The Actual Life and Mind That Produced Jane Eyre

What sort of person could produce such a sprawling, shocking, brilliant book as Jane Eyre? Ask a simple question, get an almost unimaginably detailed answer. That's what you'll find in Lyndall Gordon's prize-winning 1994 biography Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life.

Gordon has written books about literary giants both male (T.S. Eliot, Henry James) and female (Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft). Her breathtaking work on Brontë shows the author to be both a fantastic researcher and a deft chronicler of writers' lives and times.

In 341 pages plus appendices, Gordon paints a rich, detailed portrait of Jane Eyre's creator. She uses countless original sources to portray and scrutinize the Brontë family from before Charlotte's 1816 birth until after her 1855 death; the reader can only be amazed by the sheer amount of letters, portraits, and other memorabilia that had survived for a century and a half. She also knowledgeably discusses Bronte's sometimes controversial role as a pioneer in an era when books were rarely written by or about passionate women.

It is no easy task to peruse carefully such a huge quantity of personal and literary analysis, and I eventually gave in; after reading nearly half the book, I merely skimmed to the end. Don't let my failing dissuade you from sampling Gordon's masterpiece. Simply put, any Charlotte Brontë fan who has not yet read this book will be astounded to find her- or himself plunged fully and convincingly into a far earlier yet utterly fascinating time.