Reader I was that Brother

Reader I was that Brother.

Branwell Bronte. The brother of the five ugly sisters gets a bad press. Spoilt, arrogant, undeserving, feeble, OK,  so no one’s perfect. But steady on. His mum dies when he is four, his dad is an Ulster Protestant preacher who believes in Hell and prefers eating on his own.Two older sisters die young. When the other sisters aren’t dying, they are homesick, getting absurd crushes on married men, turning down suitors and walking on the moors. Generally moping.

For a while Branwell plays along. He helps them write plays, newspapers, poetry, novels. Then he goes off and tries his hand at portrait painting, writing, teaching and being a railway clerk. But what chance has he got, those sisters always moping, feeling sorry for themselves. And of course,    writing two of the most famous books in  the language, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

So its hardly surprising that Branwell goes down the pub. Who wouldn’t. A few drinks  here and  there and a little  bit of opium helped  dull the pain. He lost one job because he got off with the boss’ wife. The boss dies but Branwell’s expectations are dashed when the will says she gets nought if she goes near her ex lover.

Meanwhile while our hero is  going mad, screaming and at one point setting fire to his bedroom(recognise  anything?) the three girls are down stairs  pretending to be men and scribbling best sellers. What could    chap do?

These people are not just writing Gothic, they are living  Gothic. So he dies aged 31. Of course the girls who had been bemoaning the “ terrible effects of talents misused and faculties abused” couldn’t handle it. Two of them die soon after. Which leaves Charlotte. If you think she has a happy end you haven’t been paying attention.

Read the book. Charlotte Bronte, A Life by Claire Harman. Brilliant, as the man said you have to have heart of stone not to laugh.

Branwell’s portrait of his sisters in the NPG,

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