I didn’t remember to wish any of the Brontë siblings a happy birthday on here yet, so today, as it is their only brothers birthday, I thought I’d acknowledge it.
Branwell Brontë is 200 years old today. He was a rather troubled soul that many see as a tragic character who always seemed to lose out in love, career, personal relationships and accomplishments – especially compared to his three surviving sisters (the two eldest died in late childhood).
I think it is fair to say that Branwell was a victim of addiction and didn’t have the mental fortification of his sisters; certainly that of Charlotte who bore all of their losses, one after the other.
I always feel a bit sad for Branwell. I don’t think he lived to his full potential and I believe he was capable of equal acclaim in writing and art as his more famous sisters. The trouble is, he did not apply himself to the task with the fervency of his siblings.
There have been many parallels drawn between Branwell and characters in his sisters works. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has been on occasion seen as a searing indictment of the perils and evils of immoral behaviour and alcoholism. Similar comparisons have been noted in Emily Jane’s magnum opus, Wuthering Heights. Hindley is a dissolute and broken individual, who appears to have indomitable bad luck. His beloved wife dies and he turns to drink to soothe the pain of his broken heart. However, as he sinks below the surface of his personal misery, his sister Catherine is in an elevated position socially and does not succumb to her demons so readily, or indeed, the same manner.
This dynamic had to have been in Emily Jane’s mind as she constructed the tale. She and her sisters put their minds to good use and remained exalted above sin and corruption, with worthy tasks, whilst their brother crumbled under the weight of his own misery.
Nonetheless, Branwell was as much a part of the Bronte story as his five sisters, his mother, his father, his aunt, the servants… they are all part of this engrossing story that has captured just as many hearts and minds as the words written by them and about them.
If Branwell felt like he was a failure or misunderstood by people during his lifetime, I can only hope that in the course of the 200 years since he arrived on this planet, he has become a vibrant, debated and staple part of the Brontë story.
Happy birthday Branwell,
If you would like to know more about the life and times of Branwell Brontë, please visit the Bronte Society website
Even consider visiting Haworth, West Yorkshire, UK. It is a beautiful little village and I am a very frequent visitor. You can visit the parsonage museum, their family home which is filled with their personal belongings. You can visit the pub Branwell wiled away his life in and even the church, St Michael andAll Angels where the family (apart from Anne) is buried.