Monday, June 14, 2010
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by Daphne du Maurier: Review
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is a biography of the famous Bronte sisters' brother. Right from the beginning the Bronte family hung their hopes on Branwell, their golden boy. Dad Bronte kept him home to educate, possibly because he had some mystery illness. Branwell had dreams of being an artist but, poor Branwell, he was not wanted at art school. And that first failure was one of many. By the end of his short 31 years, he was a drunken, drugged out loser borrowing money from friends and wallowing in self-pity.
If Daphne's intention was to inspire pity from the reader and have us believe Branwell was just misunderstood, she failed with me. I did feel that that the Bronte family put a lot of pressure on Branwell to do well. He was expected to carry the family on his shoulders but he was qualified for nothing. They believed he was some kind of genius. I can just imagine the 3 girls looking up to him like he was a the sun. Was this too much for him? Maybe, but it was the 1800s and wasn't that how all boys were treated?
Branwell set his sights super-high and gave up at the first disappointment. He sent mediocre poetry to William Wordsworth and Blackwood's Magazine, trying hard to emulate his idols. He might have had better success if he had just been himself. Here is where being a girl was an advantage. No one expected much from Charlotte, Emily or Anne because they were female. There was no pressure to be great writers. They wrote what they liked.
Charlotte, Emily and Anne would build upon the world- the infernal world, they called it- they created with Branwell as children. In this make believe place, there were dashing heroes, villains, and damsels in distress. The siblings traded plots and characters like baseball cards. It was fertile soil for Heathcliff, and Jane Eyre. Branwell's biggest accomplishment was his contribution to his sisters' stories. Without his imagined world would there have been Wuthering Heights?
Although I wasn't very sympathetic to Branwell, I did come away from The Infernal World with more respect for Charlotte. If she had had Brawell's attitude, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey may never have been published. Where he would have given up, Charlotte kept pushing, sending their manuscripts on to other publishers. She was one determined chick. I have to wonder if she would have been so pushy had Branwell succeeded in keeping a job. She might have felt less desperation to get the family a steady flow of cash.
Daphne du Maurier certainly did a lot of research for The Infernal World (read Daphne by Justine Picardie for a fictional account of Daphne's search for the real Branwell). She somehow managed to piece together his correspondence to give us a sense of his state of mind. It doesn't always work. She makes many speculations. I could have done without his poetry too. Still, she did what she could with what she had.
If you are like me and have an interest in the Brontes, then you might enjoy The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte, otherwise skip it.