Sanctuary

Written by Robert Edric

There have been plenty of fictional treatments of the Brontë family. This one takes a different perspective in being a first-person narrative by the three sisters’ brother, Branwell Brontë. Branwell’s eccentric behaviour and unusual beliefs give his account a starkly unconventional approach. It is 1848 and Branwell has returned to live at the Haworth parsonage with his father, the rector and his sisters. Branwell’s dissolute past is behind him – his unsuitable romantic attachment to a married woman, and his job working on the railways from which he was dismissed following allegations of accounting irregularities – but he finds it challenging to be back in the domestic environment, where the organised Charlotte in particular upbraids him constantly for his sins. He continues to suffer from his epileptic seizures and is protected by his kindly father, who is anxious about his daughters’ growing literary reputation, following the publication of their slim volume of poems and then their fiction.

Branwell feels he constantly has to apologise to his sisters, father and friends for his behaviour and the hurtful and undiplomatic things he says. He almost has to say sorry for just being alive. But he would be a significant challenge to live with – mentally unstable, often drunk, living off his family despite being in his early 30s, and with no prospect of a career. He observes the changing landscapes around Haworth, as growing industrialisation and the change to land use continue the transformation of the landscape.

Branwell’s narrative is wonderfully well written; to superbly understand and express his confusion, unhappiness and desperation is a major literary achievement, together with the account of life at the parsonage amongst this talented literary family. This is an engaging and moving novel.