June 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Beach Read for Bibliophiles and Brontë Fans

Bronte Cabinet copy.jpgDeborah Lutz's The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (W.W. Norton, $27.95) landed on FB&C's list of "8 Beach Reads for Bibliophiles."    

As Paula Byrne did with The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, published in 2013, Lutz shapes her narrative not as a 'cradle to grave' biography of the Brontës, but instead targets nine objects that reveal, through facts and extracts from the sisters' fiction, something meaningful about their lives and passions. For example, Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell, all obsessive scribblers and crafters, used whatever paper scraps they had on hand to create tiny manuscript books. Lutz writes, "these children wanted to be bookmakers." Their little magazines were not only communal play, but creative rehearsal for future novels. Branwell's walking stick is the focus of a chapter on the Brontës' "near-daily" engagement with their physical environment, the Yorkshire moors, and Emily's wild side. An engraved brass dog collar, a seemingly unlikely artifact to mine in a literary biography, provides the fodder for an enlightening chapter on the family's pets, the "cult of the pet" in Victorian England, and bizarre incidents of dognapping at the time. Desks, sewing "workboxes," mourning jewelry made with hair--Lutz allows her research to bloom from each object in such an engaging and intelligent way that one hopes this archeological approach to biography, akin to material culture, flourishes.   

What other titles made our list? Check out our summer issue, which will begin arriving in mailboxes and at bookshops next week.