Gaskell was Charlotte's close friend in the last years of her life; after her death, she investigated Charlotte's childhood, family and writing. Her aim was to let Charlotte speak for herself through her letters, but she had a further goal: to defend her against the charge of "coarseness" leveled at her work. The result is one of the most atmospheric and perceptive biographies ever written, and a powerful tribute from one writer to another.
This biography is a well written and affectionate portrait of Charlotte Bronte who was Gaskell's personal friend. An interesting and entertaing book it does not, however, describe Charlotte as she really was. Mrs. Gaskell seems to apologize for Charlotte's perceived unlady like qualties, begging the reader to excuse Charlotte for being so warped as to belive a woman could think on her own. Charlotte is seen not as a brave survivor of her family tragedies but a woman who can't be blamed for her faults because of the circumstances of her life. Emily is unfairly portrayed as a selfish, angry enigma who was even more unlady like than Charlotte. Gaskell seems to doubt that Emily could be redeemed at all but paints Anne as little less than a saint. The truth must surely be somewhere in between but Mrs. Gaskell was too much a slave to her era to look for it. However, this biography does make Charlotte appealing and some keys to Charlotte's true nature may be discovered from Mrs. Gaskell's use of Charlotte's personal letters in this biography. Sadly, Gaskell seems more concerned with offending the opinions of her time than celebrating the life of her friend as it really was. No doubt Gaskell had a concern for Charlotte's reputation but it is my belief that she had a far greater concern for her own.
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