|Self-portrait of Branwell Bronte|
It's a rather strange biography this one. As far as I can gather it is meant to be a straight biography, but there are moments when I felt that Du Maurier's novelistic urgings leapt to the fore. So it reads as a rather strange cross-over book.
|The Bronte sisters painted by their brother, Patrick Branwell Bronte. |
Branwell erased himself from the centre of the portrait.
Du Maurier is eager to absolve him of any blame for his odd behaviour so suggestions of epilepsy or a mental illness are preferable to believing that Branwell may have been in any way culpable for his actions, which appears to be what his sisters believed. It is certain, in spite of Du Maurier's attempts to salve the narrative, that Branwell drank heavily.
Ultimately I found this a very strange book. Had Branwell been anyone but a Bronte sibling it would seem very unlikely that anything would have been written about him. You have to have a degree of sympathy for someone whose life had narrowed down to the small society of a Yorkshire vicarage, frustrated in his hopes for his life, overtaken by his sisters in a society that ironically needed them to prove their masculinity before their novels could be published, while the sole male among the siblings was unable to do what society expected of him.
As a cursory read, and a view of life behind the scenes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, it's fascinating. But some of the research is scanty, the opinions are at times odd and not always clear that they are just the author's. It's very readable, but as a biography not one of the best.