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A Chainless Soul


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Born and educated in America, Katherine Frank is the author of several acclaimed biographies, including those of Lucie Duff Gordon, Emily Bronte, Mary Kingsley, and Indira Gandhi. She lives in England.


Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, ``a saga of . . . transcendent, death-defying love,'' is also ``a book profoundly concerned with food and hunger and starvation,'' observes Frank. Bronte's oft-celebrated mystical temperament, in Frank's persuasive diagnosis, was a manifestation of anorexia nervosa, as evidenced by her refusal to eat, her extreme slenderness, her retreat into an interior fantasy world. In an extraordinary, remarkably intimate biography that is as emotionally charged as a Bronte novel, Frank ( A Voyager Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley ) dismantles the conventional, rhapsodic family story of the storm-tossed Brontes. She deftly limns Emily's older sister, Charlotte, wracked by ``religious depressions''; her brother, Branwell, dosing himself with laudanum; and Anne, meekly reconciled to ``her assigned family role as the insignificant little sister.'' Emily Bronte emerges as a ``hunger artist'' who sustained a fragile illusion of control through self-denial, but also as a woman of courage and inflexible will, indifferent to the world's opinions. Illustrated. (Nov.)

The author of a biography of Mary Kingsley ( A Voyager Out , LJ 9/15/86), Frank justifies her addition to the massive stacks of Bronte literature by claiming to demonstrate that Emily suffered from anorexia nervosa as a response to feelings of helplessness and a need for control. However, she seldom quotes reliable sources for substantiation and even contradicts herself on occasion, as when she states that we know nothing of Bronte's tenure as a governess at Law Hill, then asserts that the homesick young woman fasted herself into illness there in order to return to Haworth. It's impossible to tell whether Bronte's behavior conformed to a clinical definition of anorexia, since Frank fails to provide such a definition. She offers instead a rambling rehash of previously published Bronte family biographies with too much imaginative speculation about what Emily and others were feeling based on too little solid evidence.-- Judy Mimken, Cardinal Stritch Coll., Milwaukee

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