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The Bronte Myth Paperback – January 4, 2005


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The Bronte Myth + The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family + The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Even in their lifetimes, the Bronte sisters—Charlotte, Emily and Anne—were remarkable figures whose literary reputations were often shrouded in a web of myth and lies that to some degree still endures. In this volume, Miller, a literary critic and former deputy literary editor of The Independent, presents a markedly intelligent "metabiography" that sorts through these half-truths to give a fresh, original portrait of three exceptional writers. Celebrated by some of their 19th century readers as literary heroes and castigated by others as reckless and immoral, the Brontes defied conventions even as they tried to live within them: "revolutionizing the imaginative presentation of women’s inner lives" even as they cultivated the social persona of "the modest spinster daughter." Miller traces the trajectory of their careers, particularly Charlotte’s, from their childhood games to the stunning success of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Drawing on a wealth of letters and scholarly works, Miller succeeds in carefully revealing how the rumors that portrayed the Brontes as gothic creatures, saints and martyrs became more important than the women’s novels, "covering and supplanting," as Henry James said, "their matter, their spirit, their style, their talent, their taste." Miller touches on everyone from Elizabeth Gaskell, whose famous Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857) "marked the birth of the Brontes as cultural icons," to Ted Hughes, and thus illuminates not only the lives of the sisters, but the significance and import of their work. Ultimately, such literary reclamation is what Miller is after: to clear up the clutter of history, to bring to light the genius and artistry of the novels and to let the Brontes speak for themselves. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

Although a collaborative first book of poems sold only two copies, the Brontë sisters were in their own time subject to the kind of cult fascination that persists today, with thousands of pilgrims journeying every year to the Brontë home, in Yorkshire. Miller's ingenious book traces this fascination, beginning with Mrs. Gaskell's famous 1857 biography, which sought to excuse the "coarseness" of novels like "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights" by embellishing details of the authors' gothically miserable childhood. Miller provides a corrective—a biography of a biography—showing how successive generations, including Stracheyan, Freudian, feminist, and poststructural critics, remolded the Brontës to fit their own agendas. Like Mrs. Gaskell's, these treatments often focussed more on the authors' lives than on their work, in spite of Charlotte's plea: "I wished critics would judge me as an author, not as a woman."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078350
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078356
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By JLind555 on April 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
When I was 12 years old I discovered the Bronte sisters through "Jane Eyre" (falling hopelessly in love with Mr. Rochester in the process). Even in their own lifetime, the Brontes were a source of fascination and speculation. Lucasta Miller does a very good job of portraying the myths that grew up around the three sisters, and showing us the reality behind the legends.
To an extent, the myths were perpetrated by the Brontes themselves, as a defense against the public reaction to their extraordinary books. Already in 1857, Elizabeth Gaskell's "Life of Charlotte Bronte" told the public about the sisters' lives, much as Charlotte herself wanted it presented. "Jane Eyre" was a shocking book for its time; women weren't supposed to have such strong sexual feelings, let alone write about them. Charlotte developed, and helped perpetrate the myth of the sisters as quiet, mousy types, martyrs to duty and family, beset by tragedy at every turn. Charlotte was not only a great writer; she was a master at presenting herself the way she wanted others to see her.
I have a real problem with this books lack of proportionate attention given to the two younger sisters. Miller's assessment of Emily is much briefer than the space she gives to Charlotte, and about Anne she says almost nothing at all. Anne has always been the "forgotten Bronte"; most people who have grown up with "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights" have never read anything Anne wrote. But "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" is every bit as compelling as the books of her better known sisters, and gives evidence that behind the quiet face she showed to the world, Anne may have been every bit as much a strong personality as Jane and Emily.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jane Greensmith on November 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I got this book expecting it to be a biography of the family, and it turned out to be more a review of how and why biographers have distorted who Charlotte and Emily Bronte were and what they achieved as writers. Lucasta Miller's main point in the book is that the Brontes have really been short-changed as authors. I suppose she doesn't really discuss Anne Bronte because she doesn't put her work on the same level as the others and Anne hasn't become a cult figure in the same way CB and EB have.

I've always counted JE and WH as among my favorite books, and it was so gratifying to have them vindicated as the great books they truly are instead of being castigated for not fitting into someone else's expectations of what they should be.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Mann on December 13, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Bronte myth consists of preconcieved ideas of the Bronte family, wherein Elizabeth Gaskell's boigraphy of Charlotte's life is somewhat erroneous. She portrays the Bronte family as brooding and depressed, their father as a villian. She implies they have a secluded childhood, and Charlotte is basically sexless and pious. The myth of the Bronte family has survived down to our day.
I did enjoy the book, reading about the Bronte's early life, the difference between who they truly were, and what the preconcieved notion of them has been. My great fault with the book is that while Charlotte, the Bronte who perhaps the most is known about, is discussed at length, we hear less of the other sisters, though a large portion is devoted to the elusive Emily. I have always wished to know more about the lesser known, seemingly forgotten Bronte, Anne, but in this book she is as overshadowed by her sisters as she has been these past 150+ years. And in that way I feel as if I know as little about Anne as I did before reading this book. It makes me seem as though we are all content to pass over and not acknowledge this very talented woman from a very talented family.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mary Nears on June 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book turns out to be the Holy Grail when it comes to the Brontes. The writer goes beyond the misty moors and sheds a bit of light into the reality of the Brontes. It's refreshing and new and the writer leads you to other books, recently published, that open an entire new view of the Brontes. This is a wonderful book.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By P A Brown on March 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Lucasta Miller sums up her addition to the mountains of Bronte materials as a "metabiography." What she does here, actually, is deconstruct the layers of myth and mystery surrounding the three Bronte sisters, starting with Elizabeth Gaskell's 1857 "Life of Charlotte Bronte." Miller's stated intent to to refocus readers' attention on the social, political and literary influences on the three authors (actually only two, as Anne -- undeservingly -- receives little attention here). Miller also makes a convincing case as to how Charlotte and Emily contributed knowingly to the enduring myths about their lonely, provincial childhood, famously full of suffering, illness and death. That the sisters were complicit in creating their own mythos is entirely convincing and makes for a fascinating read. Miller focuses in on portraits of the sisters in biography, fiction, film and television, analyzing an amazing array of sources' skews on the Bronte legacy. Familiarity with the Bronte oevre is helpful to fully enjoying this iconoclastic look at the three weird sisters and the creative output they have inspired.
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