The impact and setting of conflict for British culture is a theme that has attracted greater interest in recent years, and with the work of Jane Austen being profitably interpreted accordingly. Other authors invite similar coverage. Dickens is not exactly prominent as a writer of empire, but his family was much engaged and his short stories reflect sympathy for veterans. The Brontës and War. Fantasy and Conflict in Charlotte and Branwell Brontë’s Youthful Writings (Palgrave, 2019, £59.99, now in its second edition) by Emma Butcher, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English Literature at the University of Leicester, is a valuable work that reflects well on a tradition of scholarship in which relatively overlooked texts and approaches are advanced and considered, rather than tired affirmations about discourse.
The legacy of war is seen as playing a major role. Thus, Wellington and Napoleon play an important part in Charlotte’s construction of fictional personalities, as their characteristics and rivalry provide ready-made devices. Butcher demonstrates that the wide-ranging juvenilia of Charlotte and Branwell provide a way into the variety of commentary on war on offer, and also its role in developing their own sensibilities. She argues that their reading and writing captures a cultural variety including celebrity culture, periodicals, and the writings of others such as Burns and Scott on former military episodes, including Flodden, Jacobitism and the Crusades. Branwell was especially interested in Classical warfare, and this provides a valuable guide to the choices he makes and approaches he adopts. Colonial warfare and civil warfare are also discussed. A valuable work that deserves emulation.
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