My love of the Brontës is evident from the name of this site; it’s dedicated to all things Brontë, from the family’s works to literature and art inspired by them. I managed to track down some wonderful Brontë inspired fiction in 2018 and I’m delighted to introduce you to something brand new in 2019. Below is a short play about Branwell Brontë by Sophie Marlowe, a student at the University of Lincoln. This play is called To Angria, and it was written for Sophie’s playwriting module at university. Sophie kindly shared this with me and now I’d like to share it with my readers who I think will really enjoy this piece. I’d really love to see some comments on this one as I think it would be nice if Sophie got some feedback on her piece from fellow Brontëites. But first, here’s a quick note from Sophie about her influences when writing the play:
‘In Summer 2018 I decided to take myself on a solo trip to the land of Brontë in Haworth. Upon entering Branwell’s room in the parsonage, an intrigue flooded my senses. Who was this figure, who we seem to know so little about in comparison to his sisters? A figure that foreboded his own death in his sketch of the skeletal figure of death looming above him. His room appeared full of potential and creativity which bled through its atmosphere- only to be lost by his downward spiral of alcoholism and addiction. I wanted to know more.
From that point onwards, my trip to Haworth and the moors haunted my mind. And I wanted to put it to use. When asked to write a short play for my module at university, I ended up turning my hand to the Brontës’ almost forgotten brother.’
Below you can read Sophie’s play which I thought was, like Branwell, poignant and tragic with a sense of chaos lurking, about to break free. I really enjoyed this play. Please do leave some feedback after reading. Reader, enjoy.
“It’s time to bring Branwell, the dark Brontë, into the light”
~ Emma Butcher
BRANWELL – Main character, based on Branwell Brontë
CHARLOTTE – Branwell’s sister, based on Charlotte Brontë
LYDIA – Branwell’s lover, based on Lydia Robinson
/ indicates where the characters overlap one another’s speech.
The space around BRANWELL is cluttered with books, clothes, sketches, and writings including the tiny books and manuscripts that he and CHARLOTTE wrote about Glass Town and Angria when they were children. There is also a mixture of full and empty alcohol bottles. This gets increasingly disordered throughout by BRANWELL, who is centre stage. We are in his mind. When other characters enter the space, they are not truly there- he is reliving his own memories. They enter and exit as if in a dream. They do not perceive the mess of his room or the portrait centre stage.
We watch as BRANWELL adds the final touches to his portrait stood on a canvas. The painting is of himself and his three sisters, Emily, Anne, and CHARLOTTE. He gently strokes Charlotte’s image in a brotherly manner of tenderness. As he paints:
BRANWELL: And there they are. My gorgeous sisters. The three wonders of the world. And there I sit. In between them. Like a thorn between roses. Like an ink stain. Like a-
BRANWELL: Like a… devil… Ha.
A build-up before he begins to furiously paint over himself.
BRANWELL: Like a… Like a-
CHARLOTTE. (offstage) Branwell?
He sits still. CHARLOTTE enters, wearing all black. She is in mourning.
CHARLOTTE: Today is the day. Come with me? Please.
BRANWELL: No… Yes. No. I cannot.
CHARLOTTE: We need you there.
BRANWELL: Charlotte, I-
CHARLOTTE: No more excuses. You’re coming. It’s time.
BRANWELL: Are they coming too?
CHARLOTTE: Yes. Come on. It’s a whole family affair.
She laughs sadly. He smiles just as sadly.
CHARLOTTE: She would have wanted you there.
BRANWELL: I know. But I want her here. First Mother, Maria, Elizabeth… Now Aunt Branwell. You didn’t see her Charlotte. Her pain… I loved her.
BRANWELL: (Reflecting on those he has lost, mournfully) … And another one. And another one… and another one.
