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Archive for November, 2018

More on the Brontës

I recently watched “To Walk Invisible,” a film by Sally Wainwright, which sketches the Brontë family through flashbacks to childhood and brief, poignant scenes in the present where they all live in the parsonage, the sisters toiling at household chores, the father going blind, and the brother, Branwell, sliding into dissipation and dashing the hopes of the family for his success (at something, anything). Soon, he is tormenting them all with his need for money and drink, his weakness and rages, and his debts. It is painful to contemplate the four bright, wildly inventive children thriving on their imaginative play with Branwell as their leader and then jump ahead to see what a disappointment he is to all of them and most pitiably to himself. I knew the story of his misdemeanors and demise, but the movie helps us pity rather than despise him for the inadequacies of which he was only too aware.  The movie hints at the parental indulgence shown to the only male child, and the high expectations they all had of him,  and which the father continues to cling to long after the three women have realized the truth about their brother. Meanwhile, the sisters seek salvation in writing as the only thing they can do and the only thing, as Anne says, that makes her “feel alive.”

I disagree with the review in The Atlantic which faults Wainwright for focusing too much of the story on Branwell. To my mind, his disgrace and decline form a powerful backdrop to the sisters’ rise, and his misdemeanors and eventual demise bookend their story.  We all know what they became – Wainwright’s tight focus on the family dynamics  illuminates their unlikely success story, telling us from whence they came and how they became great.

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