Cover image for The Brontë cabinet : three lives in nine objects
The Brontë cabinet : three lives in nine objects
Lutz, Deborah, author.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : W.W. Norton & Company, [2015]

Physical Description:
xxv, 310 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Victorian literature scholar Deborah Lutz illuminates the complex and fascinating lives of the Brontes through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed.
The private lives of objects -- Tiny books -- Pillopatate -- Out walking -- Keeper, Grasper, and other family animals -- Fugitive letters -- The alchemy of desks -- Death made material -- Memory albums -- Migrant relics.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR4168 .L88 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



An intimate portrait of the lives and writings of theBrontë sisters, drawn from the objects they possessed.

In this unique and lovingly detailed biography of a literary family that has enthralled readers for nearly two centuries, Victorian literature scholar Deborah Lutz illuminates the complex and fascinating lives of the Brontës through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed. By unfolding the histories of the meaningful objects in their family home in Haworth, Lutz immerses readers in a nuanced re-creation of the sisters' daily lives while moving us chronologically forward through the major biographical events: the death of their mother and two sisters, the imaginary kingdoms of their childhood writing, their time as governesses, and their determined efforts to make a mark on the literary world.

From the miniature books they made as children to the blackthorn walking sticks they carried on solitary hikes on the moors, each personal possession opens a window onto the sisters' world, their beloved fiction, and the Victorian era. A description of the brass collar worn by Emily's bull mastiff, Keeper, leads to a series of entertaining anecdotes about the influence of the family's dogs on their writing and about the relationship of Victorians to their pets in general. The sisters' portable writing desks prove to have played a crucial role in their writing lives: it was Charlotte's snooping in Emily's desk that led to the sisters' first publication in print, followed later by the publication of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights .

Charlotte's letters provide insight into her relationships, both innocent and illicit, including her relationship with the older professor to whom she wrote passionately. And the bracelet Charlotte had made of Anne and Emily's intertwined hair bears witness to her profound grief after their deaths.

Lutz captivatingly shows the Brontës anew by bringing us deep inside the physical world in which they lived and from which their writings took inspiration.

Author Notes

Deborah Lutz's books include Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism and Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture. The Thruston B. Morton Professor of English at the University of Louisville, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and Brooklyn, New York.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Lutz (Pleasure Bound, 2011) explores the lives of the Brontë sisters through nine of their household possessions. These are wonderfully resonant objects: among them, a writing desk (especially important for securing some privacy in a crowded house), the brass collar worn by the Brontës' dog (Keeper, who was a favorite of Emily's), books (paper was scarce, so books were very precious), and a cane (to go out walking across the awe-inspiring, windy moors). Lutz brilliantly contextualizes these quotidian items, showing how and when they make appearances in the women's writing, and vividly capturing their daily lives and personalities. Emily and Charlotte's relationship, in particular that of collaborators at odds is touchingly brought to life. Brontë fans, as well as those interested generally in Victorian life, will be especially entertained, as Lutz does draw cultural and economic connections to their material objects. Readers interested in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women writers will also be satisfied as Lutz traces links to both the predecessors and inheritors of the Brontë legacy: Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf.--Grant, Sarah Copyright 2015 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Applying "thing theory" to the lives and literary legacy of the Brontës, Lutz (Pleasure Bound) skillfully uses the titular nine objects to explore the relationship between the sisters' world and their fiction. For instance, the miniscule volumes in which the Brontë sisters and their brother, Branwell, recorded their juvenilia (fantasies set in the worlds of Angria and Gondal), prompts discussion of the dearness of printed books in the early 19th century and the consolation that so many Brontë characters find in reading and owning books. A sampler made by Anne, meanwhile, is tied to the many types of needlework and knitting by which Brontë heroines contribute to their households. A chapter on each sister's portable writing desk as a "personal space safeguarding secrets" contrasts Charlotte (who craved affection) with Emily (who was "deeply reserved"). Lutz bolsters her observations with abundant references to the Brontës' novels, poetry, and letters, proving especially insightful on Wuthering Heights. She muses on Emily's special relationship with the nearby moors (in connection with Branwell's walking stick), and on the imagery of death and the afterlife that laces the novel (elaborated from locks of the Brontës' hair kept as death mementos). Lutz commends Emily for her "visceral engagement with her subject matter," and the same could be said of Lutz in this illuminating biographical study. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Scholar and Brontë fan Lutz (English, Long Island Univ., Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism) brings a haptic approach to this fantastic example of "thing theory," or material culture. The nine objects the author examines and analyzes each get a dedicated chapter: some are straightforward, such as "Tiny Books," which describe the little volumes that the Brontë sisters-Emily, Charlotte, and Anne-and brother Branwell made out of scraps and remnants and composed stories for; others, such as "Fugitive Letters," discuss the physical objects written and mailed by the sisters and also provide historical and cultural context about postal service of 19th-century England. Also included are meditations on "women's work" and the often clashing personalities of the sisters and the difficulties they faced finding work and getting published. Lutz's knowledge of the Brontës and the world in which they lived and died is impressive and vast, and although it's obvious she researched and read a lot, this study is never dull. VERDICT Lutz entertains and educates in equal measure in this fascinating and readable book. Brontë lovers, Victorian history buffs, literature libraries, and cultural anthropologists, both amateur and professional, will enjoy this title.-Liz French, Library Journal © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Preface: The Private Lives of Objectsp. xix
Chapter 1 Tiny Booksp. 1
Chapter 2 Pillopatatep. 35
Chapter 3 Out Walkingp. 63
Chapter 4 Keeper, Grasper, and Other Family Animalsp. 95
Chapter 5 Fugitive Lettersp. 123
Chapter 6 The Alchemy of Desksp. 157
Chapter 7 Death Made Materialp. 185
Chapter 8 Memory Albumsp. 211
Chapter 9 Migrant Relicsp. 237
Notesp. 257
Further Readingp. 295
Indexp. 299