The Brontës by Brian Wilks (1978)

Book review: The Brontës by Brian Wilks (The Hamlym Publishing Group Limited, 1978)

First published in 1975, The Brontës is a book about the Brontë family, a biography, full of pictures. Brian Wilks was (at the time, at least) a lecturer at the University of Leeds, says the back sleeve, and has done a lot of research on the Brontë family.

The story begins with a tourist telling of his visit to Haworth in Yorkshire, and serves as a general introduction. The next chapter begins the actual story, with the story of Patrick Brontë. Where he came from, his education, and so on. We then get introduced to Maria Branwell, how she and Patrick found one another and married, had children and ended up at the parsonage in Haworth, where they were to spend the remainder of their lives. Sadly, Maria died of cancer only nine years after the marriage, and Patrick was to out-live all his six children.

The story of the Brontë family is here lovingly shown not just through Wilks’s text, but also through excerpts of letters to and by the family, paintings, drawings and poetry done by them, photographs of related places and items, and so on. It gives a personal touch.

I knew bits of the family history, like the fact that the mother died when the would-be authors were children, and I had heard that some of the children died as well, and so on, but it’s such a sad story. Branwell (the only son), wasn’t finished off by disease like the rest, he drunk and drugged himself to the point of the body eventually shutting down. From the descriptions of self-pity, I’d say today, he’d be classed as emo. Emily was very shy, fiercely independent and secretive about her identity, a bit of a tom-boy, it seems, and yet, she was the one who gave us the passionate Wuthering Heights. Anne, the baby of the family, seems to have been a little bit more outgoing than Emily, going off to become a governess.

Charlotte was the one with the most amount of books published, and she was to see not just her mother but also all her siblings pass away, and at the same time, trying to keep strong for her dear Papa. What’s really sad is that she eventually did marry, did find someone that she cared for, and who cared for her, and a cold, along with complications of a pregnancy, was to be the end of her. How would the Brontë family history have been if she had lived to old age, given birth to the child she was carrying? We’ll never know.

One thing that draws me to the Brontës is that in some ways, I can relate to them. As a child, I too would create my own country, draw maps and come up with political intrigues and write about it, make little miniature books, and so on. I too was instilled a love of and respect for nature and its many creatures. Of course, at the same time, we’re also completely different. Still, it’s funny how I, born in 1982, can relate to people born around 160 years previously. Society and the world around us all have changed a lot, but have people? Perhaps not.

The Brontës is a good introduction to a Brontë novice. It’s not too heavy to read, it’s 144 pages long in a book that’s a bit bigger than A4 format, but comes with a lot of pictures. It gives a good understanding of who they all were, and how they lived and the times they lived in, and how that came to influence their writing. I’d love to go to Haworth and visit the Brontë parsonage museum, and get an ever better understanding of who they were and how they came to write some of the greatest classics of all time.

4 out of 5 moors.

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