BOOK REVIEW: The Brontë Family: Passionate Literary Geniuses

by Karen Smith Kenyon

I didn’t expect the way this personal view of the lives of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell Brontë and the landscape of Haworth would affect me.”

BRONTE COVERAmerican writer, Karen Smith Kenyon, first travelled to the small hilltop village of Haworth in 1992. Situated in the county of West Yorkshire, on the very edge of the windswept Pennine Moors, this now popular tourist destination is best known for its association with the Brontë sisters: three gifted, nineteenth-century siblings who wrote their most famous literary works while living in Haworth Parsonage.

Kenyon Smith was deeply affected by her visit, describing her surroundings as “dramatic” and “wild”, and after returning home, was unable to forget this desolate yet rather magnificent patch of northern England where the Reverend Brontë raised his extraordinary children in a “clammy, bleak stone parsonage”. The family “began to take on an almost mythic quality for [her],” and she started exploring their lives and works in more depth.

Kenyon Smith’s fact-finding resulted in this new historical account: The Brontë Family: Passionate Literary Geniuses – a retelling of the Brontë family’s unconventional lives and the sisters’ rise to literary prominence.

Picking up the story in 1848, when Charlotte and Anne Brontë were in London to correct “false information” regarding the authorship of their novels (first published under male pseudonyms), we then travel back in time to their isolated childhoods and learn about the tragic deaths of their mother and two older sisters, which marked them profoundly and influenced their writings. We glimpse the siblings’ vivid, imaginary worlds and early storytelling; watch their intellectual curiosity develop; follow them through their unhappy school years and unsuccessful stints as governesses with wealthy families; see them rise to become popular novelists; and finally, witness their early deaths.

I have only one minor quibble with this articulate, well-researched life history: do we really need another Brontë biography? While Kenyon Smith’s slim volume is immensely enjoyable, it contributes nothing in the way of fresh material or original analysis. Those seeking fascinating historical minutiae have probably already discovered it in Juliet Barker’s superb The Brontës or elsewhere, and may well consider the addition of another life-story unnecessary in an already overcrowded sphere.

Nevertheless, this new portrait offers an enthusiastic and concise introduction to an intriguing family, which may well suit young adults or those averse to fat, academic tomes. Indeed, I could imagine a glossy version of this book being popular with tourists visiting The Parsonage Museum in Haworth.

The Brontës’ lives were over too soon. But in a sense they are not gone. Their novels…and poetry will always be read, and for those who know their story, or who visit their home, their spirits seem strong and clear.”

Many thanks to Endeavour Media for providing an advance review copy of this title.

Categories: Uncategorised

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

34 replies

  1. Sounds a very interesting read. I have only read Gaskell on Charlotte Bronte so far and have Du Maurier on Branwell and EF Benson also on Charlotte waiting.

  2. Great review – I’m always curious about why people continue to write and re-write biographies on famous authors (in particular the Brontës and Austen) when no new information has come to light. It’s one thing to write about your personal experience in relation to the authors, but to coat it in the guise of another biography wears thin. I won’t lie though, I’ve read many to compare the facts and it’s always interesting to see what individuals include or don’t include.

    I might have to see if I can squeeze this in as we’re heading to Haworth next week for a whirl-wind visit as we drive from Glasgow down to Bath.

  3. Good question – does the world really need another book about the Bronte’s when all it seems to amount to is a rehash of existing info. Now if there was some genuinely new material or insights I’d be first in the queue to buy. But yes I do consider Juliet Barker’s book to be just about the definitive work on this family….

  4. Beautiful review, Paula!! I enjoyed this one so much!

  5. Lovely review, Paula! I think I will hold out for the Barker biography when I’m feel ambitious! I have not read any biographies on this family, and I should!

    • Thank you, Jennifer. 🤗 The Barker biography isn’t overly heavy in a literary sense – although it’s stuffed with interesting facts – but at 1,000+ pages it’s a bit of a doorstop. I read it long before my book-reviewing days, when I had more time for lengthy tomes, but I did find it very interesting.

