EVENT REVIEW: Claire O’Callaghan and Sophie Franklin: The Brontës Revisited

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6th October, 2018

Palace Green Library

Review by Shauna Lewis

We may think that the Brontës have been “revisited” enough, but Dr Claire O’Callaghan and Sophie Franklin set out to prove everyone wrong as they discussed and debunked the myths of the famous sisters.

O’Callaghan comments that her book, Emily Brontë Reappraised, came about as a result of her students all regurgitating the same stereotypes about Emily Brontë. Insisting that some of the stories were simply not true, O’ Callaghan informed the audience that tales such as Emily beating up her dog actually have no real evidence. Franklin later asserted (as she expands upon in her own book Charlotte Brontë Revisited) that some myths were even created by Charlotte herself. What they were trying to do was to find out why.

Although O’Callaghan and Franklin set out to “strip back” the lives of Emily and Charlotte Brontë, it seems they are determined to put a positive spin on the pair. This is a very welcome viewpoint, but looking at their respective studies, it is also important to remember they themselves have their own bias.

It is not as though they aren’t aware of this, however; they both admit that everyone has their own “versions” of the Brontës. When talking to one other, they commented that they would refer to the sisters as “my Emily” or “my Charlotte”. It’s entirely personal. We take away what we want to take away from their work and their lives.

For O’Callaghan and Franklin, it’s about showing the public the positive stories we haven’t heard: Emily’s relationship with animals, her musicality, and her blissful domesticity. It is valuable to recognise that, as consumers, we enjoy the ugly stories which expose people held in esteem to judgement – especially women. It is heartening to know, therefore, that the market is there for learning about two important literary figures from a different perspective.

With the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth coming up, we can hope that it will be the beginning of looking at the Brontës in an increasingly progressive light, rather than dismissing them as reclusive figures. With Claire O’Callaghan and Sophie Franklin leading the way, perhaps our perception of the sisters who changed the history of literature will also continue to change.

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.