It is a myth-busting blockbuster and the first updated edition is just out, with new nuggets on the world’s most famous literary sisters, their brother, Branwell, and father Patrick. The book, first published in 1994, stems from her own childhood in Bradford, where her father was a wool merchant. She became obsessed with the Brontës and read Mrs Gaskell’s biography on Charlotte Brontë when she was 13.
When she landed a job as curator and director of the parsonage museum, in Haworth, it allowed her to delve deeper into the reality of a story that had been heavily romanticised and fictionalised by everyone from Charlotte’s friend, Mrs Gaskell, to film makers and fans.
“What surprised me most was that they didn’t live in some backward village cut off from society. I spent two years reading local newspapers of the time and they showed clearly that the place described by Mrs Gaskell was quite different to the real Haworth. It was a busy, industrial township with its own subscription library and lots going on,” says Juliet, who is most proud of rescuing Branwell’s reputation. [...]
“He was the leader, the innovator. Where he led, his sisters followed. What I also found was that what was supposed to be the most shameful event in his life never actually happened. He was supposed to have won a place at the Royal Academy, where he spent money on drink and drugs and was sent home to Haworth in disgrace. In fact, he never went there at all. Manuscripts show that his tutor felt he wasn’t quite ready for the academy.”
Her latest version of the book includes new material on Charlotte. “She really struggled to be a writer and an independent woman, but I upset people by taking away her pedestal. She is painted as someone who sacrificed everything to look after her sick father and that’s not strictly true. She was a dutiful daughter, but she was much more complex than that. She used him as a convenient excuse not to go to London or to avoid events she didn’t want to attend.”
“It will soon be just the two of us and this is a big house. It’s time to go and although I will miss it, I’m still going to have a moor to look at, which I’m pleased about. That’s very important to me.” (Sharon Dale)