by Robert Edric
Haworth, West Yorkshire, 1848. Branwell Bronte - unexhibited artist, unacknowledged writer, sacked railwayman, disgraced tutor and spurned lover -finds himself unhappily back in Haworth Parsonage, to face the crushing disappointment of his father and his three sisters, whose own pseudonymous successes - allegedly kept secret from him - are only just becoming apparent.
With his health failing rapidly, his literary aspirations abandoned and his once loyal circle of friends shrinking fast, Branwell lives in a world of secrets, conspiracies and seemingly endless betrayals.
To restore himself to a creative and fulfilling existence in the face of an increasingly claustrophobic environment, he returns to the drugs, alcohol and the morbid self-delusion which have already played such a large part in his unhappy life.
Sanctuary is a lacerating and moving portrait of self-destruction.
In it, Robert Edric has reimagined the final months of one of the great bystanders of literary history, and, in so doing, has shone a penetrating light on one of the most celebrated and perennially fascinating families in our creative history.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 304 pages
- Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
- Publication Date: 20/11/2014
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780857522870
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Review by starbox
'You're the parson's son...that suffering man'While books about the Brontes normally only show their brother Branwell as a background figure, Edric makes him the narrator and hence principal character. Set in the year 1848, the last year of Branwell's life, we follow him on drunken nights out with his friends - like him, largely 'failures' in their artistic lives; we see him dragged ever further down in his own and his sisters' estimation, as bailiffs come knocking for the debts he's racked up, and we see his recollections: of the illegitimate child he fathered, of the married woman he loved, and who rejected him, and of his utter lack of success in his work, from painting and poetry (especially set against the sisters' growing fame) to even being ignominiously sacked from the railways. In his lack of religious belief, he has even failed his godly - but loving - father.His (indeed, all the children's) 'sanctuary' is the Haworth Parsonage, and Edric imagines the family dynamics: Charlotte's increasing anger and acerbity in her dealings with her brother as she settles his bills; Emily's love; his father's prayers and cherishing.He sets this against the contemporary events: building work, religious dissent, the ever-extending railways...I really enjoyed this unusual take on a family and a story that were already well known to me. I became more sympathetic to a character who tends to be presented as a 'dead loss', as I read the account from his own point of view.