Graphic Novel Review: Charlotte Brontë before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes

Charlotte Brontë before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes. Introduction by Alison Bechdel. Disney Hyperion, 2019. 9781368023290. 92pp plus a postscript, discussions of source material for pages, and a bibliography.

This graphic novel opens in 1837 with Charlotte Brontë receiving a letter from Robert Southey warning her against writing for celebrity. The story then flashes back to her family life at Haworth Parsonage where, as a child, she lost not only her mother but her two older sisters in the space of a few years. Her father sent her to school, hoping to make her into a teacher and prepare her for her future. She and her remaining sisters and brother have vivid imaginations and make up stories together. Charlotte has ambitions of writing and publish, and this seems to carry her sisters along later in life as they struggle to work as teachers and governesses.

My favorite moment in Brontë’s life story is when, as a student, she gets in trouble for scaring another girl with a story late at night in a school dormitory, when they’re all supposed to be asleep. (Fawkes says in her notes that this was the only time the serious and reserved Brontë was ever in trouble at school, and explains how she made up that tale Brontë tells in the book.)

This is one of the times my love of comics leads me to learn about something I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in. I’ve read Jane Eyre and other books by Charlotte Brontë’s sisters, but had no idea about their lives. Glynnis Fawkes’ pencil drawings really brought them all to life for me, and led me to read a bit more about the Brontës after I finished this book. Next time I need a “comics do in fact lead to other reading” anecdote for a concerned parent in a library, I’ll honestly be able to use myself as an example.


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