Original date of publication: 1960
My edition: 2006 (Virago)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Amazon, October 2011
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.