There was this little waterfall, over the moors. We used to go there. All the time. Every summer. Every winter. Any time really. Aunt… she used to play with us on the rocks, we’d dip our feet in, she’d splash us. It was brilliant. This one time, I fell in. Placed myself precariously on the edge, and just lost my balance. Just toppled backwards in to the water, feeling my legs and arms flailing as I went. My body plunged into the water, my eyes blurred. Stinging. Just toppled backwards into this murky water. The next thing I see is this rippling reflection shining through the surface. It’s Aunt. This hand dives in, pulls me out. And she loses her balance. I was only small, but she had to position herself awkwardly to get me out. We both fell backwards, we’re now lying on this big rock. We both just lay there laughing. We just stared up at the sky, full of pinks and oranges as the sun began to set. Just laughing and crying from the madness of it all. Charlotte, Anne and Emily are laughing too. All of us. I’m soaking wet, dirt all over me. Taking in the sky…
BRANWELL: F**k… F**K.
CHARLOTTE: A letter came for you.
BRANWELL: Who from?
CHARLOTTE: (Smiles) Have a look.
She gives him the letter.
BRANWELL: (Smiles) Do you think it could be…?
CHARLOTTE: Yes. Yes, I do.
BRANWELL takes a deep breath. He opens it and grins.
BRANWELL: I… I did it. I did it, Charlotte. (Laughs) Royal Academy of the Arts, here I come.
CHARLOTTE: Oh, Bran! That’s wonderful. So wonderful.
They laugh and embrace.
CHARLOTTE: We must tell the others!
BRANWELL: I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to get out of here, make something of myself. Ha. I knew I would.
She kisses him on the cheek, and then runs offstage as if to go and tell the family.
BRANWELL: London. The towering buildings. The grey, dark sky. It loomed. People, just everywhere. And they were unhappy. And I was unhappy. Or was I full of joy? I don’t know anymore. It all merges, it’s… it’s blurry. And I painted. And painted. And painted. And painted. But it didn’t make me feel. I thought it would. But the only thing that made me feel anything… or I thought-
Looks at bottles around him.
CHARLOTTE enters, startled to see BRANWELL.
CHARLOTTE: You’re back. Oh, Branwell. You look…
BRANWELL: I look great, don’t I, sister?
CHARLOTTE: Branwell… what-
BRANWELL: Is Father in?
CHARLOTTE: No. He’s at church.
CHARLOTTE: At Blake Hall, she’s the governess there now.
CHARLOTTE: Over on the moors… She’s not in the best way at the moment…
BRANWELL: I see… Well I best-
CHARLOTTE: Bran, wait. Do you not even care about Emily? Tell me what has happened, I-
BRANWELL: Best be getting on.
CHARLOTTE: Will you please just let me-
BRANWELL: (sharp) Goodbye, Charlotte.
She exits. He spins in the space, picking up bottles, taking swigs from full ones. As he does so:
BRANWELL: And another one, and another one, and another one, and another one.
BRANWELL: And then I’m employed. Anne… by this time she was the governess at Thorp Green Hall, employed by Reverend Robinson, (heavily sarcastic) the Great. And he took me under his wing too. Oh, wasn’t I ever so blessed? Tutored his son. It went well – until she she entered the room. She. She was. Something. Something other. A vibrancy in her cheeks, a life to her. So much life, I thought she could give me mine back. The energy that surrounded her, it just… glistened. That glisten – I thought she could breathe into me. I thought she…
LYDIA enters the space. She is Reverend Robinson’s wife.
BRANWELL: (Taken aback) You’re- you’re here.
LYDIA: He’s at Church. We’re alone.
BRANWELL: We are… we are.
LYDIA: (Approaching him seductively) I was thinking about you last night. I was lying in bed, next to him. And I was thinking about you. The way you hold me, the way your fingers linger. Those eyes. Dancing with delight. And I wanted you there. Not him. You. Always you.
BRANWELL: Always you. (Holding her now) Lydia. Once he’s gone, I will be there. Next to you. I swear to you.
LYDIA: (Manipulative) Why do you want this? You could marry someone younger, someone easier to be with, someone-
BRANWELL: Always you.
They kiss desperately then pause. They stare at one another.
