Emma Butcher at The Guardian:
We are currently in the middle of Brontë bicentenary mania. This year, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, we are diverting attention away from the famous sisters and focusing on the often-overlooked Brontë brother, Branwell.
We remember him as the failure of the family. Despite being a passionate poet, writer and artist, he failed to hold down conventional jobs, and repeatedly succumbed to vice. Finally, his world fell apart after the end of an affair with a married woman, Lydia Gisborne, which accelerated his dependence on opiates and alcohol. He died at the young age of 31 from the long-term effects of substance abuse.
Branwell’s legacy has been shaped by sensation, such as the story that he once set his own bed on fire, or the suggestion that he died standing up. His erratic, out-of-control behaviour has contributed to his legacy as the family’s black sheep.
This year, however, the Brontë Parsonage is trying to tone down the Branwell bashing, recognising his flaws but celebrating the merits of the brother with the salutary hashtag #TeamBranwell. The poet Simon Armitage is the museum’s creative partner for this bicentenary, curating an exhibition that pairs his own poetry with objects owned by Branwell; inviting us to reflect on the workings of his mind and our relationship with this problematic fellow. At the heart of the exhibition is a letter to the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Branwell, then a earnest 19-year-old, encloses one of his own poems, and expresses his hopes and dreams of building “mansions in the sky”.