June 14, 2010

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by Daphne du Maurier: Review

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Oh thank goodness I'm done this book! It took me forever. If you notice my lack of review posts, this book is the reason why. It's not Daphne du Maurier's fault. I have to give her props for attempting to make Branwell more interesting than he was.There isn't anything particularly special about him other than his last name.

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.

14 comments :

  1. I read this about a year ago-the book does have a lot of speculation an unjustified assumptions and we are presented with no real reason to think Branwell was a genius-it is beautifully written and worth the time of anyone into the Bronte-I enjoyed your insightful post a lot

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  2. Mel- Lots of assumptions. I think this was a tough book to research.

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  3. Hmm, not sure I have enough of an interest in the Brontes to plow through this one, but I'm an exceptionally slow reader as of late. Everything sounds like a chore!

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  4. I see that you commented on my review of this a couple of years ago, and said that you were putting it on your list. I hope I didn't make your life too miserable with this book!:)

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  5. Andi- Yeah, it is not a speedy read.

    Rob- Ha! No, any misery was self-inflicted.

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  6. I have not read this but would really like to - even if it is a little hard going in places.

    Lovely, funny review, thanks for sharing

    Hannah

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  7. I think I'd rather read about the Bronte women! I hope your next book is better.

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  8. Thanks so much for posting your thoughts about this book! After studying Daphne DuMaurier's bio, I became interested in the Brontes' all over again. I did not, however, try to read DuMaurier's work on Branwell, having been forewarned that she was quite disappointed in what she learned about him and his supposed gifts.

    Fascinating blog!

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

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  9. I know nothing about Branwell Bronte but this book sounds interesting and I love Daphne du Maurier.

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  10. Hannah- Hope you like it!

    Bookmagic- The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell might be for you.

    Judith- Yes, I think she was hoping to find out that he had some secret genius. Have you read Daphne by Justine Picardie?

    Lola- If you give it a read, I hope you enjoy it.

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  11. Hmm, sounds like a skipster to me.

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  12. Branwell makes me think of someone who is diligent about their fiber intake and colon health.

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  13. Bybee- lol! I never thought of that before but yes!

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  14. Great damage was done to Branwell with all that endless praise he was subjected to though out childhood. When he actually had to test himself,by attending the Royal Academy, he could not face it. He never even darken its door. He spent the tuition money on drink and pretending to be a swell...then he went home. Excuses were made for him, which simply ruined him further. He had no fortitude whatsoever. The rages, the boasting, the weeping, the endless self pity, will be very familiar to anyone with an alcoholic in thier mist. Endless praise can make one unfit for the ups and downs....though it may have seem unfair to them at the time, the girls were lucky they were not subjected to it

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