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One From the Archive: ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’ by Daphne du Maurier ****

When my copy of Daphne du Maurier’s The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte arrived, I was pleased to note that it had originally been purchased from the Howarth Bronte shop and still bore a sticker proclaiming this in its bottom right hand corner. Of the du Mauriers which I had planned to read during my du Maurier December project, The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte was one of those which I was most intrigued by. Before beginning to read, I knew a little about Branwell Bronte, but only in the context of his sisters.  I was therefore so interested to learn what he was like as an entirely separate being.

In her introduction, du Maurier sets out her reasons for producing a biography of a figure who was largely overshadowed by the fame of his three surviving sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne: ‘One day the definitive biography of this tragic young man will be published.  Meanwhile, many years of interest in the subject, and much reading, have prompted the present writer to attempt a study of his life and work which may serve as an introduction to both’. 9781844080755

Branwell and his sisters spring to life immediately.  Their sad beginning – their mother dying when Branwell was tiny, and the consequent deaths of the eldest two Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, in 1825 – caused the four remaining siblings to mould themselves into an impenetrable group.  From the very beginning, du Maurier states that Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all greatly inspired
by their brother, particularly during their early childhood: ‘None of these novels [Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall] would have come into being had not their creators lived, during childhood, in this fantasy world, which was largely inspired and directed by their only brother, Patrick Branwell Bronte’.  She goes on to say that in their childhood, the four children wrote tiny books together in ‘a blend of Yorkshire, Greek and Latin which could only be spoken among the four of them, to the mystification of their elders’.  Branwell certainly comes across as an inventive child: ‘Imitative as a monkey, the boy was speaking in brogue on a Monday, broad Yorkshire on a Tuesday and back to the west country on the Wednesday’, and it is clear that du Maurier holds compassion for him.

Du Maurier discusses Branwell’s work throughout, often relating his creative output to the things which he was experiencing in life: ‘Although, on examination, Branwell’s manuscripts show that he did not possess the amazing talent of his famous sisters, they prove him to have had a boyhood and youth of almost incredibly productivity, so spending himself in the process of describing the lives and loves of his imaginary characters that invention was exhausted by the time he was twenty-one’.  His poetry particularly is often vivid:

“Backward I look upon my life,
And see one waste of storm and strife,
One wrack of sorrows, hopes and pain,
Vanishing to arise again!
That life has moved through evening, where
Continual shadows veiled my sphere;
From youth’s horizon upward rolled
To life’s meridian, dark and cold.”

The secondary materials included – a large bibliography, notes, sources, and a list of Branwell’s manuscripts – are extensive, and it is clear that du Maurier did an awful lot of research on and around her subject before putting pen to paper.  The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte includes quotes from Branwell’s letters, as well as his own prose.  Secondary documents of Charlotte’s have been taken into account, particularly when discussing Branwell’s illness and death.  Instances of literary criticism from a handful of different sources are also present.  Du Maurier marvellously weaves in the social history of the period – the death of kings and queens, for example.

Branwell’s painting of Charlotte, Emily and Anne

Whilst he is not always likeable, Branwell is an incredibly interesting subject for a biography, particularly for an author such as du Maurier to tackle.  She has demonstrated the many sides of his character, some of which were reserved particularly for certain people.  Du Maurier does continually talk of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, particularly during their childhoods, but one expects that it would be hard to write such a biography without taking them into account so often.  She does continually assert the place of Branwell in the Bronte family, however, and admirably, he is always her main focus.

Of the portrait of the Bronte sisters shown, du Maurier writes: ‘Close inspection of the group has lately shown that what was thought to be a pillar is, in reality, the painted-out head and shoulders of the artist himself.  The broad high forehead, the hair puffed at the sides, the line of coat and collar, all are there.  Perhaps Branwell did not consider that he had done his own face justice, and in a fit of irritation smudged himself into oblivion’.

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte was first published in 1960, and remains an accessible and fresh portrait of a shadowy – and often overshadowed – character.  Du Maurier’s non-fiction is eloquent, and is written so beautifully.  She uses lush descriptions throughout, so much so that it occasionally feels as though you are actually reading a novel.  The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is quite slim in terms of biography; it runs to just 231 pages in the Penguin edition. The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte does follow a largely chronological structure.  Interestingly, however, the book’s initial chapter deals with his death, and then loops back to his childhood.  Through du Maurier, one really gets an understanding of Branwell’s personality, as well as learning of his hopes and fears.

