My Rating: 4 stars
Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre is a graphic biography meant for middle grade readers. As a Brontë scholar, I love keeping up with the latest biographies on the family, and I was so excited to see this. I think it’s important to introduce children to classic books and authors in a way suitable for their age, and Fawkes has created a book that is perfect for that.
The biography covers Brontë’s life from her childhood until the publication of Jane Eyre. One of the things I admired the most about this book is that Fawkes never condescends to her readers. She does not shy away from the difficult parts of the story. She includes the tragedy of Charlotte’s mother and older sisters dying, the abuse inflicted a Cowan Bridge School (the basis for Lowood in Jane Eyre), and Branwell Brontë’s alcoholism and drug abuse. She also doesn’t try to overly simplify to language and content of Brontë’s works. There is a large amount of direct quotes from all three of the sisters’ books, letters, diaries, and poems. The young reader is never treated as if they are too young to understand.
The artwork is absolutely lovely. Fawkes’s style captures the atmosphere of Haworth and the moor well, and it feels well-suited to this story. Her portrayal of the sisters seems to be drawn partly from the surviving artwork we have of them and partly from BBC’s 2016 film To Walk Invisible (which I also highly recommend). She’s a talented artist and author, and I’m planning to look into what else she has written and drawn.
I only had a few small complaints. There are a few instances of modernized language and gestures in the fictionalized conversations that, while small, did take me out of the time period. For example, when Charlotte comments that she has been writing a novel, Anne replies, “Same here.” In an earlier scene, one of the sisters gives a thumbs up at the prospect of publishing their poems. These are such small things, and they really didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book much. But I do like historical accuracy and they made the moments feel a little too modern for my tastes.
Overall, this is an excellent graphic biography that’s perfect for introducing a young audience to Charlotte Brontë’s story while also being enjoyable and educational for adult readers.