Goodreads: Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre
Publication Date: Sept. 2019
Glynnis Fawkes depicts Charlotte Brontë’s life leading up to the publication of Jane Eyre. Growing up in an impoverished family, Charlotte was expected to earn her living as a teacher. But she longed to spend time in her imaginary worlds instead. Her experiences at boarding school and as a teacher would eventually inspire her writings, as would her childhood play with her siblings.
Glynnis Fawkes ambitiously seeks to cover Charlotte Brontë’s life leading up to the publication of her most famous work all in a short graphic novel. The result will likely to appeal to avid Brontë fans happy to see an accessible biography, as well as to newcomers who will find the book a serviceable, if not particularly inspired, introduction to a beloved author. Ultimately, the book proves nothing special, but it will likely be fervently embraced by individuals hoping that a comic book will get young people interested in the classics.
Being somewhat familiar already with Brontë’s biography perhaps made me more critical of the book than others might be. I felt that Fawkes tries to cover too much in too little space. Connections between events and emotions seem lacking, so readers have to imagine for themselves how parts of Brontë’s life affected her or her writing. Her brother’s deterioration, for example, is largely glossed over, as is the pressure to make a living. More time is spent with Charlotte’s juvenilia and how it lead up to her adult works, but other books such as Catherynne Valente’s Glass Town Game and Lena Coakley’s Worlds of Ink and Shadow delve more deeply into Brontë’s emotional ties to her writing–though these books are fiction. Altogether, the book feels emotionally lacking; Charlotte and all her hopes and fears never truly came alive for me.
One could argue that this book is a biography, not a story, but Fawkes blends fact and artistic license to create a book that reads rather more like fiction than not. In light of this, it would be helpful for readers to be able to distinguish the true parts from the dramatized. Fawkes mentions choosing to focus on Charlotte because of the wealth of letters and other printed materials she left behind. Unfortunately, however, Fawkes makes no distinction between her dialogue and Charlotte’s actual or paraphrased words. Quotations or other indications of what is pulled from real life would be helpful (as is the case of John Hendrix’s The Faithful Spy). But instead readers are left in the dark, which is regrettable since many readers will likely want to know which words were truly Charlotte’s.
Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre does do the job of introducing readers to Charlotte’s early life. It may not be the most detailed, factual, or deep biography, but it is perhaps the most accessible with its short length and graphic novel format. I imagine this being loved particularly by Brontë fans intimidated by nonfiction and by adults hoping to hook young readers on their favorite author.