Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I finished reading Branwell: A Novel of the Brontë Brother by Douglas A. Martin and it was everything I had hoped it would be. I really liked the impressionistic style it is written it. Martin piles impression upon impression. As Branwell sinks into alcohol and opium addiction the reader is not slapped with the immediate truth of what is happening but instead comes to a gradual realization which I think is much more powerful and memorable especially when it comes to the final scandal that ultimately ruins him. Not that he had much going for him in the first place. Martin portrays Branwell as pampered, protected, and spoiled. His father decided that since he was the only son it must be the pet. Branwell is to be an artist of some kind; he is to bring fame and fortune to the family. Allowances are made for Branwell. Charlotte even saves money from working as a governess to help pay for Branwell's art lessons. But all Branwell does is waste it. When he is sent to London to apply for admission to the London Academy of Arts, he spends all of the money he is given in two days drinking at the bars. He tells his family that he was robbed. He returns home where he is coddled and petted and everyone decries the dangers and horrors of London. The railroad makes it out to a nearby town and Branwell gets a job. As with all that Branwell undertakes, things go well at first. He is well liked and friendly, a sort of man's man. But eventually his drinking gets the most of him and he finds himself back at home:

He'll talk to strangers. He'd meet men on the road, walking, become friends with them. they would challenge him to a wrestle, right then and there. They were weavers and factory hands, merchants, owners of mills, all sorts of men. Around those parts, once he'd been let go by the railroad, they'd come together, write letters for Branwell, petition for him to get his job back. Wouldn't they let him come back to his post, once he'd gotten better. Why was he crying now. He wanted to be around those he could impress. He wanted to be flattered, to be believed to be someone. His family, they didn't understand.
While their father never tires of Branwell, always fusses and believes that he will become someone famous, Charlotte and Anne have had it with him. Charlotte is the one who realizes their brother is never going to be successful and that it will be up the the sisters to support themselves. Charlotte insists they all work on writing a novel and publishing. She is rather a task master and after her first novel, Emily refuses to participate any further in Charlotte's writing scheme. It is Branwell who brings the TB that kills Anne and Emily into the house. And while the sisters always worried about their aging father dying and leaving them penniless, it is all of the Brontë children who die first, leaving him alone in the contemplation of the ruin of his family. I don't know how true the story is. There isn't much known about Branwell. But it is a novel after all, and a good one at that. I highly recommend it especially to Brontë fans.