Most biographies begin, as Dickens in David Copperfield famously said they should, at the beginning: that is, with the birth of their subject. Elizabeth Gaskell, however, took a different view, dedicating the first two chapters of her Life of Charlotte Brontë not to Charlotte, nor even to her ancestry, but to the place where she grew up and spent most of her adult life. In this way, Gaskell set Haworth at the forefront of the Brontë story, deliberately linking place and subject in an exceptionally emphatic way. he explained why she did so quite candidly.
For a right understanding of the life of my dear friend, Charlotte Brontë, it appears to me more necessary in her case than in most others, that the reader should be made acquainted with the peculiar forms of population and society amidst which her earliest years were passed, and from which both her own and her sisters’ first impressions of human life must have been received.
The reason why it was so necessary to do this is not immediately apparent to the modern reader, though it was obvious to Gaskell’s contemporaries. Jane Eyre had taken the literary world by storm when it appeared in 1847, but it was regarded in the terminology of the day as ‘a naughty book’.
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