Sarah's Reviews > The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by Daphne du Maurier
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May 22, 2011

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bookshelves: brontephilia
Read from April 22 to May 22, 2011 , read count: 1

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.
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