Trev Broughton at the Times Literary Supplement:
What Charlotte Brontë: A Life does with conviction is remember what many biographies forget: that this is a terrific story. Brimming with indomitable personalities, trials and ordeals, passions and disappointments, it has all the elements of a traditional romance. At the same time, its protagonist, a restless, dissatisfied heroine struggling to make and remake the world in her quest for growth and recognition, is the quintessential modern subject: the subject of the modern novel.
Harman places the propulsive force of story-telling at the heart of her narrative, and Charlotte Brontë steps forth newly minted, as if we’ve never met her before. Harman’s portraits are always three-dimensional and humane, even when they treat of energetic, creative, sometimes monstrously difficult people. Her account of Charlotte’s father, the Revd Patrick Brontë is characteristic. As a young man, Patrick wrote a poem for his fiancée Mary Burder praising her eyes of sparkling blue. When the Burder option fizzled out (Patrick seems to have got cold feet because she was a Dissenter), the poem found its way into his slim volume of Cottage Poems. He then presented the volume, with the poem, to another young woman, pointedly inking in a correction to “sparkling hazle eye”. As Harman observes, this efficient repurposing might at a push have seemed engagingly “familiar and jocular” if the message of the poem had been less dour. “But hark, fair maid! whate’er they say / You’re but a breathing mass of clay / Fast ripening for the grave” were lines “unlikely to delight a twenty-year-old girl” even if he had got the colour of her eyes right. “[A] reckless and rather chilly lover” is Harman’s crisp verdict.