers of the time, it gives a radically new picture of the Brontës’ lives from beginning to end.
Haworth was not a village at the edge of civilization, populated by coarse and drunken savages: it had a thriving cultural life of libraries, musical societies and lectures. Its hardworking and concerned parson, Patrick Brontë, was a loving father who took part in his children’s game, and a tireless campaigner for liberal reforms. His was by no means a family of victims. Charlotte, ruthlessly self-willed, did not scruple to use her father as an excuse, to run roughshod over her sisters’ wishes, nor indeed to alter or destroy their manuscripts when she disapproved of them. Emily, self-absorbed and unyielding, was so psychologically and physically dependent on her fantasy life that she could not survive in the outside world – and did not have to. Gentle Anne had a core of steel: as a writer she was more daring and more revolutionary than Charlotte. Branwell, the much-loved brother, was a talented poet whose innovative childhood writings were the source of much of Charlotte’s inspiration.
Barker’s The Brontës is a spectacular achievement: a vivid picture of
nineteenth-century Yorkshire, a treasure trove of new information, including
newly-discovered poems and letters by Patrick, Branwell, Emily and Anne,
published for the first time in this book – and, most of all, an
engrossing and intimate chronicle of an astonishingly creative family, which
will remain the definitive biography for many years to come.
Reviews of The
‘A New York Times Notable Book of the Year’
‘This landmark study of the Brontës not only breaks new
ground in its depiction of the life and times of the legendary family, but
reads with all the pulse and throb of a novel … Anyone fascinated by the
Brontës cannot fail to read this book. It is indispensable to understanding
them, their world, their uniqueness … Barker has made a massive contribution to
The Los Angeles Times
‘The most comprehensive study yet written … [which] provides
a huge amount of new material. It is very long and very thorough, a brilliant
book which shows great understanding of the sisters’
Denis Healey, Pick of the Year 1995, The Sunday Times
‘The Brontës is an outstanding achievement, a
magnificent portrait which not only contains a wealth of important new
material, but is also a delight to read … Barker has established what must now
be the definitive Brontë chronology so convincingly that it is hard to imagine
it ever being surpassed’
Rebecca Fraser, The Times
‘a monumental book: patient, thoughtful, sustained and bound
to become indispensable’
Andrew Motion, The Times Literary Supplement
‘As a work of scholarship it is brilliant … for those with a
passion for the Brontës, or for Victoriana, or for sheer wealth of historical
minutiae, it is a stupendous read’
Independent on Sunday
‘A joy to read … The Brontës is a magnificent
achievement: the finest biography I have read for years’
The Literary Review
‘It reads so entertainingly that sometimes I felt that the
author’s long communion with Charlotte had let her absorb exactly the same
spirit. It is full of life and sparks’
Jane Gardam, The Spectator
Links: Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth & Brontë Society: www.bronte.org.uk