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is extremely well set out, and is easy to read.  The chapters are all rather short, and consequently it can be dipped in and out of, or read alongside other books.  Again, du Maurier’s wrork is thorough and well plotted, and provides an insightful and rewarding look into a relatively neglected part of the Bronte quartet.

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Two Reviews: ‘Take Courage’ and ‘Falling Slowly’

9781784740214Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis ****
I am, and always have been, a huge fan of Anne Bronte, and when I first heard about Samantha Ellis’ focused biography of her life, I was rather excited. I found Take Courage absorbing, and quite enjoyed the relatively casual writing style which the biography takes. Ellis’ account is far-reaching, and includes a lot of interesting critique about her prose and poetry, as well as thorough studies of each of her siblings, and her parents. The way in which chapters follow different figures, from Branwell and Emily, to the Brontes’ housekeeper, Tabby, is effective.

Take Courage is well written on the whole, although it did feel a little too colloquial at times. I did, however, like the way in which Ellis added her own personal story alongside Anne’s, giving a more personal dimension to the whole. Take Courage is well thought out and enjoyable, and awfully touching, particularly toward the end.

 

Falling Slowly by Anita Brookner *** 9780375704246
There is a slight detachment at play within Anita Brookner’s Falling Slowly. The plot is rather drawn out, and it did not feel as though there were enough occurrences or character developments here to sustain a novel of this length. Very little happened, even in comparison to other, slower books of Brookner’s. The characters never really came to life; I found them unrealistic, particularly toward the end of the book. The relationships drawn between them too are very bizarre, and not at all what I was expecting. Although Falling Slowly follows similar conventions to some of Brookner’s other books, I did not enjoy it anywhere near as much. Whilst it is not badly written, the dialogue feels awfully dated, and it is perhaps therefore more of a 2.5 star read than a 3.

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Blogging Book Club: ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte ***** (Classics Club #93)

Written between October 1845 and June 1846 and published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, Wuthering Heights became Emily Bronte’s only published novel.  I first read it some years ago and was swept away with the stunning Gothic setting and Bronte’s marvellously crafted characters.  When a re-read was proposed as part of the new Blogging Book Club which has been set up along with the lovely Girl With Her Head In a Book, I jumped at the chance.  I was also thrilled that I was able to tie the book in with my Classics Club list.

It goes without saying that Wuthering Heights is distinctive and has inspired many other works since its publication.  I will not recap the story in my own words for fear of giving too much away.  Instead, I have chosen to copy a blurb which I feel sets the tone perfectly and leaves much of the plot to the reader’s own discovery: “Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before: of the intense passion between the foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and her betrayal of him. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.”

I adore Bronte’s writing; in fact, it is fair to say that I am a bit of a Bronte fangirl.  The storyline which has been woven into Wuthering Heights is clever and atmospheric.  I love the way in which elements come to the forefront and then dissipate slightly, and the technique which Bronte uses in order to tie everything together as she nears the end of her tale.  She has a deft touch when it comes to both scenes and characters, and they are, without exception, marvellously built throughout the novel.

Wuthering Heights conjures so many emotions in the mind, and is even chilling to the very bones in places.  It is an enduring classic which I am sure I will come back to many times in the future.

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Du Maurier December: ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’ by Daphne du Maurier ****

When my copy of Daphne du Maurier’s The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte arrived, I was pleased to note that it had originally been purchased from the Howarth Bronte shop and still bore a sticker proclaiming this in its bottom right hand corner. Of the du Mauriers which I had planned to read during my du Maurier December project, The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte was one of those which I was most intrigued by. Before beginning to read, I knew a little about Branwell Bronte, but only in the context of his sisters.  I was therefore so interested to learn what he was like as an entirely separate being.

In her introduction, du Maurier sets out her reasons for producing a biography of a figure who was largely overshadowed by the fame of his three surviving sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne: ‘One day the definitive biography of this tragic young man will be published.  Meanwhile, many years of interest in the subject, and much reading, have prompted the present writer to attempt a study of his life and work which may serve as an introduction to both’.

