Writer: Karen Smith Kenyon
Publishing House: Endeavour Media
Date of Publication: July 1st 2018
‘’Must I from day to day sit chained to this chair, prisoner within these four bare walls, while these glorious summer suns are burning in heaven and the year is revolving in its richest glow and declaring at the close of every summer day it will never come again?’’
This exquisite little book came to me by chance (thanks to the amazing Hannah Groves from Endeavour Media) when I reviewed ‘’Murder In Friday Street and what a lovely coincidence it proved to be! I fell in love with it from the moment I saw the beautiful photo of the Brontë house in Haworth, one of the many beautiful sketches and photos included in the biography. I admit I felt slightly apprehensive. I always proceed with caution when it comes to biographies because authors often project their own assumptions through the text, sometimes in an almost vulgar manner. Thankfully, this was not the case here. After reading the Author’s Notes, I was confident I was in good hands.
(Haworth, the West Yorkshire parsonage which was home to Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte. Image source: http://www.countrylife.co.uk/articles/bronte-sisters-parsonage-haworth-146543)
‘’In life and death, a chainless soul,
With courage to endure.’’
The Old Stoic by Emily Brontë
Centered around the three Brontë sisters, the writer paints the portrait of the entire family. The influence of Branwell and Patrick is evident in the life and work of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. Although Charlotte takes the lion’s share in the biography (and understandably so), Kenyon clearly shows why each work was born by each sister. We can understand the tenderness of Charlotte, the wild spirit, freedom, and passion of Emily, the sweetness and quickness of Anne. I appreciated the fact that Kenyon focuses on the details that are relevant to the literary life of the sisters, avoiding any unnecessary comments and gossips. I found the chapter about Charlotte and Emily’s visit to Brussels very interesting in terms of the different attitudes of the two sisters regarding teaching, love, and society.
(The statue representing the 3 Bronte sisters in the garden behind the Museum. Image source: https://www.bestofengland.com/the-bronte-parsonage-museum/)
This is the kind of biography that creates various feelings in the soul of the reader. I never trust biographies and non-fiction books that leave me indifferent, as if I was reading an academic textbook. With this book, I felt a deep sadness reading about Branwell’s troubled, tortured demeanor and the ways he possibly inspired and influenced crucial moments in his sisters’ works. And a tense anger was always present due to the disgusting notion of the past, primarily adopted by men who wanted women to appear as creatures incapable of any thoughts whatsoever.
Patrick Branwell Bronte (26 June 1817 – 24 September 1848)
‘’Riches I hold in light esteem
And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream
That vanished with the morn.’’
The Old Stoic by Emily Brontë
Obviously, the parts I was more interested in were dedicated to Emily who ‘’seemed a match for all wild creatures.’’ Kenyon approaches her with utmost respect and understanding. I was terrified to read the chronicle of Emily’s death. I realised that I had tears in my eyes. I think that this is the most undisputed proof of the success of this biography. The most shuttering description of all was Charlotte’s pain and despair in facing her beloved sister’s death.
(The perfection that is Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff and Juliette Binoche as Cathy in the 1992 masterpiece, the finest adaptation of Wuthering Heights.)
‘’The death-defying love of Catherine and Heathcliff was like a torrent of nature.’’
It’s always interesting to see that the Victorian critics who wrote about the ‘’faults’’ in Wuthering Heights echo complaints similar to a few readers’ of our times. In my opinion, it is always worthy to notice that narrow-mindedness never dies throughout the ages. I think these have always been people who hate the fact that the main characters do not fit with the sugary image of love, just because they don’t behave according to a preconceived notion of how we should experience passion and devotion. And obsession, why not? Well, news flash! Wuthering Heights will be read and adored as long as there is a mankind able enough to read. All of us are only straws in the wind, these works are eternal. Once, someone in Goodreads wrote that the ones who like Wuthering Heights should visit a psychiatrist. Kiddo, a) better not come near ME, and b) better stay away from all of us for we come in legions…
…This was a rant and sorry, I am not sorry…Some people just need to learn to use the expression ‘’in my opinion’’ more often…
If you are still here after my expressing some long-brewing anger over the particular aforementioned ‘’reader’’, I thank you from the bottom of my furious heart:) This is a comprehensive biography of the Brontë family that focuses on the facts that really matter, avoiding any gossiping. It is written with utter respect, warmth, and love for the invaluable treasures created by the hands of the most exceptional and intriguing sisters the literary world will ever see. It is a short but meaningful and memorable journey in the Yorkshire Moors whose wild, unrestrained landscape brought forth two of the greatest masterpieces of Literature.
The last word belongs to Karen Kenyon who writes about Emily’s masterpiece:
‘’Her genius and the harsh and powerful grandeur of her novel were not understood at the time.’’
Many thanks to Hannah Groves and Endeavour Media for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.