My obsessions don’t make me a better person. They eat up too much time and energy and can turn me into an absolute bore but, they are part of me. I find an interesting subject and suddenly I have to know everything about it. That’s the mark of an obsessive and, as I say, it has its downfalls. But sometimes that drive yields obscure treasures.
Obsession is one reason I love Daphne Du Maurier’s stories. Two of her most famous works, (Rebecca and My Cousin, Rachel) are about the mania of being haunted by a subject. And, according to at least one biography, the Du Maurier had a literary obsession that I share: the Bronte family. Trust me, this makes sense.
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The Unforgettable Bronte Siblings
The Bronte sisters are a fascinating subject, whether you are studying literature or history. Three adult sisters, with minimal resources, strove to support themselves as writers, when the publishing world of publishing was pretty much closed to women. The sisters created poems and novels that often dealt with obsession. The novels become best-sellers and then literary classics, studied and loved ever since. The Bronte girls all attained incredible literary success but Ms. Du Maurier didn’t want to write about them. Instead, she chose to write about the great failure of this talented family: their brother, Patrick Branwell Bronte. Story-wise, this makes sense too.
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is a look at the then-forgotten brother of three literary geniuses (genii?) and figure out why he failed. By all accounts, it should have been the other way around. Young Branwell, with his imagination and brains, led his sisters in games of imaginary world-building, He should have been the Bronte writer the world remembers. With his superior education and opportunities, he should have, at least, been able to support himself. Instead, Branwell ruined every chance that he got and lived off his father or his sisters. In the end, Branwell’s talent and gifts were outweighed by his flaws: an overwhelming ego, little self-discipline, and a destructive addiction to alcohol. Still, he’s an interesting failure and a brilliant psychological study, perfect for Du Maurier’s mind.
Perhaps Branwell’s disastrous luck was contagious because The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte did not sell well, even though it was written by a popular author. After publication, it was rarely read. But, like Branwell, if his biography is a failure, it’s an interesting one. It’s the story of a man who had a gifted but uncontrollable mind. In other words, it’s one obsessive writing about another.