Branwell and his sisters spring to life immediately.  Their sad beginning – their mother dying when Branwell was tiny, and the consequent deaths of the eldest two Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, in 1825 – caused the four remaining siblings to mould themselves into an impenetrable group.  From the very beginning, du Maurier states that Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all greatly inspired by their brother, particularly during their early childhood: ‘None of these novels [Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall] would have come into being had not their creators lived, during childhood, in this fantasy world, which was largely inspired and directed by their only brother, Patrick Branwell Bronte’.  She goes on to say that in their childhood, the four children wrote tiny books together in ‘a blend of Yorkshire, Greek and Latin which could only be spoken among the four of them, to the mystification of their elders’.  Branwell certainly comes across as an inventive child: ‘Imitative as a monkey, the boy was speaking in brogue on a Monday, broad Yorkshire on a Tuesday and back to the west country on the Wednesday’, and it is clear that du Maurier holds compassion for him.

Du Maurier discusses Branwell’s work throughout, often relating his creative output to the things which he was experiencing in life: ‘Although, on examination, Branwell’s manuscripts show that he did not possess the amazing talent of his famous sisters, they prove him to have had a boyhood and youth of almost incredibly productivity, so spending himself in the process of describing the lives and loves of his imaginary characters that invention was exhausted by the time he was twenty-one’.  His poetry particularly is often vivid:

“Backward I look upon my life,
And see one waste of storm and strife,
One wrack of sorrows, hopes and pain,
Vanishing to arise again!
That life has moved through evening, where
Continual shadows veiled my sphere;
From youth’s horizon upward rolled
To life’s meridian, dark and cold.”

The secondary materials included – a large bibliography, notes, sources, and a list of Branwell’s manuscripts – are extensive, and it is clear that du Maurier did an awful lot of research on and around her subject before putting pen to paper.  The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte includes quotes from Branwell’s letters, as well as his own prose.  Secondary documents of Charlotte’s have been taken into account, particularly when discussing Branwell’s illness and death.  Instances of literary criticism from a handful of different sources are also present.  Du Maurier marvellously weaves in the social history of the period – the death of kings and queens, for example.

Branwell’s painting of Charlotte, Emily and Anne

Whilst he is not always likeable, Branwell is an incredibly interesting subject for a biography, particularly for an author such as du Maurier to tackle.  She has demonstrated the many sides of his character, some of which were reserved particularly for certain people.  Du Maurier does continually talk of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, particularly during their childhoods, but one expects that it would be hard to write such a biography without taking them into account so often.  She does continually assert the place of Branwell in the Bronte family, however, and admirably, he is always her main focus.

Of the portrait of the Bronte sisters shown, du Maurier writes: ‘Close inspection of the group has lately shown that what was thought to be a pillar is, in reality, the painted-out head and shoulders of the artist himself.  The broad high forehead, the hair puffed at the sides, the line of coat and collar, all are there.  Perhaps Branwell did not consider that he had done his own face justice, and in a fit of irritation smudged himself into oblivion’.

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte was first published in 1960, and remains an accessible and fresh portrait of a shadowy – and often overshadowed – character.  Du Maurier’s non-fiction is eloquent, and is written so beautifully.  She uses lush descriptions throughout, so much so that it occasionally feels as though you are actually reading a novel.  The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is quite slim in terms of biography; it runs to just 231 pages in the Penguin edition. The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte does follow a largely chronological structure.  Interestingly, however, the book’s initial chapter deals with his death, and then loops back to his childhood.  Through du Maurier, one really gets an understanding of Branwell’s personality, as well as learning of his hopes and fears.

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is extremely well set out, and is easy to read.  The chapters are all rather short, and consequently it can be dipped in and out of, or read alongside other books.  Again, du Maurier’s wrork is thorough and well plotted, and provides an insightful and rewarding look into a relatively neglected part of the Bronte quartet.

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Two Poetry Books

Chaos of the Night: Women’s Poetry and Verse of the Second World War, edited by Catherine Reilly ****
Chaos of the Night follows on from the wonderful Scars Upon My Heart, but deals instead this time with women’s poetry from the Second World War.  Being the history nerd that I am, I was so excited to become acquainted with more war poetry written by women.  87 poets are collected here in all, recording ‘the devastating upheavals’ which the Second World War caused ‘with its attendant partings, separations, [and] bereavements…  they [the collected poets] write of the fear of air attacks, of children’s responses to evacuation, of their horror of Nazi persecution.  But they convey too the sweet expectation of peace, of reunion and rebirth…  [The book is] a moving testament to women’s search for a better future’.  As in Scars Upon My Heart, each poet in the collection is arranged by their surname.

I love the format of this book, particularly with regard to the use of different nationalities and the many perspectives which can be found within its pages.  Like Scars Upon My Heart, Chaos of the Night is an incredibly important collection of a largely overlooked portion of war poetry, and it is a book of real value, particularly from the standpoint of women’s experiences in history.  There are many poets within its pages whom I want to read more work by, and I was surprised as to how modern some of the prose was.  I would recommend this to anyone who has any interest whatsoever in wartime history, or in the writing of women.

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Cottage Poems
by Patrick Bronte
I purchased a marvellous collection of the complete works of the Bronte sisters some time ago, and twelve of their father Patrick’s poems were included within it under this title.  I was so intrigued to see how his work would compare to that of his daughters.  Most of the rhymes within Cottage Poems were lovely, and a lot of thought has clearly been put into them.  His verses too are rather nice:

“To all my heart is vivid and true,
But glowa with ardent love for you;
Though absent, still you rise in view,
And talk and smile
Whilst heavenly themes, for ever new,
Our cares beguile.”

Stories are woven throughout each poem, all of them quiet but each of them seamless in their progression.  Whilst none of Patrick Bronte’s poems are sadly overly memorable, this is a sweet little collection which encompasses many themes, and which is sure to appeal to those who love the work of his three daughters.

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Flash Reviews (29th April 2014)

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte ***

‘Shirley’ by Charlotte Bronte

I adore Charlotte Bronte’s work, and was so looking forward to reading Shirley.  It seems to be one of her least popular novels.  I began to read it on rather a foggy day in France, thinking that the Gothic elements which I was sure it would include would match the setting perfectly.  Sadly, I did not find it immediately captivating as I have done her other novels and unfinished works, and in no way did it match up to my beloved Jane Eyre or the wonderful Villette.

In Shirley, Bronte has created many character studies, each of them vastly different, and all of them believable.  I really liked the way in which portions of the book were directly spoken to the ‘reader’ of the piece.  The political background which the novel is set against was immensely interesting, particularly from an historical point of view.  Its style is slow and lilting and, as ever, the descriptions are gorgeously vivid and her writing beautiful.  As always with Bronte’s novels, I was struck by her stunning depictions of nature.  The novel is worth reading for these alone.  Despite my lack of love for Shirley, I still class Charlotte Bronte as one of my favourite authors, and will undoubtedly go back to this novel in future.

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Mary: A Fiction by Mary Wollstonecraft ***
I had never read any of Wollstonecraft’s work before, and was not really sure what to expect from it.  The first sentence of Mary: A Fiction states that ‘In delineating the heroine of this fiction, the author attempts to develop a character different from those usually portrayed’.  Mary: A Fiction is a novella, and a beautifully written one.  The turns of phrase which Wollstonecraft uses are lovely, as are her descriptions.  As a character study, it holds so much interest, and I really was fond of bookish Mary at the start of the story; she was rather headstrong and lovely.  As soon as the man of the piece, Henry, was introduced, however, she did become a little insipid, which was a real shame, and her character did not always feel consistent in consequence.  The ending was also rather abrupt, hence my three star review.  I will certainly read more of Wollstonecraft’s work, and hope that she has written many other books and short stories.

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit ****
I vaguely remember reading The Story of the Treasure Seekers as a child, along with some of Nesbit’s other lovely books.  It tells the story of the six rather adorable Bastable children:Our Mother is dead, and if you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her you only show that you do not understand people at all.’  Oswald, one of the eldest Bastables, is the narrator of the piece.  As the children are rather poor and wish to help out their busy working father, they decide to go and seek treasure from their local London area, because ‘it is always what you do to restore the fallen fortunes of your House’.  The Story of the Treasure Seekers is witty and amusing, as Nesbit’s books invariably are.  The children which she has created here are all just charming, with their mounds of naivety and their good hearts.  It is a very sweet book, and is even lovelier than I remembered it.

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