Patrick Branwell Bronte (The Despised Brother of the Bronte Sisters)by Alice Law
The only brother of the famed Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—Patrick Branwell Brontë has often been viewed in stark contrast
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Patrick Branwell Bronte is the despised brother of the Bronte sisters, who lived an unhappy life of blighted ambition. Why was he despised? Why couldn't he succeed? This is Patrick Bronte's biography.
The only brother of the famed Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—Patrick Branwell Brontë has often been viewed in stark contrast to these gifted and successful writers. Having died at the age of thirty-one, Branwell is regarded as the black sheep of the family—a drunkard and opium addict whose artistic and literary talents were never realized. Although he was extremely prolific from the time of his young manhood, producing scores of pieces of prose narrative and poetry, he was published only a handful of times in local newspapers during his lifetime and is hardly considered in light of his own literary endeavors. Instead, he is more often described in terms of his influence on the remaining Brontës. According to several scholars, Branwell's presence in the household contributed to a certain “peculiarity” in his sisters' writings. His shocking and decadent lifestyle provided fodder for the coarseness of a novel like Charlotte's Jane Eyre, the wildness of Emily's highly imaginative Wuthering Heights, and the degradation and ruin detailed in Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Though in total Branwell's writings outnumber the entire literary output of his sisters, reviewers have generally dismissed his work with scorn. A small number of modern Brontë critics blame this reaction on the fact that only fragments of Branwell's work are in print and believe that a full and accurate assessment can occur only when all of his scattered writings have been made accessible to readers.
Branwell, the fourth of six children, was born on June 26, 1817, at Thornton, Yorkshire, to the Reverend Patrick Brontë and his wife, Maria. His family called him Branwell to avoid confusion with his father. In 1820 the family moved to a small stone parsonage in the desolate and remote village of Haworth, Yorkshire, where the reverend was named the perpetual curate. Soon thereafter, Maria died of cancer, leaving her six children in the care of her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, who spent the next twenty years as the Brontës' surrogate mother. The reverend, a Cambridge man and a poet and novelist of some repute, favored his only son, referring to him as the pride of his heart and encouraging him repeatedly that he was to become successful and make a name for himself. As a result, Branwell was treated differently from his sisters: he had a room to himself, overlooking the Yorkshire moorlands, while his five sisters slept in a tiny room on cots. He was schooled by his father, while his older sisters were sent to a charity school for daughters of poor clergy. The girls' stay at the school ended quickly, and within a year the two oldest daughters—Maria and Elizabeth—died, due in part to the school's unhealthy conditions. Thereafter, the remaining daughters were schooled by their aunt.
Scholars suggest that after Branwell's death, a large portion of his writings may have been burned by family members who were distressed by the moral indifference and religious skepticism expressed in the works. Other manuscripts may have been lost after the elder Brontë died in 1861, when many personal items in the household were misplaced or destroyed. Experts believe that only one-tenth of Branwell's writings have survived. Of those writings known to exist, most were privately printed up to the early 1930s. The first full-length work to appear in print was Branwell's translation of the first book of Horace's Odes (1923), a work highly praised. The following year saw the publication of the prose fragment And the Weary Are at Rest, which Branwell composed circa 1845, reflecting his sorrowful involvement at the Robinson household.
On the whole, Branwell's critical reputation was cemented by Charlotte's exceedingly unfavorable judgment of him.
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- Balefire Publishing
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