Dear Reader I Read it Book Review ‘Branwell Bronte’s Barber’s tale’ by Chris Firth’

Well I have just finished Branwell Bronte”s Barbers Tale by Chris Firth.  It has taken me ages too.  It’s not a particularly thick book but I have been reading it before I go to sleep and eking it out.  I really enjoyed this tale of intrigue, mystery and supposition.  The authors description of the barbers habitat and the area sets the period in context.  This was of particular interest to me because of an ancestor who was a Master barber. He born in that time period (but not in the place, which was abroad though he worked in Liverpool).  The detailed descriptions of the shop, the neighbourhood and the public houses are delightful – you can almost smell the place!


The story itself is very well researched and the character of MacCraw, well rounded –    pathetic and brave by turn.  Crippled by the sudden death (murder) of his young wife the fellow ‘Rhymer’ can not come to terms with his loss which  ages him rapidly as he spiralls downwards onto the slippery slope of the drinking dens of his youth.  Reliving his love and the comradeship of the Rhymers (which of course include Branwell), the barber becomes intent in proving to the world that Branwell was the true author of Wuthering Heights‘.

In this book Branwell comes across as loud, garrulous and extremely talented (as he was, so it’s probably a good sketch of him).  He is a very boisterous character, highly strung and imaginative.  He is scared stiff of his sisters though – particularly Charlotte.  Whether this was true in real life we will never know – but it is indeed fun speculating.  And this is what this book does very well – speculates.  I have often speculated myself about the possibility of Branwell being the real author of ‘Wuthering Heights’.   I think that it would have to be chisseled into stone before it would be accepted even if true,  plus where would this leave Emily?  The lone mysterious mystic who roamed the moors….   Well, we would still have her beautiful poetry.

Perhaps inadvertently, Gaskell gave this theory strength by her condemnation of Branwell by his sisters.  By painting Branwell black to show, this served to show just how much his poor sisters had to put up with. Coupled with Charlotte’s impatience with her brother it may well have been advisable to leave him out of things.  But on the other hand – wouldn’t the sisters be pleased if Branwell was saved by success? wouldn’t it be just the thing he needed to drag him out of his apathy?  They obviously weren’t pleased to see his talents dissapated, so why not give him a lift?. Then again, perhaps they may have thought that fame may have gone to his head and made his vices worse….  So many questions and no easy answers. 

I recommend this well written book, authentic in style as a rip roaring tale of intrigue, speculation and detail of the world the Bronte’s inhabited.  A lovely extra is MacCraw’s recipes or remedies from his journal – which I found very interesting indeed and which again brought the story into it’s period context.

Please note: – This book was read last year, this review has only just been found amongst my drafts.

4 thoughts on “Dear Reader I Read it Book Review ‘Branwell Bronte’s Barber’s tale’ by Chris Firth’

  1. the book Branwell Bronte’s barbers tales enchanted me though i do not believe that branny wrote the first draft of wuthering heights! i know though that the bronte children born in Thornton,bradford…were delivered of Maria by doctor john firth and that the foundation stone taken from patrick brontes bell chapel across to st.james the replacement church….was laid on August 21st 1872. the reason i know this and it facinates me is because the brontes stayed for their last night ever* as a family living here in Thornton at the family home of doctor john firth ,john informed patrick bronte of the post he took up in Haworth….the bronte children often came back to see Thornton and Thornfild hall in Thornton ~which is in Charlotte bronte’s Jane Eyre if you care to read it dear reader’s… and visit the Bronte birthplace you will see that it is actually ~ Thornton hall which is surrounded by fields.the brontes loved their birthplace and this is brushed away by writers and people…my daughter ella firth lives in part of the firth house in thornton…she is the first firth to live there since the other firth family …which is nice for me readers,susan firth

    1. Thanks for reading Susan, how wondeful to have this link with the Brontes! I love that the author actually has this connection with the Bronte’s and Thornton. He certainly knows his Haworth too. I very much enjoyed his book and have recommended it to others. Although we visit Haworth at least once a year I have yet to visit Wycoller and Thornton. I will definitely make a point of visitng Thornton now!

  2. thanks, glad you enjoyed….love the Brontes and my brothers book…there are snowdrops pushing through towards the sunlight here in Thornton the,birthplace of the Brontes ……..

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