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This review is taken from PN Review 164, Volume 31 Number 6, July - August 2005.

PURELY PERSONAL EMILY BRONTË, Poems of Solitude. Foreword by Helen Dunmore (Hesperus Press) £7.99

Under a title suggestive of recent themed anthologies, indicating perhaps an aim towards a casual readership, this elegantly fronted volume reproduces 61 of Emily Brontë's 202 known poems and fragments.

An engaging foreword is provided by Helen Dunmore, but the editor's identity is unclear. This is intriguing, for the selection itself deviates frustratingly from Dunmore's emphasis on the importance of Gondal (the Brontës' imaginary land, created in childhood and developed throughout their adult poems). 'Even in a poem which seems most purely personal, a trace of Gondal will appear', Dunmore notes of Emily's work, yet any nominal trace of it is conspicuously absent from this selection.

The Gondal poems admittedly make (literally) abstract reading, but in addition to evoking various moods of solitude, these were fundamentally a product of Brontë's isolated lifestyle. Their omission points to a disadvantage of this selection: the definition of 'solitude' appears fixated on the enduring image of the poet walking alone on the moors. In the first, post-adolescent verses, forces of nature are named repeatedly (including, for Brontë, love and time), but her more subtle pieces are under-represented here. Her occasional domestically-based poems are, like Gondal, disregarded as though contradicting the notion of Brontë's solitude, rather than offering variations on the theme.

Similarly contentious is the chronological arrangement of the poems; is this advantageous to a themed selection? In Poems of Solitude, it unflatteringly foregrounds Brontë's tendency to repetition, though it does ...


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