Charlotte Brontë

A Fiery Heart

Publisher: Vintage Canada
A groundbreaking biography that places an obsessive, unrequited love at the heart of the writer's life story, transforming her from the tragic figure we have previously known into a smoldering Jane Eyre.
Famed for her beloved novels, Charlotte Brontë has been known as well for her insular, tragic family life. The genius of this biography is that it delves behind this image to reveal a life in which loss and heartache existed alongside rebellion and fierce ambition. Harman seizes on a crucial moment in the 1840s when Charlotte worked at a girls' school in Brussels and fell hopelessly in love with the husband of the school's headmistress. Her torment spawned her first attempts at writing for publication, and he haunts the pages of every one of her novels--he is Rochester in Jane Eyre, Paul Emanuel in Villette. Another unrequited love--for her publisher--paved the way for Charlotte to enter a marriage that ultimately made her happier than she ever imagined. Drawing on correspondence unavailable to previous biographers, Claire Harman establishes Brontë as the heroine of her own story, one as dramatic and triumphant as one of her own novels.


From the Hardcover edition.

PRAISE FOR

Finalist for the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Biography
Longlisted for the 2017 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography


Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart is a moving and intimate portrait of a troubled genius. Blessed with a wealth of new material, this is a beautifully written and exceptionally engaging biography. Charlotte Brontë has a new champion and her name is Claire Harman.” —Dr. Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
 
“Claire Harman’s book captures all of Charlotte Brontë’s idiosyncrasies, her brilliance and her oddness, as seen through the mind of a scrupulous and perceptive biographer. Thanks to Harman, we discover Brontë’s contradictions and beguilements as she courageously acts on a trust beyond herself, the details of her life forcefully accumulating both mystery and meaning.” —Susanna Moore, author of One Last Look and The Life of Objects

"Fresh, vigorous ... Drawing on prodigious research, both old and new, Harman creates an expert portrait of life at Haworth Parsonage and of its eccentric inhabitants. . . . . In telling Charlotte’s story anew, Harman has created a work that will appeal both to readers meeting the Brontë clan for the first time and to those already steeped in their lore." Publishers Weekly

“‘There’s a fire and a fury raging in that little woman,’ Thackeray observed of Charlotte Brontë. ‘She has a story and a great grief that has gone badly with her.’ Harman tells the story with quick wit, a sharp sympathy, and a fire and fury of her own.” —Frances Wilson, Evening Standard
 
“Harman’s narration of [the] devastating events [of Charlotte’s life] is elegant, sensitive, beautifully paced and moving. She has . . . produced a work that is affirmative, edifying, inspiring and humane.” —Matthew Adams, Sunday Express
 
“[An] excellent new bicentennial biography . . . Ms. Harman writes with warmth and a fine understanding of Ms. Brontë’s literary significance. Above all, she is a storyteller, with a sense of pace and timing, relish for a good scene and a wry sense of humor.” The Economist
 
“Elegantly written, consistently perceptive . . . [Harman] succeeds in bringing Charlotte back to life in all her spiky vulnerability.” —John Preston, The Daily Mail
 
“As someone who once wrote a book about the Brontës’ afterlives, few people can have read as many biographies of them as I have. I thought I was Brontë-ed out, but reading this book—which will be equally accessible to someone coming to Charlotte for the first time—has drawn me back in.” —Lucasta Miller, The Independent
 
“Three rounds of applause . . . for Claire Harman’s superb retelling of Charlotte’s story.” —Mark Bostridge, The Spectator
 
“Finely judged and authoritative.” Sunday Times

“A retooled classic biographical narrative, shipshape and serviceable for the next 200 years.” —Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

 “[L]ively and exhaustively researched. . . . Do we need another Brontë bio, given the dozen or so captivating meditations that have followed Elizabeth Gaskell’s brilliant and gossipy pioneer study, published in 1857? Of course we do. Harman’s story is about how writers write. . . . Harman’s Charlotte says yes to life more than no, advancing against all odds.” —The Washington Post
 
“[Told] in vivid, novelistic prose. . . . Harman skillfully interweaves correspondence with other sources, including autobiographical passages from the novels, to produce as intimate and nuanced account of the writer’s life as we are likely to get. . . . Charlotte Brontë’s end seems to have been harrowing. But at least Harman’s meticulous, affectionate biography reassures us that her afterlife is in good hands.” —Julia M. Klein, Los Angeles Times
 
“Claire Harman’s biography is engaging and utterly readable from start to finish. . . . [Brontë’s] suffering and particularly the intensity of her loneliness can barely be imagined, but Harman does a good job of it nevertheless. . . . Harman also offers insights into Brontë’s art and analyses several examples perceptively. . . . She writes convincingly of the love Brontë finally discovered for the devoted and long-suffering Arthur Bell Nicholls. . . . Charlotte Brontë’s character is revealed here to be as complex as you would expect from the author of such volatile material as Jane Eyre and Villette. . . . Harman reminds us how, with that one remarkable opening sentence, ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day,’ Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre changed everything about the English novel. . . . I am now inspired to return to Villette: that is just one of the many benefits of reading a literary biography as good as this.” —The Sydney Morning Herald
 
“Neither deferential nor awestruck, Harman clearly feels strong affection for these reclusive, dysfunctional siblings. She confidently makes sympathetic characters of Charlotte and her sisters, even while conceding that they were by all accounts difficult and generally unpleasant company. The author remains focused on her subject’s life story, expending little space on general information about the historical setting and explaining just enough of the content of Brontë’s novels that readers unfamiliar with them can understand their significance, the public’s reactions to them, and the extent to which Charlotte drew upon her own experiences in their production. She vividly portrays a life of loneliness, anguish, tragedy, and suppressed rage in serene and elegant prose with frequent flashes of ironic humor; the underlying scholarship is extensive but never obtrusive. A delightfully engaging biography of a highly talented but deeply troubled prodigy of English literature.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“[Harman] reads the evidence anew. . . . Emphasizes the sensual aspect of Charlotte Brontë. . . . Harman’s well-paced narrative and keen attention to the tentative and troubled way Charlotte adjusted to sudden fame make this latest version of a literary life all the more modern and captivating.” —San Francisco Chronicle