      • Oh, wow, Paula! I will have to read it at just the right time – when I have the room in my schedule for a longer read, but I am definitely still interested. I was just thinking of you because I found my Powell family book! I am going through our garage, and somehow that special book had found its way there. I don’t have it right by me now, but I saw that the “castle” is in Powys. I’ll look at it again and get back with you, but my first thought when I found it was, “I have to tell Paula!”

      • Ooh, I like an exciting discovery. There is a county of Powys where you will find a very impressive castle called Powis Castle in the town of Welshpool. I wonder if this is where you mean? I know this area quite well. Here’s a link to the castle, which is managed by the National Trust:

      • Oh, that castle is absolutely enchanting, Paula! I definitely want to visit that one, and I wonder if the two are related. The one in my picture is called Castle Madoc in Brecon. This link is actually the same photo I have, but I also have a larger image of the newer house since it seems the castle no longer stands: My great grandfather was also a Thomas, and so was one of my great uncles. Much-loved family name, I suppose. 😊

      • Also, it looks like Brecon is close to Hay? So perhaps it’s in my Welsh ancestry to love books and authors, too?! 😊 (I see the festival is only just over 30 years old, but I hope it’s still true!).

      • I don’t know Castle Madoc, but it looks lovely. Powys is quite a big county (for Wales 😉), so I’m more familiar with the northern end. I’m aware that Hay is only about five miles from the Brecon Beacons National Park, and looking on Google I see that the town is a mere 13 miles east of Castle Madoc, which isn’t far at all. Interestingly, I see that Castell Madoc (the Welsh translation – sometimes spelt Madog) is also a village: When I get five mins I’ll have a little dig and see what can be found. Exciting!

      • Yay, thank you, Paula, for digging for me! All of this is so exciting to me! I have heard about Brecon Beacons National Park and have seen lovely photos, as well, over the years, but hard never placed that the home was near there. I am most definitely going to have to travel back to the UK and see Wales…Hopefully I can bring my mom with me so she can see it, too.

      • Oh, I almost forgot: Happy American Independence Day! Will you be celebrating?

      • Thank you, Paula! We didn’t have any big plans today because my husband is working. I tend to like to stay home and have a quiet 4th. 😊 I’ve been reflecting on my country and my hopes for the future today. I’m hoping for a better time, and the optimist in me believes it will happen (it will also continue to require action). Thank you again!

      • I certainly hope so, Jennifer. The whole world seems to be in utter chaos at the moment. I suppose the vast majority of us in the west have been fortunate for so long to live in relative stability. To be hoped sanity and calm are restored very soon.

  6. Interesting review, Paula. The Brontes *are* endlessly fascinating, aren’t they, though I tend to wonder like you whether we really need another book on them. But if it serves to introduce newbies to them that must be good!

    • Thanks, Karen. Yes, I agree, there’s something deeply fascinating about the Brontes. I did enjoy reading this book but learnt nothing new – but as you say, it’s a positive if it introduces younger readers to the sister’s work.

  7. The Brontes always intrigued me when I studied them in college. I don’t think I’ve ever read a biography though so I may have to give this one a try the next time I’m in the mood for nonfiction. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  8. I haven’t read any Bronte biographies yet (I know, I know!), but this sounds like it could be a good place to start!

  9. Enjoyed this review Paula. Perhaps the value in this book is concision. It could provide as you sY a good intro, from which people might then decide to go on to more in depth biographies.

    As a commenter said above, apAusten is a good e ample of multiple bios with no real new info, and yet they keep coming out. I read some … and they can offer a new slant or perspective on the knits facts … but I’ve really only read a very small number.

    BTW I visited Haworth in Feb 1980. It was bleak, cold and memorable. So glad we went there.

    • I think you’re probably right, Sue. There are no end of Bronte books coming out this year, most with their own slant on one or all of the family members. No doubt each one will appeal to a different type of reader.

      You were brave heading so far north in the winter. I can imagine the weather at Haworth in February. Brrrr!

  10. How did ap get in front of Austen? Honestly, these fingers of mine!


  1. Winding Up the Week #26 – Book Jotter

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: