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.