Book Review: The Bronte Sisters

THE BRONTE SISTERSThe Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, by junior biographer Catherine Reef, and published fairly recently by Clarion Books in 2012.

When I ordered this book with pretty good reviews and a charming cover, I had no real idea what it was. I mean, I guess I knew it was a biography and I knew that it was somewhat new. What I didn’t know was who the author was. If I did, I might have figured out that this is a junior biography. Meant for young people. Like to provide them historical information for a book report or some such.

So here are the major issues:

The font is too big and the spacing is too airy. Also, the pages are glossy. All of this–for me–points to low quality and a charade to disguise the true length and quality of a writing. While the book did look charming to me online, it did not feel charming once I had my hands on it and was flipping through. Actually, sans the dust jacket, it’s cutest in its purpley, closed form.

About half of what I read about this book indicates that it is a serious biography for any lover of the Brontes. It’s not! I can’t tell you in how many ways this book will fall flat compared to other Bronte biographies, like The Life of Charlotte Bronte or Wild Genius on the Moors. I can only imagine this will hit home with middle-schoolers who have no previous exposure to the lives of the Brontes.

I also–contrary to the claims of the many high-falutin’ reviews–do not perceive it as novelistic, riveting, well-researched, or insightful. It stuck me as a re-hash of all the most widely available tidbits of Bronte lore. It was written chronologically and had only brief moments of interesting writing. Otherwise, it was quite dry.

I also found, which is sad considering her impressionable audience, that Reef was not at all sympathetic to her subjects. (This is especially glaring since the Bronte’s most famous biographer is known most famously for her sympathy–perhaps even too much–toward Charlotte Bronte.) At times, Reef’s tone clearly holds itself above the out-dated, quaint ways of the Brontes, having no intuitive understanding or universal feeling toward the place, time, or religion of the Brontes.

But despite all this, I could see recommending it to a child for a book or history report. After all, the lives of the Brontes is fascinating, and putting a child on the road to a more adult text and later inquisitiveness would be a rewarding one. The facts seem to be largely in line: the bullet points are there. So the book is okay, at least for what it is intended for. If you are all grown up, please stick to the titles I listed above: The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell or The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors by Juliette Barker.

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