Thursday, April 01, 2004

I've been plugging away at The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller for a week or so. Actually, that makes it sound like it's hard to read and it's wasn't. It's a sort of meta-biography; a biography of the various biographies of the Brontes (with most of the book being devoted to Charlotte and Emily). Miller does an excellent job of stripping back the layers of interpretation and myth that have formed around the sisters. She shows how the shaping of the myths began with Charlotte herself and her friend and biographer, Mary Gaskell. Gaskell was a novelist and had a definite agenda of redeeming her friend's character through a flattering portrayal. Unfortunately, this began a series of distortions and speculations that has continued through the years. This is especially true of Emily, about whom we know almost nothing. It is suspected that Charlotte, out of grief, burned most of her writings and diaries after her sister's death. This, combined with the spin Charlotte herself put on Emily has resulted in many, many misinterpretations of her character and her talent, even leading some to theorize that she never wrote Wuthering Heights, instead believing that Branwell did. She debunks the theories and myths that had the effect of putting Emily on a pedestal as a conduit for some higher power and denying her the true status of skilled author (and perhaps, genius). Very quickly the Brontes became legends and, like most legends, the stories grew more and more outrageous as time passed. This book is an excellent response to bringing us back to the truth about them.

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