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Redefining the Brontë canon: A tribute to Christine Alexander

ByJUDITH E. PIKE

This volume not only celebrates the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth and her early literary works, but it also pays tribute to Brontë scholar Christine Alexander, whose seminal multi-volume collection, An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (1987, 1991), offers readers the opportunity to study the epic scope of Charlotte Brontë’s early literary life before she made her public début as Currer Bell in 1846.1 Scholars who preceded Alexander provided the public only small glimpses into the remarkable range of material that Charlotte Brontë produced from the eve of her thirteenth birthday to a month shy of her twenty-fifth birthday.2 Alexander’s first volume of An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (1987), along with her earlier companion study The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (1983), established the foundation for the most comprehensive literary study of Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia. At the time, scholarship on Charlotte Brontë’s early works was still an emerging field of Brontë studies that came into its own in the 1990s due largely to Alexander.3

Her prize-winning 1983 study was the first reliable critical survey of the complex nature of Brontë juvenilia.4 Her Bibliography of the Manuscripts of Charlotte Brontë (1982) listed Charlotte Brontë’s entire work for the first time, including over a hundred previously unknown and unpublished manuscripts. Then with her second volume of An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (1991) and her co-authored volume The Art of the Brontës (1995) and co-edited The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf (2005), Alexander has not only ushered in a new era of Brontë studies, but she has also rewritten the Brontë canon. Nineteenth-century biographers and later scholars drew attention to Charlotte

Brontë’s letters as an essential part of her literary legacy. At the same time, they largely ignored or discounted the literary value of her juvenilia, treating the manuscripts primarily as Brontëana. Alexander demonstrates that Charlotte Brontë’s early manuscripts are equally of critical importance to the Brontë canon, which for over a century had been too narrowly defined as novels, poetry and letters. By providing comprehensive access to Charlotte Brontë’s early works, Alexander invites readers and scholars alike to rethink Charlotte Brontë’s legacy from a broader and more nuanced perspective. Charlotte Brontë has long been recognized as a Victorian writer. However, by editing and publishing the body of work Charlotte Brontë wrote well before Queen Victoria