Monday 27 February 2017

Mary Kenny: the sisters' brother

On the Brontë centenary, few will remember the sibling who failed

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

There are many accounts of sons being favoured over daughters, and daughters' lives being obscured by the brilliance of their brothers - Mozart's sister is thought to have been as musically gifted as he, but she did not get the same chances, perhaps, to develop. Fred Astaire's sister, Adele, was once the more celebrated dancer - but Fred is the Astaire who is remembered.

But there are examples, too, where sisters shine famously and 'the brother' is merely a shadowy footnote.

The lives of Charlotte Brontë, author of the immortal Jane Eyre (and other novels), and her dazzling literary sisters, Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (Agnes Grey) are being currently marked for the bi-centennial of Charlotte's birth. But faded into the background - and painted out of the famous group portrait of the three Yorkshire sisters - is their brother, Branwell, who died of drink, dissolution and opium addiction, probably accelerated by tuberculosis, at the age of 30.

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