Apr. 13th, 2017

osprey_archer: (books)
I was looking forward to writing a glowing review of Miranda Pennington’s A Girl Walks into a Book: What the Brontes Taught Me about Life, Love, and Women’s Work, because the first half of the book is really quite good. The memoir and the Bronte portions of the book are nicely balanced, and her commentary on the books themselves - especially Jane Eyre, which is clearly her favorite - are excellent: thoughtful and analytical but not to the point that they lose all sight of the emotional punch of these books.

I found it particularly interesting to read about Pennington’s first read of Jane Eyre, when she herself was about ten: young enough that she bonded most strongly with Jane the child, bullied by her cousin and sent away to the loathsome Lowood school. Most reviews either dismiss those sections or offer faintly defensive explanations for them, so it’s interesting to read about them from someone for whom Jane’s childhood was not merely something to slog through, but practically the whole point of the book.

I was also pleased to learn that everyone finds the first chapter of Shirley impossible. Mid-Victorian reviewers got bogged down and irritated just as much as modern readers.

Pennington is also delightfully funny. (“Being as compelling and distant as Rochester would require age, maturity, and sustained emotional dysfunction,” she faux-laments, remembering the romantic dreams of her youth.)

But then Pennington meets her future spouse and the whole book falls apart. Their relationship takes over the book; the Brontes come to seem like an afterthought. This would be bad enough on its own, but to add insult to injury, I didn’t like Pennington’s beau, or the way he treated her, or the way he treated his supposedly-ex-girlfriend who wasn’t actually 100% ex until after the first time he and Pennington broke up (!!!). It would have been unbearable to read about even if it wasn’t taking time away from the Brontes.

So in the end I can’t recommend this one. Maybe read the first half or so at the bookstore if you’re a Bronte fan. There’s not much good Bronte stuff once the boyfriend shows up, so you can put it aside then without worrying that you’re missing anything.

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