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Branwell Brontë, self portrait, 1840

Patrick Branwell Brontë ( ) (26 June 1817 – 24 September 1848) was a painter and poet, the only son of the Brontë family, and the brother of the writers Charlotte, Emily and Anne.


Branwell Brontë was the fourth of six children and the only son of Patrick Brontë and his wife, Maria Branwell Brontë. He was born in Thorntonmarker, near Bradfordmarker, Yorkshiremarker, and moved with his family to Haworthmarker when his father was appointed to the perpetual curacy in 1821.

Of the four Brontë siblings who survived into adulthood, Branwell Brontë seems to have been regarded within the family as the most talented, at least during his childhood and youth. While four of his five sisters were sent to Cowan Bridgemarker boarding school (resulting in the death of his two oldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, from tuberculosis), Branwell was kept at home to be privately educated by his father, who gave him a classical education suitable for admission to Oxfordmarker or Cambridgemarker. Elizabeth Gaskell, biographer of his sister, Charlotte Bronte, says this of Branwell's schooling:

Mr. Brontë's friends advised him to send his son to school; but, remembering both the strength of will of his own youth and his mode of employing it, he believed that Patrick was better at home, and that he himself could teach him well, as he had taught others before.

Brontë collaborated as a writer with his sisters in childhood and adolescence, creating fictional worlds. His surviving juvenilia shows that he collaborated most closely with Charlotte on their imaginary world Angria.


Painting (c.
1834) of Brontë sisters.png

As a young man, Branwell Brontë was trained as a portrait painter in Haworth, and worked as a portrait painter in Bradford in 1838 and 1839. His most famous portrait is of his three sisters (he seems to have painted himself out).

In 1840, Brontë became a tutor to a family of young boys in Broughton-in-Furnessmarker but was dismissed within six months. During this time he did a translation of Horace. He was then employed on the Luddenden Footmarker railway stationmarker in 1841 but was dismissed in 1842 due to a deficit of eleven pounds in the accounts attributed to incompetence rather than theft. During his period of employment both as a tutor and on the railways he harboured literary ambitions and published poetry under various pseudonyms in the Yorkshiremarker press.

In 1843 Brontë took up another tutoring position in Thorp Green, appointed as the tutor to the Reverend Edmund Robinson's young son. He gained this position through his sister Anne, who was the governess to the Robinsons' two older daughters. During this time he corresponded with a number of old friends about his increasing infatuation with Robinson's wife Lydia, who was the daughter of Rev. Thomas Gisborne. He was dismissed on unspecified charges in 1845. It is thought, according to his account to his own family, the Robinson family's silence on the reason for his dismissal, and subsequent gifts of money from Mrs. Robinson through her servants, that he had an affair with Mrs. Robinson and that the affair had been discovered by her husband.

Elizabeth Gaskell refers to a letter received after his dismissal

sternly dismissing him, intimating that his proceedings were discovered, characterising them as bad beyond expression, and charging him, on pain of exposure, to break off immediately, and for ever, all communication with every member of the family.

Brontë returned home to his family at the Haworth parsonagemarker, but he was devastated by Mrs. Robinson's abandonment and the increasing unlikelihood of a reunion and turned to alcohol. He became an alcoholic and was thought to be addicted to laudanum. His behaviour became irrational and dangerous as he developed delirium tremens. Charlotte's letters from this time demonstrate that she was angered by his behaviour, but that her father was patient with his broken son. Although it was at this time that his sisters' first novels were being accepted for publication, it is not known whether he was even informed.

Brontë's severe addictions masked the onset of tuberculosis, and his family did not realise that he was seriously ill until he collapsed outside the house and a local doctor identified him as being in the disease's terminal stages. He died shortly thereafter.

Emily Brontë died of the disease in December of that year and Anne Brontë the following May.

Cultural references

A portrait of Emily, by Branwell

Under the collective title Brotherly Sisters, Terence Pettigrew tells the Brontë story in fifty-three individual narrative poems. The collection starts with their father's farewell to his native Ireland in 1802 (The Road From Drumballyroney), includes Branwell's disastrous affair with Lydia Robinson, (In Love And Talking Nonsense) and ends with a poignant description of Anne Brontë's death, in Scarborough, in 1849 (Do Angels Feel The Cold ?).

Mrs. Robinson's affair with Branwell Brontë is mirrored in the 1967 movie The Graduate, in which the young man seduced is called "Benjamin Braddock".

Branwell and his sisters are the central figures in the play The Gales of March written by Lee Bollinger in 1987.

In June 2009 the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth hosted an exhibition entitled Sex, Drugs and Literature - The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë focusing on Branwell's life.


Further reading

  • Branwell Brontë: a biography by Winifred Gérin (Toronto/NY: T. Nelson & Sons, 1961, Hutchinson 1972)
  • The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier (Victor Gollancz 1960, Penguin Books 1972)
  • The Poems of Patrick Branwell Brontë, ed. by Tom Winnifrith (Oxford: Blackwell Ltd, 1983)
  • The Life of Patrick Branwell Brontë by Tom Winnifrith
  • The Brontës and their Background by Tom Winnifrith (1973 Macmillan, 1988 Palgrave Macmillan)
  • The Brontës by Juliet Barker (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994)
  • A Brontë Family Chronology by Edward Chitham (2003 Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Branwell, A Novel of the Brontë Brother (ISBN 1-933368-00-4), by Douglas A. Martin
  • A Chainless Soul, a biography of Emily Brontë, by Katherine Frank

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