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The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by…

The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë (1960)

by Daphne du Maurier

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An exercise for the reader who has a passing familiarity with both the life of Branwell Brontë and the writing of Daphne du Maurier: just imagine for a moment what you think a biography of Branwell Brontë written by Daphne du Maurier might be like. This book is pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be: full of feeling, sometimes ridiculous and overreaching, morbid, with occasional lurid speculations and unexpected psychological conjectures. Still, for the right person there's something enjoyable about it.

She is comically hard on most of Branwell's writing, in a way that suggests that she takes his failure very personally: "fourth-rate stuff," "a Sunday School child of seven could have done better," "lame couplets," "interminable elegy," etc. It's a little much.

The best parts of the book are the details of the supposed conversation with George Searle Phillips indicating that Branwell knew Charlotte was the author of Jane Eyre, and Branwell's correspondence with sculptor Joseph Leyland.

It's hard to know what to think of Branwell: one one hand he was such a burden and a liar and a fuck-up. On the other hand, he really suffered, and it's hard not to sympathize with someone of whom greatness is expected, who has talent but not strength, whose dreams and ambitions are larger than his world. "I only know that it is time for me to be something when I am nothing."

One thing Daphne du Maurier and I agree about is that "Peaceful Death and Happy Life" is a powerful and awesome poem:

Why dost thou sorrow for the happy dead
For if their life be lost, their toils are o'er
And woe and want shall trouble them no more,
Nor ever slept they in an earthly bed
So sound as now they sleep while dreamless, laid
In the dark chambers of that unknown shore
Where Night and Silence seal each guarded door:
So turn from such as these thy drooping head
And mourn the 'dead alive' - whose spirit flies -
Whose life departs before his death has come -
Who finds no Heaven beyond Life's gloomy skies,
Who sees no Hope to brighten up that gloom;
Tis HE who feels the worm that never dies -
The REAL death and darkness of the tomb. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is a brief biography of the least-known of the Bronte siblings: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne’s brother Branwell, believed by his sisters to be the most brilliant of all the siblings. Born the only boy in a family of girls, a lot was expected of Branwell; but tied down by his imagination, which he fueled into the fictional world of Angria, a lack of job prospects, a disastrous affair, and a drug addiction, he died at the young age of 31 and was eventually eclipsed by his sisters. Yet Branwell was a moderately good poet and artist.

In this short biography, Du Maurier draws from Branwell’s poems, prose, and letters to giver her reader more of an idea of what he was like. And yet, it’s hard to know, trapped as he was in his own “infernal world,” a phrase that Du Maurier uses way too many times in the book but which is as good as any to describe how much Branwell’s mind disturbed him. It’s hard to get a good idea of what any of the Bronte siblings was like, since they were so introverted, but Du Maurier does a good job here of painting a rough portrait. I liked the fact that she addressed the rumors that Branwell helped to author Wuthering Heights. Branwell was a highly imaginative and emotional person, and its possible that he might have contributed ideas for it.

