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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Branwell: A Novel of the Bronte Brother

Last night, quite unexpectedly, I recieved an email from Mr Richard Nash, publisher from the Soft Skull Press in Brooklyn, announcing the publication of Branwell: A Novel of the Bronte Brother by Douglas A. Martin. In addition, I have some news about the Canadian distribution of the novel. Mr. Nash informs me that Torontonians should look to This Ain’t The Rosedale Library for plenty of copies, and for those interested in the latest, look out for a review in the Eye Weekly.

I was more surprised to find a lengthy excerpt attached to the email- the first 24 pages of 'Branwell'. Although it does appear to be the first 24 pages, I cannot believe that this is so. It is a strange excerpt and rather difficult to describe. It is not the beginning of a novel, it is not the introduction to one, and it is not a synopsis but it appears to be something leaning towards all and none of these things. I believe it is a rough work, whatever it may be. I suspect that I may have been sent something else by mistake. It resembles a verbal depiction of images in a trailer for a film, more than anything else.

From what I can tell from this, the novel should wrestle with the fill spectrum of Branwell's history. I cannot say much more than this. The text is a series of observations, in various tenses and sometimes bad grammar (hense my belief that this is not actually the finished work). The sections nearer to Branwell's adulthood seem to become quite interesting. Overall, there's not much to glean from this. I do have one comment to make, however, and it is a troubling one. It appears that Anne comes in for some rough treatment of some kind or another. She is mentioned twice, I believe, and both times it is only to mention her 'lisp' or 'lisping' and 'trying to catch up' to Branwell and Charlotte:

Ah, now all seriousness would disappear from the magazine now that Charlotte's taken over. They'll have smiling faces everywhere.
She says it's not true.
Charlotte is going to write a story about the Little King.
He is spoilt and lazy, imperious, unreliable.
He commits violent, unpredictable acts.
And Branwell leaves his shirt open at the neck, to show how he's a poet. Anne only lisps and stutters trying to keep up with him and Charlotte and the fights they have over their little Town.

The text excerpt ends, in fact:

Young Soult could be melodramatic, like Byron, Charlotte says.
Branwell and Charlotte love Byron. And Emily loves him, too.
He drinks too much. And he gambles.
Captain Budd gambles, and it would be the end of his brilliant career.
The Glass Town poet's clothes hung off him, his socks had holes, his shoes were all worn out.
Does Branwell know how to spell the lisp Anne talks with. [sic]
Does he have any idea. [sic]

I am definately interested in seeing what comes of all of this, but I cannot believe that this is actually the way the novel is written.


Soft Skull Press said...

Oh yes, it is very much the way the novel is written! It has been proofed and copyedited, proofed and copyedited! Everything is there for a reason (though some may debate the outcome!)

The style is very consistent acrss Douglas's work, from his first two volumes fof poetry from the late 90's, to his first novel "Outline of my Lover" to his recent story collection, just out from the University of Wisconsin Press. Douglas plays a great deal with punctation.

Here's a link to one advance review

And here (because it's behind a subscription firewall) is the one frm Publishers Weekly (the US equivalent of Quill & Quire)

In this mannered, tortuous life of Charlotte Bronte's younger brother,
Branwell, novelist Martin (Outline of My Lover ) offers a tender, tragic
portrayal of a doomed artist and homosexual avant la lettre . In Martin's
marvelous free and direct telling, Branwell, as the sole son among many
daughters (only Charlotte, Emily and Anne survived childhood) is accorded
privileges they are not, such as special home schooling by their strict
father, curate of provincial Haworth. Branwell also lords over the set of
toy soldiers the siblings use in elaborate play wars, creating vast
civilizations in poems and plays. The early deaths of their mother and
sisters Maria and Elizabeth prove shattering for Branwell, on whose fragile
shoulders the great hopes of the house rest. Sent off alone to London to
gain admittance to the Royal Academy, he falls continually in his family's
esteem, becoming a local drunkard and apprentice to the secretly homosexual
freemason society; a last chance at gainful employment, as tutor to a boy in
Thorp Green, ends in a scandalous dismissal, and Branwell descends
irretrievably into a drug-induced, punishing state of monomania. Though
slender, this volume's beautiful declarative sentences are perfectly fitted
to this famously imaginative, headstrong family; they bring Branwell
Bronte's world to light.

Brontëana said...

I stand corrected. I was not sure how to describe the work. It seems more like a free verse prose poem in style. I am undecided about how effective this is, but I am not in the habit of judging work based on the first 24 pages! I am also not in the habit of judging a work based on the opinions of others. Based on what I have seen, I don't agree with the P.W. review regarding the fitness of the style to the story of the Brontës, however, I look forward to reading the entire work, despite my reservations (especially regarding the treatment of Anne). I do applaud authors who attempt to wrestle with the works of the Brontës or their lives in their own voice and style- as opposed to attempting to mimic those of the Brontës. There is more energy, force, and truth in an author using their own voice. I will be sure to review the work once I have read it in full!

Any new work on Branwell is especially needed. There are very few scholarly books in print about Branwell. I hope that Mr. Douglas' novel will stimulate debate and discussion, if nothing else.

Thank you for the preview, and the advance reviews!