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The Bronte Myth
ISBN 1400078350 / 9781400078356 / 1-4000-7835-0
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The Bronte Myth traces the various ways the Brontes have been interpreted by an ever-increasing and increasingly dotty fanbase from their own lifetimes through the end of the 19th and into the 20th century. The book treats first Charlotte then Emily, leaving Anne pretty much out of the picture, since (Miller argues) she has "never taken on the mythic stature of her sisters in her own right", which is hard luck for any dedicated Anne-fans; but Miller certainly finds many absorbing things to say about the other two sisters.
The point of the study is to examine the way interpretations of these two women have shifted so kaleidoscopically over the last century-and-a-half. Charlotte is seen in Gaskell's Life as "paragon of womanhood", then, as the century ends and the vogue for self-improvement takes hold, as a self-taught writer who had risen from obscurity. The 20th century brought the revelation of her thwarted passion for a Belgian schoolteacher, and she became an embodiment of smouldering unfulfilled sexual intensity. Emily, more neglected earlier on, came into her own in the latter part of the last century, revered as "the mystic of the moors". Both women of course were icons of the feminist literary movement in the 1960s, and their popularity continues today in the academy; but they are loved outside the university as well, appealing (says Miller) particularly to shy, lonely, bookish children.
Miller skilfully weaves a narrative of the developing Bronte myth, paralleling it with the development of the art of biography itself, allowing the two to illuminate one another. Sometimes, reading through the trivia (Bronte chocolate and biscuits, D-grade critical studies and so on) the reader might wonder if the subject really merits such in-depth treatment. But in tracing this story, Miller has good points to make about the way a biography is always, to one degree or another, a fiction, reflecting the concerns of the age in which it is produced. For anybody interested in the Brontes, or interested in what Virginia Woolf called the "bastard, impure art of biography" there is a great deal here of interest. --Adam Roberts [via]