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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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Criticism and rumours were already circling by the time Charlotte Bronte died in 1855. To set the record straight, Bronte pere and Charlotte's husband of less than one year, Arthur Bell Nichollls, engaged Mrs. Gaskell, herself a famous novelist as well as friend in later life, to write the official biography. After serious research--including travelling to Brussels to interview the French teacher for whom Miss Bronte conceived a passionate attachment--Mrs. Gaskell produced a portrait of a small, underdeveloped woman typically dressed in sombre colours, intelligent, passionate--never in public--devoted daughter and all-round good Christian. Much of the data is presented through letters from friends and relatives, even some of Charlotte’s own.

I was surprised by the lack of “gothic” elements usually found in descriptions of Miss Bronte’s (and her siblings’) early life. Seemingly the Bronte noir meme is a later construction. I was also surprised by the accusation of “coarseness” attributed to her novels. When Currer Bell was revealed to be a woman, and unmarried, reviewers, male and female, deemed her passionate stories unsuitable and stemming from displaced sexual energy. I understand that if Miss Bronte had been married when Jane Eyre was published, the novel (and authoress) might have been better received.

I think Charlotte Bronte was a classic INFJ (Myer Briggs type): the most important thing was to communicate the richness and passion of her inner life. This is borne out in records of her behaviour in society--quiet to the point of taciturn and dull, unless a subject close to her beliefs and principles arose at which point she could not prevent herself from joining in. Miss Bronte famously disliked the works of her close predecessor, Jane Austen, describing the stories as “on the surface” of life. Yet, Miss Austen’s characters change, develop and usually become wiser whereas Jane Eyre or Lucy Snow experience no similar kind of growth. I believe this confirms my INFJ type attribution : like the author, Jane and Lucy always possess full consciousness and full personhood; their goal is to find a partner worthy of their inner life and passion. Think of young Jane confronting Aunt Reed.

Whether or not Mrs. Gaskell hid details that would possibly detract from the portrait of the author as dutiful daughter and sole survivor of the Bronte siblings, does not affect the quality of her affection nor admiration for Charlotte.

On a sad note, Mrs. Gaskell reveals that Charlotte was pregnant when she passed away on March 31, 1855.

8 out of 10 Highly recommended to fans of Jane Eyre and Victorian fiction. ( )
1 vote julie10reads | Dec 31, 2014 |
This is a biography of Charlotte Bronte by her friend and contemporary author, Elizabeth Gaskell. I found the beginning of this book pretty hard to get through, i.e. boring ;-) , but it gets better as you read on. Charlotte Bronte had such a sad, lonely, secluded life. I felt bad for her, but also wished she could have just snapped out of it at a certain point. I know that sounds mean to say, but she sounds like a hypochondriac in this book - always having headaches and pains in her side. To be fair, she probably suffered from pretty severe depression and there was no way to treat that back then. Anyway, Gaskell sticks to Bronte's own voice by copying many of her letters. Those were neat to read. Gaskell also was writing close after Bronte's death, so she's careful not to judge anything or anyone too harshly and also tries to be as discreet as possible. Overall, I thought it was interesting to read a contemporary portrayal of Bronte written by a friend, but it wasn't thrilling to read. It's a good supplement to other biographies, but I wouldn't read it first. ( )
  japaul22 | Aug 7, 2014 |
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 |
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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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