Barker, Juliet 1958-
Barker, Juliet 1958-
(Juliet R.V. Barker)
Born 1958. Married; children: two. Education: St. Anne's College, Oxford, B.A., D.Phil.
Home—South Pennines, England. Agent—Andrew Lownie Literary Agency Ltd., 36 Great Smith St., London SW1P 3BU, England.
Curator and librarian, Brontë Parsonage Museum, 1983-89.
Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
Yorkshire Post Book of the Year for The Brontës; honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Bradford, 1999.
(Editor and author of introduction and notes) The Brontës' Selected Poems, Dent (London, England), 1985.
The Tournament in England, 1100-1400, Boydell Press (Wolfeboro, NH), 1986.
(Compiler) The Brontë Yearbook, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1989.
The Brontës, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1994, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor, selector, transcriber, and author of notes and introduction) Charlotte Brontë, Juvenilia, 1829-1835, Penguin (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor, selector, transcriber, and author of introduction and linking text) The Brontës: A Life in Letters, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Wordsworth: A Life, Viking (New York, NY), 2000, abridged edition, Ecco (New York, NY), 2005.
(Editor, selector, transcriber, and author of introduction and linking text) Wordsworth: A Life in Letters, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
In Search of the Brontës (television documentary), 2003.
Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle, Little, Brown (London, England), 2005, published as Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.
Historian Juliet Barker has a doctorate in medieval history and has written about the culture of tournaments and chivalry in England and the battle of Agincourt. She is also well known, however, as a scholar of the Brontë family. As a former librarian and curator at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, she had access to considerable research material on her subjects: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, Branwell, and their father, Reverend Patrick Brontë. Although many published biographies exist about the famous literary and artistic family, Barker set out to write The Brontës as a way to clear up some persistent misconceptions that have been perpetuated since the 1857 book Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell. According to Barker, letters and other documents of the time show that Gaskell skewed her facts. For example, Patrick Brontë was a much more compassionate and less despotic man than has been portrayed; his son, Bran-well, was not a hopeless addict but actually had more artistic talent than he was given credit for, and his imaginative vision helped inspire the literary worlds his sisters created. Furthermore, Charlotte was highly ambitious and sometimes manipulative of her sisters, which is a different view from the much more nurturing Charlotte typically described by Gaskell and others. Barker goes on to assert that the Brontë home was not located in an isolated region at all, and that the family was better off than has been depicted, while the school the girls attended—later the model for the horrible institution portrayed in Jane Eyre—was one of the better learning establishments in England at the time.
Barker sifts through her facts carefully, leading an Economist reviewer to consider this both "the chief strength and weakness" of The Brontës. At more than a thousand pages, the family biography can be difficult to read, and the critic felt that at times the author's "deductions do seem a trifle uncertain." However, the critic asserted that Barker "is obviously a formidable authority on the Brontës." Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, Phoebe-Lou Adams appreciated what the author had done: "In correcting their bad press she has added vitality and social solidity to the world in which that brilliant, short-lived family moved."
In addition to editing collections of Brontë poetry and a compendium of Charlotte Brontë's juvenile stories, Barker continued her contributions to Brontë studies by editing The Brontës: A Life in Letters. A collection of "letters, diaries, reminiscences, contemporary accounts and reviews of publications, [the book is] loosely integrated by judicious narrative into a family portrait told almost wholly by the subjects themselves," reported Patricia L. Skarda in her America review. The book is a good way to learn about the family, related Skarda, as it lacks the "historical analyses and defenses of mythologizing efforts of earlier biographers and recent feminist critics."
Barker later shifted from the Brontës to poet William Wordsworth, publishing Wordsworth: A Life and Wordsworth: A Life in Letters. In the former, the historian is as meticulous as she was in her Brontë biography. "Juliet Barker possesses to an admirable degree the abilities of the historian," asserted Jeffrey Hart in his Weekly Standard review of Wordsworth: A Life, "and brings before us Wordsworth in detail over his long life and important career, perhaps supplanting the very good 1989 biography by Stephen Gill." A Publishers Weekly reviewer appreciated how Barker "gives equal attention to [Wordworth's] early poetic career and radicalism, and to his 'middle-aged Toryism' and later domestic years."
Barker returned to earlier English history with Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle, in which she tries to settle some academic arguments on such issues as the strength of the English armies under Henry V and those of their French opponents, as well as military strategies, the role of the longbow as an English weapon, and the political aftermath of the 1415 battle. "With fluency and empathy, Barker delivers a superior performance," declared Gilbert Taylor in Booklist. While an Economist critic acknowledged that Barker is clearly overly sympathetic to King Henry V, and thus glosses over some of his flaws, the reviewer praised the work overall: "Her book is quite wonderfully vivid, clear and involving. She never forgets that a military campaign is made up of human beings."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, October 31, 1998, Patricia L. Skarda, review of The Brontës: A Life in Letters, p. 16.
Atlantic Monthly, October, 1995, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Brontës, p. 127; April, 1998, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Brontës: A Life in Letters, p. 117.
Biography, winter, 2006, James Fenton, review of Wordsworth: A Life, p. 261.
Booklist, September 15, 1995, Molly McQuade, review of The Brontës, p. 128; May 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, p. 18.
Economist, March 4, 1995, review of The Brontës, p. 86; October 22, 2005, "Bowing to the Long-bow: The Battle of Agincourt," review of Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle, p. 89.
English Review, April, 2001, Victoria Kingston, "Face to Face," interview with Juliet Barker.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2005, review of Wordsworth: A Life, p. 1057; May 1, 2006, review of Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, p. 443.
Library Journal, June 1, 2006, Robert Harbison, review of Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, p. 135.
New Criterion, January, 2006, Paul Dean, "Palpable Designs," review of Wordsworth: A Life, p. 71.
New Statesman, November 21, 1997, Suzi Feay, review of The Brontës: A Life in Letters, p. 48.
Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1995, review of The Brontës, p. 40; October 17, 2005, review of Wordsworth: A Life, p. 55; April 17, 2006, review of Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England, p. 178.
Weekly Standard, February 20, 2006, Jeffrey Hart, "The Poet of Meaning: How Wordsworth Changed the Language," review of Wordsworth: A Life.
Women's Review of Books, April, 1998, Gillian Gill, review of The Brontës: A Life in Letters, p. 11.
Andrew Lownie Literary Agency Web site,http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/ (January 7, 2007), brief biography of Juliet Barker.