This illuminating biography highlights just how much of Charlotte Bronte’s writing was influenced by her own life and experiences.
Having studied Jane Eyre while at school it seems a shame that it was only recently while reading this engaging if sombre biography of the author’s life that I realised just how little I knew about Charlotte Bronte and her sister’s lives – let alone how much of their experiences were placed in their most famous works.
Claire Harman’s detailed book really concentrates on the strong bond between all three sisters and their brother (particularly in childhood) and how each of them influenced each other’s novels including ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Jane Eyre’.
If the book is sombre in tone and tough to read about the hardships and loneliness that Charlotte (particularly after the death of her siblings) suffered, it is also a book that reveals the grit and determination of Bronte to succeed and become a published author.
Throughout the writing and style of the book, Harman ensures that Charlotte Bronte’s voice constantly comes through and doesn’t hold back from her flaws and social awkwardness but allows the reader to get slightly closer to the notoriously private author. The end result is a portrait of a woman who was extraordinarily forward in her attitude towards life and society as well as someone who changed the face of literature thanks to the success of ‘Jane Eyre’.
This carefully constructed book nicely contrasts details of Bronte’s own life with details from her works to reveal how much of her own life and the relationships she formed with people were used to help shape her writing.
Of course given the strong bond between the entire Bronte family (not one sister lasted long in governess posts and their brother Branwell flitted briefly from job to job), the biography is also by extension a biography about the entire family that also deepens the understanding of why Charlotte lived the way she did. But most interesting of all is the way in which Harman highlights the way in which each sister used each other’s works to develop their own novels effectively.
Overall, for a biography it might be sombre and gloomy in places but it is a deeply fascinating portrait of an author who was intensely protective of her privacy in life and who becomes slightly easier to understand thanks to Harman’s book.
Charlotte Bronte: A Life by Claire Harman is available to buy now.