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The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth…
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The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857)

by Elizabeth Gaskell

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After her first meeting with Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell wrote the following in a letter to a friend:

"She and I quarrelled & differed about almost every thing,-she calls me a democrat, & can not bear Tennyson- but we like each other heartily I think & I hope we shall ripen into friends."

...If that sentence doesn't fill you with love and make you excited to read this book, then there's probably no hope for you at all.

This book is a lot more than a biography of Charlotte Brontë. Some of the other topics it touches on, directly or by way of object lesson: feminism/women's place in art and society, the limits and pitfalls of biography, censorship, myths about the Brontës, celebrity, the balance between being a writer and being a person, railway speculation, the history of Haworth, outdated Penzance fashions. It is a heady brew of awesomeness.

Charlotte's letters to her friends and publishers are the main draw here. They're well-chosen to convey her personality--wry, critical, kind, anxious. Props to Ellen Nussey for not destroying Charlotte's letters even under pressure from Arthur Bell Nicholls. I love, love, love thinking about these boss ladies writing letters back and forth, exchanging books and their opinions of them, and being dear friends. I love George Smith and his thoughtful book selections, too.

The introduction by Jenny Uglow in this edition is good and not too long. However, Graham Handley's "other critical apparatus," as the cover so obnoxiously describes it, is not that great. The endnotes often point out the obvious while neglecting interesting subjects. Also, unless you speak French, I'd recommend looking out for an edition that translates the French letters and exercises, at least in summary.

Especially in the early part of the book, you can see where Gaskell got some of the material she uses in her own novels, but this doesn't have the tone or style of her other prose. Still, it's pretty great. You can argue that the book has well-documented issues, but it was Victorian England after all, and by now I think its issues are part of its charm. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
A fascinating read, especially considering it was written by someone who was Charlotte's friend. I had no idea that Charlotte Bronte's life was so difficult and tragic. Reading about her life gave me a new perspective on her works (which I love and enjoy), as well as on those of Emily and Anne Bronte. ( )
  emanate28 | Feb 14, 2013 |
This is considered to be a very sympathetic and romantic biography--virtually a scrapbook of Charlotte's life. If you are looking for literary criticism and strict adherence to the known facts, then this is not the book for you.
  TrysB | Jun 23, 2012 |
First published not long after Bronte's death - Gaskill was a contemporary and a friend - the first edition suffered controversy, as many of the people referenced were still alive, and some objected to their inclusion. This edition is the 1st edition, with plenty of detail in the appendix to detail the differences with the changed 3rd edition.

Volume 1 details Bronte's younger years; with much contextual narrative as to both the Yorkshire people's personality type and that of the immediate family; the death of some of her siblings, and her mother at an early age; the solitude the family seemed to prefer and the ill health they all seemed to suffer from. The education is also covered - Charlotte's early schools giving inspiration for Lowood in Jane Eyre for instance. Time is also spent in Brussels learning French and German and provides yet more inspiration for those Bronte girls who were there (e.g. for "The Professor" and "Vilette".) [I am disappointed that this edition does not provide translation of those passages in French for those of us whose French is weak!]

Volume 2 was much more interesting for me. This is the time that Jane Eyre (along with Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey) is published. Less input now from Gaskell, with much of the Volume II provided by letters written by Bronte herself, and shows to some extent how she deals with the fame of having written such a book as Jane Eyre, along with dealing with all the gossip about whether the Bell family are male or female. At the same time she has to deal with her three remaining siblings dying in relatively quick succession ( ( )
1 vote nordie | Sep 15, 2011 |
As with all family friends there is some degree of bias in a story that they will tell pending on who they preferred in the family. I have read a good number of biographies on the Bronte sisters and Gaskell's does portray a poor representation of the father of the Bronte Sisters and this is based on personal dislike as opposed to fact.

But on the flip side of this you get a context and a tone that you do not from other Bronte biographers, in that Gaskell personally knew Charlotte, knew her sisters and had experience of her life at the Parsonage, and for that reason it is essential reading for those wanting an insight into the life at the Parsonage. As those who visit the Parsonage on literary pilgrimages know there is very much a lack of detail in the museum itself and even fewer helpful guides. So prior to visiting the Parsonage this is an ideal companion. ( )
  esoldra | Jul 16, 2011 |
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Gerin, WinifredEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430997, Mass Market Paperback)

Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857) is a pioneering biography of one great Victorian woman novelist by another. Gaskell was a friend of Charlotte Bronte, and, having been invited to write the official life, determined both to tell the truth and to honour her friend. She contacted those who had known Charlotte and travelled extensively in England and Belgium to gather material. She wrote from a vivid accumulation of letters, interviews, and observation, establishing the details of Charlotte's life and recreating her background. Through an often difficult and demanding process, Gaskell created a vital sense of a life hidden from the world. This edition, based on the revised Third Edition of 1857, collated with the manuscript and the First Edition, and taking account of the Second Edition, offers fuller information about the process of writing and fuller elucidation of the text than any previous edition. For the first time, all the French passages are translated, and detailed annotation covers biographical and historical material, references, and allusions.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:34 -0400)

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Presents the 1857 version of Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of her fellow author Charlotte Bront, and includes a critical introduction, and notes on subsequent variations.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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