LYDIA pulls away, slowly releasing his hand from hers, walking backwards gazing at him. She exits. As BRANWELL writes a letter, swigging drinks in a manic manner in between:
BRANWELL: ‘This lady, though her husband detested me, showed me a degree of kindness… declarations of more than ordinary feeling… my admiration of her mental and personal attractions… combined to an attachment on my part…’
LYDIA: I’ve spoken to him. Told him that I need to go to visit my sister-in-law for a while.
BRANWELL: Sister-in-law… ha.
LYDIA: A convincing excuse, do you not think?
BRANWELL: (Smiling) It is indeed.
LYDIA: (Laughs) Sunday night, we’ll pack our things and we’ll go. Away from here.
BRANWELL: Just you and me.
LYDIA: Yes, yes (laughs)/
BRANWELL: Far away/
BRANWELL: Sounds quite perfect, doesn’t it? And he won’t know.
LYDIA: And he won’t know.
LYDIA kisses him quickly, before exiting.
BRANWELL: … And he won’t know. Ha.
BRANWELL continuing his letter whilst drinking as before:
BRANWELL: ‘She is damnably too fond of me’… ‘lock of her hair… I have laid it on my chest at night, would to God I could do so legally…’ (He is frantic, representing another hit for his addiction) And another one and another one and another one and another one.
LYDIA: (Panicked) You must leave now.
BRANWELL: I will not go, I refuse to.
LYDIA: Branwell, you must. Please.
BRANWELL: I am not leaving you with him, lonely. You need me.
LYDIA: I will be alright! Just go. I beg of you.
BRANWELL: You told me that you need me by your side. I am staying right here.
BRANWELL: Lydia…? Is that not what you said?
LYDIA: …It was.
BRANWELL: Then I am staying.
LYDIA: (Snaps) Branwell, please. You will ruin me.
BRANWELL: Ruin you?
LYDIA: Yes. (Scoffs) What will they say? If we run away together? What will I be called… slandered… I cannot go with you. I will not. Now, leave.
LYDIA: I do not love you, not in the way I love him. Is that what you want to hear? (Condescending) Is that what you need to hear? Because that is the truth.
BRANWELL: That’s not… true.
BRANWELL: Not true, not…
Pause. He is beginning to cry.
BRANWELL: F**k… F**K (In despair, he has lost another person). And another one and another one and another one and another one.
BRANWELL: I was to ‘break off immediately, and for ever, all communication with every member of the family’. But, her glisten. Her glisten.
He cries in agony, before composing himself. He picks up one of the tiny books he and Charlotte used to write, flicking through it. He then prepares his opium. He smokes, going into a forced calm state. Lighting change. He is dangerously high. During the following speech, he creates a series of sketches. He finishes by drawing on the floor in chalk, a sketch of him lying in bed with the skeletal figure of Death above him.
BRANWELL: Charlotte and me. We were children. Small little children, no care in the world. We made these tiny books. Only we could read. Father couldn’t. A secret, it’s fun to keep secrets. Must keep it a secret – shhhh, shhhh! We created this magical land. Angria, we called it. Angria. We shared it, Charlotte and me. It was special. Our own little world. And I can see it now. Over the hills, the sun gleaming off those glass sky-high buildings, buildings that go on and on and on, out of the sky and through the other side. Far away. Can you see them? Can you see them? (He laughs). They’re there, always there. In the corner of my eye. Just out of reach. I want to go. (Begins to cry) Please let me go, PLEASE.
CHARLOTTE enters, holding a drawing. It is the sketch of Death; the same one we have seen BRANWELL draw on the floor.
CHARLOTTE: What is this?
CHARLOTTE: I said, what is this Bran?!
BRANWELL: Oh… it’s Death, Charlotte. My very own. Do you like it? Quite a pretty drawing, don’t you think?
CHARLOTTE: Branwell… you need help, you need –
BRANWELL staggers towards her, he is violent and aggressive in his attitude. We are unsure what he is capable of. In CHARLOTTE’s face:
BRANWELL: WHAT? What do I need? God? That’s what Father wants isn’t it? Me to find God at last. Ha. The Holy Book. