- Précis Reviews
Barnard, Robert and Louise. A Brontë Encyclopedia. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. 416 pp. $105.95
Aficionados of all things Brontë must have this encyclopedia on their desks (though the price is daunting). Even those with just a passing interest in Brontë or literary research can become trapped in this book for hours. Looking up one entry leads to looking up another, and then another. The authors indicate that although they are able to include summaries of all the novels, they could not give such a breadth of treatment to the earlier works, which are encapsulated under "juvenilia." Yet if you are confused about the various references to "A—," you can see that it is the "fashionable watering place" in Agnes Grey, and also "the river on which Millcote stands in Jane Eyre." This book has references to the important and the arcane and the obscure, references to places the Brontës visited, people they knew; in short, everything. Here is part of the entry on Queen Victoria: "When Charlotte, alone in Brussels, wrote to Emily an account of the Queen's state visit to Belgium she knew she had a receptive audience. She depicts a plump, plain, but … fun-loving figure." The Barnards extensively quote from letters. Under the George Lewes entry, Charlotte describes Lewes as a "very vexatious and rather naughty little man." The Barnards have included detailed sections about all of the Brontës' poetry as well. Salacious details about Branwell are disclosed under "Robinson, Lydia," the woman with whom Branwell was supposedly conducting an affair; he complains in a letter: "my mistress is DAMNABLY TOO FOND OF ME." However, the Barnards temper their entries with analysis: for example, they remind us that these letters are in no way proof "that Branwell was having a full-blown affair with Mrs. Robinson. They are nothing of the kind. They are proof that Branwell wanted his drinking cronies in Haworth to believe that he was." This encyclopedia provides neat biographies of the Brontës, entries for everyone from Percy Shelley to Raphael, all the minor characters of the novels, and even entries for the coffee houses and taverns visited. Also absorbing are the large number of illustrations included in this book, some of which are rarely seen.
Case, Allison, and Harry E. Shaw. Reading the Nineteenth-Century Novel: Austen to Eliot. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. 232 pp. $84.95
Especially Beneficial for the student or teacher of a course in the Victorian novel, this book offers short analytical synopses with easy-to-follow [End Page 246] headings indicating specific sections of interest within each chapter—useful for a quick reference. Case and Shaw choose novels that are emblematic in some way of the "spirit of the age." Thus, they begin with Austen, Scott, and Thackeray, follow through with the Victorian mainstays of Dickens, Trollope, and the Brontës, and end with Braddon and Eliot. The book begins with an easily digestible introduction that first-time students to the Victorian Era could use as a recurrent reference point, and it is infused with humor: the authors negate the image of the Victorian as "stuffy, hidebound, and obsessed with propriety," an image that was "understandable since, for most modernists, the Victorians were actually their parents." Each analysis of a novel provides a brief summary about the author and gives basics on plot, but what perhaps is most interesting is the focus on narrative voice. Case and Shaw have chosen their works with an eye toward narrators that "have a particular prominence and interest," and, as the self-described "casebook" progresses, the authors nicely compare and contrast narrative techniques. For example, by the time we reach the last chapter on Middlemarch, we are able to compare through the narrative voice "a link not only with Scott's but Trollope's exploration...