I remember coming across this book in a book sale in 2018 and the sole reason why I decided to purchase this book then was because I had read Wuthering Heights. My choice might seem odd to you because Emily Brontë, and not her sister Charlotte Brontë, is the author of Wuthering Heights. I had not read a single book by Charlotte Brontë at that date. Nevertheless, I jumped at the opportunity of reading about someone related to Emily Brontë, a woman who intrigued me and puzzled me because of the sheer force, untamed strength and violence of her characters in Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately, this book sat on my shelf for a little more than three years until I decided to read it at the beginning of this year.
What happened? I began the journey from the very beginning with Claire Harman. She began not with Charlotte but with Patrick and I kept drifting in and out of the story of this peculiar man, father of Charlotte. To be honest, I did not wish to know much about him, I wished to jump to sections on Emily and Charlotte, little did I realise that the woman she became, was intensely and extremely influenced by the family she was brought up in and especially by her peculiar father.
While I do not profess to be an avid reader of biographies, I have read quite a few, and I must say I have never come across a book that is as well structured as Claire Harman’s. You get introduced to each and every member of the Brontë household and before you know it you will feel a part of the household and still retain a detached perspective as you see their lives unfold before you.
There is no dearth of illustrations. Harman has included images of portraits of Charlotte’s family, the Haworth Parsonage where they lived, the schools they attended and hated, their priceless miniature manuscripts, their attempts at art, their letters and portraits of key people in their lives. I was particularly mesmerised by the picture of the dining room in Haworth Parsonage. Charlotte and her sisters, became alive for me as I pictured them writing, pacing up and down discussing their works and sharing their views on each of their literary ventures in this dining room.
Additionally, Harman’s end notes are insightful and would often encourage you to pursue another train of thought or dismiss it altogether while not distracting you from the narrative. However, this is a book primarily about Charlotte Brontë and Claire Harman manages to create such a balanced and unbiased portrait of Charlotte that the reader is left confounded by the possibility of one person displaying such a range of personalities in her lifetime, that are distinct and yet cohesive.
As a reader you will experience the thrill of reading a suspense novel where it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen. You will experience the pain of a young girl who has to watch her mother and two elder sisters wither away before her. You will feel concerned and yet content for a girl who is isolated from all the world and friendships in her childhood and yet safe in the company of her siblings. You will feel encouraged as you see her taking the first steps in writing and striving to excel at academic pursuits. Then quite suddenly you will be horrified as you see an almost violent and arrogant side to her nature as a teacher, and her addiction to opium. Her inappropriate romantic pursuits seem astonishing, irritating, arrogant, queer and yet sympathetic in Claire Harman’s skilful hands.
I not only got to know Emily Brontë and understand the wild and free spirit that inhabited her and her novel, Wuthering Heights, but also the woman, Charlotte Brontë, who created Jane Eyre. I understood the inspiration behind Jane’s struggles in Jane Eyre, and her quest for love and recognition. Charlotte Brontë A Fiery Heart by Harman will make you appreciate Charlotte Brontë even more if you have read her works. It will make you want to pursue her other works if you haven’t read them yet and if you have never read anything by the Brontë sisters before, you will feel compelled to read one as soon as possible.
Now that I know more about Charlotte Brontë, I am eager to read The Professor, her first novel that was rejected again and again during her lifetime, to find out what it was about this book, that was so close to Charlotte’s heart, that made publishers reject it again and again.
What are you planning to read next? Whatever you choose I hope you have happy time reading it!
In obeisance to the divine in you,
-Harman, Claire. Charlotte Brontë A Fiery Heart. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.