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Cover for The Brontë Cabinet

The Brontë Cabinet

Three Lives in Nine Objects

Deborah Lutz


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (4/4/2016)
MP3 CD (1/19/2016)


An intimate portrait of the lives and writings of the Brontë sisters, drawn from the objects they possessed.

In this unique and lovingly detailed biography of a literary family that has enthralled readers for nearly two centuries, Victorian literature scholar Deborah Lutz illuminates the complex and fascinating lives of the Brontës through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed. By unfolding the histories of the meaningful objects in their family home in Haworth, Lutz immerses readers in a nuanced re-creation of the sisters' daily lives while moving us chronologically forward through the major biographical events: the death of their mother and two sisters, the imaginary kingdoms of their childhood writing, their time as governesses, and their determined efforts to make a mark on the literary world.

From the miniature books they made as children to the blackthorn walking sticks they carried on solitary hikes on the moors, each personal possession opens a window onto the sisters' world, their beloved fiction, and the Victorian era. A description of the brass collar worn by Emily’s bull mastiff, Keeper, leads to a series of entertaining anecdotes about the influence of the family’s dogs on their writing and about the relationship of Victorians to their pets in general. The sisters' portable writing desks prove to have played a crucial role in their writing lives: it was Charlotte's snooping in Emily’s desk that led to the sisters' first publication in print, followed later by the publication of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Charlotte's letters provide insight into her relationships, both innocent and illicit, including her relationship with the older professor to whom she wrote passionately. And the bracelet Charlotte had made of Anne and Emily's intertwined hair bears witness to her profound grief after their deaths.

Lutz captivatingly shows the Brontës anew by bringing us deep inside the physical world in which they lived and from which their writings took inspiration.

Praise For The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects

[E]xponentially raise[s] the Brontëan stakes…. The Brontë Cabinet makes a powerful case for the value of the material world, personally and culturally, then and now.

— Rebecca Steinitz - Boston Globe

[Lutz] leaps between objects and disciples to craft an unusual cultural history—not just about a family of authors but about reading itself…. With deft care, Lutz weaves her authors back into their daily contexts, and from there, the stories they crafted speak even more urgently across time.
— Tess Taylor - Christian Science Monitor

Lutz's insights…prove fascinating…. In honoring keepsakes’ power to open history’s gates, works like The Brontë Cabinet also offer a useful corrective to our current culture’s emphasis on virtual reality.

— Danny Heitman - Wall Street Journal

The Brontë Cabinet yields up all sorts of fascinating new angles on the famous siblings…illuminating.

— Maureen Corrigan - Fresh Air

Brontë aficionados will enjoy the deft interweaving of artifact, biography and literature, but the greatest pleasure is the expanding chain of associations Lutz creates in each chapter…. The Brontë Cabinet is an engaging read for fans of the Brontë sisters, of course, but also anyone interested in material culture, the Victorian era and the history of everyday lives—especially women’s lives.
— Patricia Hagen - Minneapolis Star Tribune

Fresh and enlightening…this book is an exceptionally intimate study of the three sisters; through it we look into the most private corners of the parsonage…. Faultlessly researched and evocatively written.
— Rachel Trethewey - The Independent (UK)

Deborah Lutz’s engaging new study…allows us to feel the texture of the Brontës’ experience…. She pulls off the hardest trick in literary biography: to make us feel that we know the subjects intimately, and, simultaneously, to make the familiar strange.
— Lucasta Miller - The Guardian (UK)

The Brontë Cabinet is full of illuminating and original insights, bringing aspects of the Brontës’ lives into sharp focus for the first time.

— Mark Bostridge - Literary Review (UK)

Astonishing…brimful of meticulous details, observant asides and anecdotes…. The various items…perform some sort of magic, transporting readers into the domestic life of the Brontës…. This is a fine book, rich, immersive and illuminating, glowing with the life of the Brontës and their wild genius.
— Shahidha Bari - Times Higher Education

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393240085, 336pp.

Publication Date: May 11, 2015

About the Author

Deborah Lutz is the Thruston B. Morton Endowed Chair of English at the University of Louisville. She has published four books, most recently The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects and Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture. She is the editor of the Norton Critical Editions of Jane Eyre and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the recipient of an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.