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.”
American 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.