Review: The Bronte Cabinet- Deborah Lutz

The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (Sept)

As someone who’s been fascinated by the Brontes since I was a kid (it’s hard not to be- my sister is named after Emily; I grew up in Leeds not far from Haworth where the Brontes lived and spent a lot of time visiting there over the years; my cat is named Bronte and is actually the third cat in my family to be named such) and it’s hard to not have a local pride- bordering on possessiveness of the Bronte legacy. So I was very interested to see that Lutz had written a book that took items from the Parsonage at Haworth and had used them as a launch pad for a book that was both a family biography and a social history of probably the most famous literary sisters in the English language.

The book takes you through the lives of the family, starting with the tiny books that survive, written by Charlotte and her brother Branwell as children (those written by younger siblings, Emily and Anne have been lost) and ends with a piece of jewellery that was found in a junk shop in the 1960s. It’s a tale of not just the sisters, but Haworth, the house and the society in which they lived and died in.


I initially wanted to read the book to see which things I recognised from the Bronte museum (if you ever get the chance, it is well worth a visit.) I wasn’t disappointed- Anne’s sampler, made as a girl, is included and one of Emily’s ‘diary sheets’, that entranced me when I was younger is also there. It’s a small piece of paper with a sketch of Emily and Anne at the kitchen table and recounts a conversation the girls had with their maid Tabby. Emily writes that they were told to ‘pilopotate’ (‘peel a potato’)- and I remember this led to me having a discussion with my grandma, the historian Helena Whitbread, about how the girls would have spoken. (We settled on a mix of Yorkshire and their father’s Irish accent.) But I just remember the phrase and thinking that, yep, that’s how Tabby would have told them to get on with their jobs in her broad Yorkshire accent!

This was a good read and clearly Lutz had done her research, although I’m not sure how much is ‘new’ if you’ve read loads of other Bronte biographies. What it did for me, however, is set me on the path to making 2016 the year that I read (in some cases, re-read) all of the Brontes’ work, starting with their childhood writings and then each novel in order of publication. I’ll also be writing on my other blog (and you can see more about my project here) and reviewing biographies, films and so on. Feel free to join in, or just recommend books, films and adaptations I should be checking out as part of the project.

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