Daphne Du Maurier's account, of possibly the most tragic of the five Bronte children, is an enthralling read. Although perhaps not as finely researched as "Branwell Bronte" the 1961 publication by Winifred Gerin, Du Maurier's speculations about Branwell's sexuality and the "mystery" behind his complex relationships is decidedly facinating. Although not as academically impressive as Juliet Barker's more recent work on the family, Du Maurier's style and novelistic flair will undoubtedly appeal to, and satisfy the more general reader, and her insights - whether proven or not - bring a whole new dimension to how we look at the life and work of this extraordinary quartet of writers. However take care how you order book titles - although this edition was advertised in English ie the book's title was in English etc - the actual version I received was in German and when i looked back at the order it was there in the fine print as part of the book's description. However it would have been much more sensible to advertise the product as "Doch mich verschlang das wild're Meer" then there would be no confusion. So always check the fine print is what I suggest!
One of Branwell's contempories described him as 'a man in a mist, who lost his way', this seems to sum him up well. Enjoyed the book but having read more up to date biographies on the Brontes this seemed a bit dated. Worth a read all the same.
After reading the excellent "Dark Quartet" and Mrs Gaskell's biography of Charlotte, amongst other Bronte books, I bought this in the hope of learning more about Branwell. As expected, there were a lot of ifs, buts and maybes, but not much more than I had already gleaned from the books previously mentioned. A thoroughly needy, egotistical, unreliable character that I feel Du Maurier makes some annoying excuses for, the book should be taken for what it is..an ok, if rather depressing read.
I purchased this book after studying Daphne Du Maurier's website (an addict!) as I was unaware of this book. In typical Du Maurier style, her research was obviously outstanding. It is I feel a student-style book, and has helped me to understand not only Bronwell Bronte's character, illnesses, vices, etc. but also the background to the Bronte sisters in a way I had never thought previously, and I now look on the Bronte family from a completely different aspect. It is the type of book I keep by my bedside and can pick up at any time, with glee!
Over 160 years after shocking and disappointing his family by engaging in an extra-marital affair with the wife of his employer, being dismissed (for the third time in his short life), and sinking into an alcohol and opium addiction that helped send him to an early grave at the age of 31, the irrepressible Branwell Brontë (1817-1848) seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance recently. Not only has Daphne du Maurier's biography, first published in 1960, been reissued with a new introduction (by Justine Picardie), but also two recent novels have taken his short, chaotic life as their central theme (Douglas A. Martin's "Branwell" in 2006 and Wendy Louise Bardsley's "Branwell Brontë's Creation" in 2007) and the Parsonage Museum is holding an exhibition called "Sex Drugs & Literature: The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë" until 31 December 2010. And of course his two famous portraits - one of the three sisters and his own blotted-out self-portrait and one profile painting of Emily (some think it features Anne) - still hang on the first floor of the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Poet, painter and prodigal son, Branwell seemed so full of promise in his younger years that his Aunt Branwell, who moved into the parsonage to care for the Brontë children after their mother's premature death, didn't deem it necessary to include him in her will. Contrary to his family's faith in his later success, Branwell was in fact penniless and dependent on intermittent employment and his aged father for handouts by the time his aunt died. Across eighteen chapters Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) recounts his troubled life, from his birth in Thornton, near Bradford, on 26th June 1817 to his untimely death in Haworth in his father's bedroom on 24th September 1848, a mere twelve weeks before his younger sister Emily was to die, of consumption or a lung infection, on the downstairs sofa.
Keen to appeal to her readers' emotions, du Maurier nestles the more objective facts of his life, culled from letters, poems, memoirs and reminiscences, in a subjective and imaginative portrayal of his thoughts and feelings. But all the retelling of his emotional extravagance, his drinking binges, and his chronic unreliability seems to have brushed off on its author at one point when she, without apparent foundation, suggests that Branwell may have sexually meddled with or otherwise corrupted the Robinsons' son (with the affair with Mrs Robinson invented as a cover-up): "It is possible that, left at Thorp Green with Edmund, and free from the constraining presence of his employer, he had attempted in some way to lead Edmund astray...".
Based on du Maurier's book, Branwell emerges, with a mass of red hair brushed high off his forehead, as a fitful personality, full of ideas and unrest and seemingly incapable of prolonged concentration and discipline which might have led his considerable talents to bear fruit. As it was, his exaggerated concept of the fame and success to which he felt entitled, exacerbated by possible epilepsy and wild mood swings, went comparatively unfulfilled. When he fell seriously ill in 1848, it seems that the family saw it as his own fault and did not contact London or Manchester specialists as they did in the case of his father's ill-health and Emily's decline (his death certificate records that he died of chronic bronchitis and marasmus - wasting of the body). "The end had come," writes du Maurier sadly. "Fantasy was over."
So we can add Branwell to the other three enigmas! I am still asking why were the four Brontes so fragile? Why did they all have short lives? Was their fragility genetic? What was Patrick Bronte like? Was he compassionate or did he withdraw within himself when his wife died and the children were left to find reasons for the tragedies that were never far away from Hawarth?
I have read the Brontes and their world (yes another biography about the Brontes) and Branwell Bronte written by Daphne Du Maurier appealed to me - if for nothing else, its because Branwell Branwell seems to be the least of the quartet to make the headlines. I have read the reviews about other books on the subject praising this author or that, but after reading The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte, I can only come to the conclusion that no writer,to this day, can come up with any fresh ideas about the Brontes, only facts and dates! Is there a Freud anywhere?