Seeking Correspondence through Possessions

The Brontës’ Lives and Stories in Deborah Lutz’s The Brontë Cabinet (2015) and Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs (2016)


  • Lucy Sheerman University of Cambridge, England, UK



Charlotte Brontë, possessions, fanfiction, Jane Eyre, Catherine Lowell, Deborah Lutz7, neo-Victorian, reading, objects, writing desks


This article offers an examination of biographical and literary approaches to rereading and rewriting the Brontës, particularly the way in which the figures of Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre rematerialise in contemporary fiction. It considers the way that this presence is figured through the material legacy of the Brontës, focusing on two recent works – Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs (2016) and Deborah Lutz’s The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (2015). In Lowell’s novel, Brontë relics represent an association with death and loss, the material object emptied out and carrying the aura of emptiness and grief. Conversely, in her biography, Lutz uses the same objects to summon a lived sense of the Brontës. The two texts, one non-fiction, the other a novel, are characterised by a fascination with the lives and works of the Brontës and an interplay between fanfiction and literary criticism relating to the context of their writing and biographies. Both books summon the ghosts of the Brontës through depiction of the sisters’ possessions and their writing, as well as acts of writing in Jane Eyre (1847), in order to explore the individual stories the objects tell as well as the ones they conceal.