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"The Sisters Appear To Walk Among Us!"

A review of Jane Satterfield's The Badass Brontës in Compulsive Reader

Thank you, Charles Rammelkamp and Compulsive Reader, for the sensitive and thoughtful reading of Jane Satterfield's THE BADASS BRONTËS!

Jane Satterfield vividly brings the Brontë sisters to life, showing them as quietly iconoclastic women in early nineteenth century England, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. While providing background in “dramatis personae” sketches and an historical outline at the end of the book, as well as copious illuminating epigraphs to many of the poems, it is through the poems themselves that the sisters jump off the page and feel contemporary. Whether it’s a villanelle about “The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever” inspired by a Kate Bush song, a poem about the model home in a Maryland housing development (“Own the Charlotte Brontë”), a poem imagining Emily wearing tattoos (“Emily Inked”), or a poem inspired by an internet quiz for young fans (“Which Brontë Sister Are You?”), the sisters appear to walk among us!

— Charles Rammelkamp


Cover for The Badass Brontes features uncovered feet and legs in wild grass

In blazing poems of biography and reinvention, Jane Satterfield’s The Badass Brontës explores the lives and afterlives of sisters Emily, Charlotte, and Anne, “hellbent/at books & candle-lit” and the inspiration for readers and writers as far-ranging as Kate Bush and Sylvia Plath. A Yorkshire cleric’s daughters forced to break into publishing by masquerading as men, here they burn brightly as themselves in poems that range from life narratives and lyric elegies to witty inquiries into the sisters’ status as popular culture avatars. Here you’ll find a poem in the form of an Internet quiz that reveals which Brontë you most resemble, a look at the tattoos a modern-day Emily might have worn, the title poem in which the sisters stride forward as action heroes, and a poem on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s real-life attempt to summon Charlotte’s ghost in a séance.

Elsewhere, Satterfield’s vision looks to the crises of our own age. In a sequence about desire and women’s choices, Emily is reimagined as an apprentice hedgewitch encountering the medicinals of “Eve’s herbs,” a pupil tutored in the secrets that they harbor; meanwhile, Charlotte faces the primal trauma that robbed the sisters of their mother when she confronts the reality of her own fatal pregnancy. Here are treasures galore: from poems that reflect Emily’s status as a proto-environmentalist whose rescued hawk Nero is a source of joy and grief, to further channelings of the Brontë sisters’ sensitivity to fragile landscapes and the more-than-human world. For longtime Brontë fans and newcomers alike, The Badass Brontës is a poetic tour-de-force that remixes and reinvents the lives, afterlives, and creative achievements of three extraordinary women whose influence continues to be felt.


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