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The Bronte Mythby Lucasta Miller
Lucasta Miller's eminently sane "metabiography" of the famous sisters Brontë is a refreshingly original piece of literary detection, aptly stripping myth from known facts. Too often cast in a variety of stereotypical roles, these literary geniuses deserve better, and Miller grasps the hems of their skirts and gives as clear a view as anyone can hope to offer. Like Juliet Barker's epic biography The Brontës, The Brontë Myth is vital to our understanding of the sisters, thereby making them all the more fascinating.
Synopses & Reviews
Since 1857, hardly a year has gone by without a book or play or monograph or film about the Brontës. Each generation has reimagined Charlotte, Emily, and Anne in ways that reflect changing visions — of the role of the woman writer or of sexuality or of the very concept of personality. Charlotte Brontë has been seen as domestic saint, as sex-starved hysteric, as ambitious literary careerist. Her sister Emily has been furnished with apocryphal lovers of both sexes; has even been denied the authorship of Wuthering Heights by conspiracy theorists who attribute it to her brother, Branwell.
Now Lucasta Miller, in The Brontë Myth, shows us how the Brontës became cultural symbols almost as soon as their novels were published; how they became notorious even before the veil dropped from their carefully chosen pseudonyms, as Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, appearing out of nowhere, instantly fascinated, inspired, and scandalized English readers.
The subsequent discovery that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were three youngish spinsters — parson’s daughters — living rural lives of utmost propriety made interest in the sisters obsessive. Add a supposedly ferocious father and untimely death, to say nothing of the Victorian penchant for seeing noble sacrifice in every possible situation, and the production of legends multiplied.
Lucasta Miller provides fascinating insight into the manufacture of cultural myth and how it can distort our memory of the artist even as it obscures the art. She traces the reinterpretations, indeed re-creations, of the Brontës, from Charlotte’s own efforts to soften her dead sisters’ reputations and Mrs. Gaskell’s classic portrait of the artists as exemplary Christian ladies to the fashionably Freudian psychobiographies of the 1920s and ’30s, from counterfeit memorabilia and the promotion of literary tourism to Hollywood representations of gloomy heroines on savage windswept moors. She rescues the Brontës from their admirers and attackers, giving us back three vivid women who, with little formal education, were writing in the days when few women dared to try: geniuses and sisters who, in the words of a household witness in the late 1850s, were "as cheerful and full of spirits as possible.... full of fun and merriment."
"Ms. Miller writes with such lucidity, wit and plain common sense that she is able to shed new light on the Brontes and the Bronte industry....[An] erudite and clear-headed book." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Miller's book represents cultural studies at its best and makes for an important contribution to the specialist but also a joy to the enthusiast. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Never losing sight of the Brontë books' groundbreaking takes on identity, Miller unravels the Brontë myth with tenacity, detail, and grace — from souvenir tea towels and Haworth Parsonage mugs to Hollywood visions of wind-swept moors." Christina McCarroll, The Christian Science Monitor
"A brilliant and riveting examination of the Brontë phenomenon." Daily Mail
"A sharp-witted study in literary reputation...Miller supplies a deft and immaculately detailed tracing of the many 'constructions' of Charlotte Brontë." Joanna Griffiths, Observer
This intriguing "afterlife" explores one of the great legends of literary history, beginning with Charlotte Bronte's first attempts to mould her own and her sisters' public image, and following the Brontes through their many reincarnations at the hands of their biographers (as well as playwrights, filmmakers, novelists, choreographers and the designers of souvenir teatowels). The Bronte Myth reveals as much about the impossible art of biography as it does about the Brontes themselves.
In a brilliant combination of biography, literary criticism, and history, The Bronté Myth shows how Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronté became cultural icons whose ever-changing reputations reflected the obsessions of various eras.
When literary London learned that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights had been written by young rural spinsters, the Brontés instantly became as famous as their shockingly passionate books. Soon after their deaths, their first biographer spun the sisters into a picturesque myth of family tragedies and Yorkshire moors. Ever since, these enigmatic figures have tempted generations of readers-Victorian, Freudian, feminist-to reinterpret them, casting them as everything from domestic saints to sex-starved hysterics. In her bewitching “metabiography,” Lucasta Miller follows the twists and turns of the phenomenon of Bront-mania and rescues these three fiercely original geniuses from the distortions of legend.
About the Author
Lucasta Miller has published research on Milton and worked as a literary journalist for The Times, Sunday Telegraph, New Statesman, TLS, Economist and the Independent, of which she was Deputy Literary Editor. This is her first book.
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