The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: 1852-1855

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Clarendon Press, 2004 - 440 pages
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This final volume of Charlotte Bronte's letters covers the period from 1852, when she eventually completed Villette, to March 1855, when she died at the early age of 38. Published in January 1853, Villette reflects experiences and moods conveyed with sharp immediacy in the correspondence of the preceding years. In December 1852 one of her most dramatic letters described the crucial event in her private life: Arthur Nicholls's proposal of marriage, when, 'shaking from head to foot' he madeher feel 'what it costs a man to declare affection where he doubts response.' Mr Bronte's furious opposition to the match was not overcome until 1854, the year of Charlotte's marriage on 29 June. In the all too few months before her death, she came to love and trust Nicholls, her 'dear boy' and her 'tenderest nurse' during her final illness. The letters in this volume include on the one hand Charlotte's brief curt note to George Smith on his engagement to Elizabeth Blakeway, and on the other a newly discovered letter describing with cheerful briskness Charlotte's purchase of her own wedding trousseau. Complete texts of letters previously published inaccurately or in part provide valuable insight into her other friendships. Those to Elizabeth Gaskell in particular have an important bearing on our interpretation and assessment of her Life of Charlotte, published early in 1857; and the inclusion of Harriet Martineau's angry comments on the Life ('Hallucination!' [Friendship] wasnever attained.') enhances our understanding of Charlotte's break with Martineau after her review of Villette. The redating of a letter has shown that the long estrangement between Charlotte and her oldest friend, Ellen Nussey, caused by Ellen's hostility to the idea of Charlotte's marriage with Nicholls, lasted without a break from July 1853 until late February 1854. The volume includes some of the touching notes from Charlotte's bereaved husband and father, written in response to condolenceson her death. Mrs Gaskell's graphic account of her visit to Haworth in 1853 forms one of the appendices; others provide the texts of fragmentary letters, identify known forgeries, and list addenda and corrigenda for volumes 1 and 2.

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Margaret Smith is Honorary Fellow for the Institute of Advanced Research in Arts and Social Sciences, University of Birmingham.

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