“There are few books I’d rather carry me late into the night than Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Villette, few books whose worlds I’d rather crawl into and inhabit. I have even felt, somehow, known by their heroines, as if they might recognise me when I enter their spheres.”
I don’t seem to read non-fiction books all that often these days, but Deborah Lutz’s The Brontë Cabinet: Three Live in Nine Objects is one book I’ve been pretty excited to get to for a long time. I’ve been a huge fan of the Brontë sisters’ work for years, and have been especially intrigued by their turbulent lives (I’ve even visited their home at Haworth), so this book was incredibly interesting!
I absolutely love the way Lutz formatted the book, as rather than writing a straight-up biography she takes nine historical artefacts relating to one or another of the Brontës, and uses it as a jumping off point to talk about aspects of their lives. For example, she uses a walking stick that supposedly belonged to the Brontë family and uses it to talk about Emily’s love of rambling about on the moors with her dog Keeper, and how that in turn inspired Wuthering Heights, and she uses one of the tiny books the Brontës used to make as children to talk about how they began writing and thinking up stories in early childhood.
I felt this was a far more interesting format for a biography, and I liked how it focused in on specific areas of the sisters’ lives at Haworth, and how it may have inspired or effected their writing. As figures of such immense interest, there are so many biographies of the Brontës, so I think this unusual concept of using the objects to talk about specific topics kept it fresh.
One thing to note about this book though, is that it does expand out from the Brontës at times to talk about the Victorian period as a whole, and whilst I personally found that interesting, it may not be to everyone’s taste. I checked out a few reviews on Goodreads after finishing where I saw a few people saying they wished it had stayed more on topic, but as I’m a bit of a history-nerd, I actually really liked that about this book!
More than anything though, I loved Deborah Lutz’s obvious passion for the topic. You could tell throughout the whole book that she is genuinely a huge fan of the Brontë sisters’ work, and is hugely knowledgable about them and the Victorian period as a whole (which isn’t exactly surprising seen as she’s a Professor of English, and more specifically a Victorian Literature Scholar!). Whilst some of the subject matter had the potential to be a little dry, I never found myself getting bored and I think that’s largely due to the enthusiasm for the subject that shone through in the writing style.
I really do recommend this book for fans of the Brontës, as it was both entertaining and informative, and definitely shed some light on the mysterious and commonly mythologized figures of the Brontë sisters. I now have a pretty strong urge to go away and read all of their works again with more background knowledge, so hopefully I’ll find the time to do that soon!