Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Branwell Bronte...

... is very much on my mind this evening, partly because I am gathering my thoughts before doing an event at the Bronte Parsonage Museum on Friday (with Lady Tessa Montgomery, Daphne du Maurier's daughter, who went with her to Haworth in the 1950s). And also because he remains such a shadowy, enigmatic figure. Alice -- who commented on the previous post -- has done some very interesting research into Branwell, as you'll see if you read what she's just written.
But no one has yet found "the novel in three volumes" that Branwell referred to writing in a letter to a friend. It's possible he never finished it -- that his writing was fragmentary, clouded by alcohol and opiates. And yet he showed such promise in his early writing in the Angrian Chronicles -- the imaginary landscape that he constructed with his sister Charlotte -- that you can see why Daphne du Maurier was so hopeful of proving his literary worth, and rehabilitating him with her biography.
As for Branwell's affair with Mrs Robinson, the wife of his employer, when he was working as a tutor, alongside his sister Anne, at Thorp Hall -- well, there are a number of differing views on this. Du Maurier believed it was a fantasy -- as colourfully imagined as an Angrian romance. Juliet Barker -- who is usually the definitive authority on all things Bronte -- says that the evidence does point to Branwell having an affair. Me? I can't make my mind up, even after spending several years reading around the subject. It's this uncertainty that continues to make Branwell a tantalisingly mysterious figure; and it's also why I'm guessing -- or should that be hoping? -- that there will be other manuscripts by Branwell that turn up in the next few years.

12 comments:

Rob Hardy said...

You've hooked me. I just ordered a copy of The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë to read while I'm waiting for your Daphne to become available in this backward part of the world!

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

It's all so intriguing, isn't it?

I personally think that as time went by Branwell became more and more enmeshed in a web of, if not lies, untruths. He started by wanting to cover up a bit and then it got worse and worse as he himself grew worse and worse.

That said, I think his stories usually contain a tiny spark of truth in them. But he liked to brag too much. I think he might have begun that novel or considered starting it but never really got round to it (or he might have destroyed it in a moment of clarity if it wasn't up to his old standards) so he openly said it without thinking much about it. (No Wuthering Heights conspiracy theory here!).

Just like with Mrs Robinson. I have heard many people doubt the story, look for alternatives (the Edmund theories, etc, which I think Daphne is partial to, isn't she?). I don't dfind these alternatives convincing. I don't buy either into the whole Mrs Robinson story but as I said I think there might be a real side to it. Branwell probably took it much farther than it ever went - to brag - but I'm pretty sure there was something to it and - to me - it remains the most plausible version of events, although it's not without its gaps and questions.

I always like what his friend Grundy said about him: 'P.B.B. was no domestic demon; he was just a man moving in a mist who lost his way. More sinned against than sinning...'

Anyway, have a great time on Friday - it sounds like a fabulous event.

Cristina.

Justine Picardie said...

Rob -- I think you can order Daphne from The Book Depositary, without paying postage, which means you wouldn't have to wait for the shipping. Or I could ask Bloomsbury in the US to send you an advanced reading copy (though that is scattered with mis-prints, and not a finished copy).
Cristina: I agree with you about the grain of truth in Branwell's stories. But the whole Mrs Robinson episode as he told it sounds like a gothic fantasy, doesn't it? And the talk of Mrs Robinson going to a nunnery -- surely straight out of Angria?

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

Yes, it looks like he reached a point - voluntarily or involuntarily? - where he just seemed to mingle fact with fiction. But perhaps the Brontës never really were that good at distinguishing the fine line between imagination and reality - some were better than others, though.

I wonder, though, whether he was being fed some tale by someone else (his supposed contacts) which he later developed or whether it all - the nunnery, the codicile to Mr Robinson's will - originated in his mind.

Justine Picardie said...

I always feel sorry for Branwell. All those dreams of adventure and escape, and he ended up confined to his father's bedroom...

Table Talk said...

Sorry I haven't been around lately; I've been bogged down with marking which is so all encompassing I can't look outside it. Fortunately, I took it back in this morning to be returned so I can start to be sociable again. I hope Friday goes well.

Justine Picardie said...

Welcome back! What were you marking? (In general terms -- I know you're not allowed to be specific).

Table Talk said...

Well, officially I'm retired now, but a friend couldn't meet her first undergrad language commitments this semester so I offered to step in. I thought that being more distant from the work I would be able to keep from getting so involved. No way. When I teach, I teach, the students become my students and I've been as engrossed as ever. So, in future being retired is going to mean being retired. It seems that as far as I'm concerned it's all or nothing.

dovegreyreader said...

Knowing little about Branwell but now eager to discover more, and having just read Tenant of Wildfell where I felt that Anne Bronte was using Branwell as a model, I had an inkling that her emphasis was on plying the young child with drink as the ultimate sin and wondered if that can be evidenced in Branwell's dismissal?

Justine Picardie said...

Good theory from Dovegreyreader. Maybe he mixed in some laudanum as well?

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

You know these things are not immovable but the most common theory is that if Anne did use Branwell as a model for her characters, it was for Lord Lowborough, not for Arthur Huntingdon.

Cristina.

Dakuro said...

Interesting this like if you talk to me about maths, and try to make me understand it will take you life, I really at math so I think if someone it's not good on something don't make people do it.

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