Over the past decade Charlotte Brontë’s status as a writer has been undergoing something of a sea-change. There has been a sharp move away from the purely biographical interest which has always bedevilled serious consideration of her work towards critical studies which emphasise the rich symbolism and poetic imagery of her novels. Feminist scholars have been hard at work placing Charlotte at the head of a female literary tradition. Today it is difficult to imagine FR Leavis making his famous assertion of Emily’s primacy, that ‘there is only one Brontë’, and getting away with it. Not since the 1870s when Swinburne praised her ‘great and absolute genius’ has Charlotte’s stock as a novelist stood so high.
We have also for the first time reliable texts of Charlotte’s works. The Clarendon edition of the novels have been appearing, novel by novel, for some years now; Tom Winnifrith has edited Charlotte’s poetry and concluded that she was probably the worst poet in the family after her father; even