Brontë, Manuela Santoni’s graphic telling of the lives of Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Brontë, arrived in the United States earlier this month. This sweeping work of graphic biography, originally published in Italy and translated by Matteo Benassi, explores the sisters’ tumultuous family and literary awakenings. To celebrate the occasion of its stateside release, the Lerner Blog asked Santoni about bringing the Brontës to life.
What was the first work by one of the Brontë sisters you ever read?
The first Brontë book I read was Wuthering Heights, in high school. I immediately fell in love with the dark atmosphere of the book; the opening part, with Catherine’s appearance at the window, is one of the most beautiful pages in world literature. It is visually so powerful and feels very modern.
What is your favorite work by one of the Brontës now?
Thanks to making this comic, I discovered more about Anne, whose life I really hadn’t known much about. Charlotte burned almost all of Anne’s writings upon her death, giving us an image of Anne as a fragile, mild-mannered woman and as a minor writer who is not worth reading. In fact, she has an inherent strength in her prose and her writing of characters. She immediately intrigued me when I started writing the book. In Anne’s Agnes Grey, there are moments that seem to coincide with her life, like the secret love for Willy Weightman, which Anne pours into the book’s protagonist.
As someone native to Italy, have you found memorable differences between Italian translations of their works and the English-language versions?
There are no substantial differences; the translations are very faithful. The three sisters have a very dry and well-balanced type of writing that does not lose its power in Italian. It’s unlike, say, Baudelaire, who in French is totally different from the Italian translation, because French is a language of sounds and puns that are difficult to render.
What are the most challenging parts of depicting the lives of prose writers in the form of comics?
The most difficult parts are the ones in which the writers write, paradoxically. These are the most boring parts. The most interesting parts are the actions that then push them to write. In this comic, a lot of the credit goes to Branwell Brontë. He is the narrative thread that leads the sisters in their choices, and the choices become actions. The actions create narratives and become the basis for the language of comics.
Has telling the story of the Brontë sisters allowed you to meet any interesting people or make surprising connections?
This book introduced me to Alessandro Di Virgilio, the screenwriter with whom I made a Mary Shelley graphic novel, which came out last year in Italy for Beccogiallo [the Italian publisher of Brontë and Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper]. He interviewed me during a talk about my book on the Brontës, became interested in my work, and asked me to do a book with him. From this meeting of ours was born Mary Shelley, with whom I concluded the graphic trilogy on English literature. All thanks to the Brontë sisters!
Praise for Brontë
“A beautifully illustrated reimagining of the Brontë sisters’ lives.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Loose linework and a high-contrast b&w palette lend themselves well to the gothic subject matter.”—Publishers Weekly