Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide by Steve Eddy

I bought The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide in 2004 while I was perusing the shelves at the downtown Milwaukee Border’s Book Store. That bookstore is sadly gone, but I still have many fine books that I discovered there amongst its shelves. My Milwaukee book club at the time was focusing on the Bronte sisters for the month, so I thought this book would be a quick reminder of what to focus on while I reread the works of the Bronte sisters.

The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide, is indeed a very helpful book for one who wants to get a bit more out of the works of the Bronte sisters and has either never studied them in school, or can’t remember what was emphasized. The chapters include “Why Read the Brontes Today,” “How to Approach the Brontes’ Work,” “Biography and Influences,” “Major Themes,” “Major Works,” “Contemporary Critical Approaches,” “Modern Critical Approaches,” “Where Next.” At a slim eighty-two pages, this book packs in a lot of good information in a short amount of space. Pictures are included and it is written in a way that is easy for any reader to pick up and understand.

I really liked how this book discussed the Bronte sisters’ keen interest in women’s rights and how they incorporated this into their novels. All three sisters wrote about strong heroines that did not bend to the will of men and searched for meaning in their lives. I find it very interesting.

I’ll admit that I did get a bit lost in the modern critical approaches chapter. It was interesting that as time as passed, critics have come to rate Emily above Charlotte in their reviews. Charlotte is much beloved by feminist critics, and there has been an increase in interest in Anne. Contemporary critics hardly reviewed Anne’s novels, which is a shame as I would rate Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall right up there with Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. It’s also interesting that contemporary critics of Charlotte Bronte said this of Jane Eyre, “ the plot is most extravagantly improbable.” I disagree. While there are some fantastical elements of the plot, so much of it is based on Charlotte’s real world experiences growing up that it has a deep sense of truth to it.

The major works chapter focuses on Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Shirley (by Charlotte Bronte), Villette (also by Charlotte), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne), and their poems. I thought that since Agnes Grey by Anne and The Professor by Charlotte were the only two novels left out; maybe they just should have included them. I’ve read all of their collected works and I think those two novels are worth reading and discussing as well. I know the chapter was titled “major,” but if that were the case, I probably would have left out Shirley and Villette and just focused on the most famous work by each sister.

The collected poetry of the sisters is only discussed briefly, but overall it states that by far, Emily’s poems are the best and most original of the three sisters.

While not as extensive as a full biography of the sisters, The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide is a great quick read packed full of great information about the Bronte sisters and their major works. It gives great themes and symbols to look for when you read their works.

This is my second item for the Victorian Challenge 2012.


  1. Interesting sounding book. For the record, I consider Charlotte a great writer, but Emily was the genius.

  2. I think the opposite actually . . . I think Charlotte was the genius. So much of today's literature is all based in part on the groundbreaking Jane Eyre that it is easy to overlook how original it was at the time it was published.