I think, though, that there’s a lot of speculation, especially over what happened at Thorp Green with his dismissal from the Robinsons’ employ. Du Maurier hints at, but does not say explicitly or prove, inappropriate behavior on the part of Branwell towards the Robinsons’ son Edmond. But since Du Maurier only hints at it, the reader is left to come to her own conclusions about what she might have meant—a sexual relationship? Or did Branwell allow Edmund to see him under the influence of drugs? Despite the ambiguity of this point, I did like the way that she portrayed Emily Bronte, my favorite of the sisters—aloof, undemonstrative, often misunderstood by those who didn’t know her well. ( )
1 vote Kasthu | May 29, 2012 |
I think I expected this to be a fairly straightforward biography of Patrick Branwell Bronte, brother to Anne, Charlotte, and Emily. However, it did not come off that way. I love Daphne du Maurier's writing in general, but this book was too flowery, too much conjecture, disjointed narratives, and very confusing to follow. If you know nothing about Branwell (like me), it's an interesting overview, but the writing went way over the top sometimes, and if I wanted to know more about him, I would have looked for a different book. ( )
  tloeffler | Apr 16, 2011 |
This novel gives us a glimpse into the life of Branwell Bronte the only brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, who is often considered to be the failure of the family and who died very young at the age of thirty, a death many have considered to be caused by his excessive use of alcohol and laudanum. I am a very big fan of Daphne du Maurier and reading her books is a treat and something I savor. Also, I was really looking forward to reading this book I, like many fans of the Bronte’s work including the novels they wrote as children have always been fascinated by their lives and the motivations behind their unique ability to create such wonderful thought provoking stories. In my opinion Branwell is one of the biggest mysteries in literary history because I feel like biographers side step him as being a failure to the family, the man whose potential was never achieved and I have always wondered if that is what he was really like. Since we will never know I was excited when I came across this novel by Daphne du Maurier and I was looking forward to reading her interpretations about Branwell’s life. I really enjoyed the writing in this book, as in all of Daphne du Maurier’s books it flows very well and takes on an almost poetic quality. It hardly reads as a biography and more like a novel or story. I have not read the other biographies that Daphne du Maurier wrote so I can’t comment on how this one compares with the others but I really enjoyed reading this. I found her ideas and interpretations of the time to be very unique to other biographies I read on the Brontes, and I enjoyed the way she uses some of Branwell’s poetry to enhance her ideas. I also enjoyed the introduction to this novel by Justine Picardie. I would suggest this book to anyone who is interested in reading about the Brontes as I thought it was a very excellent addition. ( )
  Renz0808 | Feb 19, 2011 |
Patrick Branwell Brontë was the only son of Rev. Patrick Brontë. When he was a small boy, his mother died, followed by his older sisters Elizabeth and Maria, leaving him with his father and his three sister—his older sister Charlotte and his two younger sisters, Emily and Anne. Together, the four surviving Brontë children, with Branwell as their leader, created a private fictional world that Branwell called Angria. The two eldest, Charlotte and Branwell, filled hundreds of pages with minute handwriting, telling stories of the often lawless and larger-than-life inhabitants of Angria. Branwell's father and sisters adored him, thought he was the most brilliant and creative member of the family, and expected great things of him. Alas, poor Branwell. He failed as an artist, failed as a poet, failed as a tutor, failed as a railway clerk, failed as a lover. And, as Daphne uu Maurier tells the story, each failure drove him further into the "infernal world" of his imagination and loosened his grip on reality. Failure also drove him to drink, and to laudanum, and undermined his health; late in life, he was subject to "fits" that may have been anything from delirium tremens to epilepsy. In the absence of much documentation, so much of Branwell's life is subject to conjecture, and du Maurier reconstructs that life with both a historian's care and a novelist's imagination. I found the book both gripping and sad. While his sisters were able to escape the childhood fantasies that made them lords and ladies of Angria, Branwell never did. He never harnessed his imagination to a more grown-up story like Jane Eyre or Agnes Grey. He did write poetry, most of which, as quoted by du Maurier, was pretty morose and morbid stuff, obsessed with death and loss.

I could sympathize, and even identify with Branwell Brontë, but in the end he seems to dissolve in his own self-pity and self-delusion. In her excellent introduction to the 2006 Virago Modern Classics reprint of Du Maurier's book (originally published in 1960), Justine Picardie writes: "To be truthful, although I would recommend her biography of him as essential reading to any du Maurier fan, it is not the easiest of her work—weighed down, occasionally, by her anxious diligence, and also by her own increasing exasperation with Branwell's failure to live up to his original promise." In the end, the story of how the amiable and gifted child declined into drunken disappointment seems less like high tragedy and more like a simple waste of a life. His talent and his strength of character didn't match his ambitions, and he wasn't willing to settle for an ordinary life that was never touched by greatness. But all the while, he was living in the same house with greatness. Were it not for his sisters, we would never have known a thing about this poor drunken failure and his dreams of greatness.

At the end of Branwell's life, all three of his sisters had published immortal novels, and tried to hide their success from a brother who did nothing but mope around the parsonage and run up debts at the local public houses. Branwell Brontë died in September 1848, at the age of 31. Emily died in December of the same year, and Anne in May of the next. Of Rev. Brontë's six children, that left only one, Charlotte. "Waking I think, sleeping I dream of them," she wrote. ( )
7 vote rbhardy3rd | May 4, 2008 |
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Book description
As a bold and gifted child, Branwell Brontë's promise seemed boundless to the three adoring sisters over whom his rule was complete. But as an adult, the precocious flame of genius distorted and burned low. With neither the strength nor the resources to counter rejection, unable to sell his paintings or publish his books, Branwell became a spectre in the Brontë story, in pathetic contrast with the astonishing achievements of his sisters.

Daphne du Maurier concentrates all her biographer's skill in the shadowy figure of Branwell Brontë, and no reader could fail to be intensely moved by Branwell's final retreat into laudanum, alcohol - and death.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0380184737, Paperback)

Mass market paperback by Avon, 1974. One of four glitteringly brilliant chilren, including his sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, Branwell Bronte was his own prisoner in a fantasy world from which neither drink nor drugs could free him. A biography.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:06 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

As a gifted child, Branwell Bronte's promise seemed boundless to the three adoring sisters over whom his rule was complete. But as an adult, the flame of genius distorted and burned low. He became a spectre in the Bronte story, in contrast with the astonishing achievements of his sisters. This is his biography. Originally published: London: Gollanc.… (more)

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