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Winifred Gérin: Biographer of the Brontës 

A new book by Helen MacEwan explores the life of the Brontë biographer Winifred Gérin, who lived in Haworth in 1955-65 while researching her biographies.

Winifred Gérin (the name was that of her first husband, a Belgian cellist) became a biographer after a first visit to Haworth in 1954 at the age of 53, having previously tried poetry and playwriting. Haworth completely bowled her over. She felt that it was only now, having seen the Brontës’ environment, she was beginning to understand them. On that first visit she met her second husband, John Lock, also a Brontë enthusiast and keen walker. The following year they married and moved to Haworth, where they bought the house in West Lane that still bears the name they gave it, ‘Gimmerton’.

She and John Lock walked the moors in all weathers to gain the authentic Brontë experience.

Between 1959 and 1971 Gérin wrote lives of all four Bronte siblings, starting with Anne, the least known of the quartet. They were for a long time the standard biographies; before Juliet Barker became ‘the’ Brontë biographer with the publication of her book on the family in 1994, Winifred Gérin was often considered ‘the’ Brontë biographer. Her husband John Lock wrote the first biography of Patrick Brontë, A Man of Sorrow (1965).

The story of how Gérin discovered both her vocation as a biographer and second love on her first visit to Haworth is a romantic one. But it forms just part of an eventful and romantic life.

Her childhood and youth, rather like the Brontës’, was characterised by an intense imaginative life shared with her sister and two brothers, and by family tragedies (the loss of two siblings in early life). In the 1930s she lived in Paris with her Belgian musician husband. They were in Brussels when the Germans invaded in May 1940 and in the first years of the War had a series of hair-raising adventures in Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal. Trapped in France for two years, the couple became involved in helping Jews to escape arrest under the Vichy government. Having finally managed to escape back to England, they worked for Political Intelligence near Bletchley Park.

Gérin also wrote a life of Elizabeth Gaskell, among other writers. This book, which makes her life story known for the first time, is based on her letters and her unpublished memoir.

Helen MacEwan lives in Brussels, where she runs a branch of the Brontë Society. She is the author of The Brontës in Brussels, a guide to Charlotte and Emily’s time in the city. She first became interested in Winifred Gérin because of Winifred’s links with Belgium, and was able to meet the Gérin family and read hundreds of letters written to them by Winifred over 40 years. She often visits Haworth for Brontë Society events. While researching Winifred’s time in the village she was helped by contacts in Haworth including Steven Wood. The photo for the book cover was provided by Ian Palmer.

More details of the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Winifred-Gerin-Biographer-The-Bront%C3%ABs/dp/1845197437

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