The Brontës: Their Lives Recorded by Their Contemporaries

Date of publication
Hogarth Press
Compiler's note acknowledges Lorna Lewis.
Published reviews
Tomlinson, Philip. ‘Bronte Contemporaries’. Times Literary Supplement, no. 1739, 30 May 1935, p. 345.
In the Hogarth series Biographies through the Eyes of Contemporaries, this book has a short preface (pp13-20) by Delafield in which she discusses the biographical record of Charlotte Brontë and how it has been shaped and perhaps distorted by the focus and omissions in Mrs. Gaskell’s biography. We should instead, Delafield suggests, look at the letters for a more rounded portrait of Charlotte and her siblings. Delafield summarises what we know of Branwell’s life and deals with the suggestion that he might have written Wuthering Heights, an idea that she finds unlikely. Anne and Emily, as she points out, are known to us mostly from Charlotte’s letters; she finds Anne to be immature, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be unconvincing, because Helen’s experiences are not rooted in Anne’s own. Emily is, in Delafield’s view, a genius and a mystic - and therefore one whose relationships with others are necessarily painful: “No one of Emily’s calibre has ever yet gone through the world without causing apparently gratuitous misery to other people” (19). Delafield traces Charlotte’s brief emergence from obscurity into literary success following the death of her siblings, and recognises that her marriage represented a success for the mid-Victorian Miss Brontë, although she hints that the marriage was not perhaps as totally happy as Mrs. Gaskell suggests. The book itself is composed from quotations, often extensive, from primary and secondary sources, including Brontë family letters, the recollections of Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey, Mrs. Gaskell’s biography, official records, and letters, reviews, obituaries and other published writing about the family, with no further commentary by Delafield. The chapters are: I. The Children (pp23-41) II. Early Family Life (pp45-70) III. Branwell (pp73-86) IV. Emily and Anne (pp89-135) V. Charlotte (pp139-242) VI. Requiescant (pp245-256) VII. Some Appreciations (pp259-270) There is a short general index and an index of publications quoted.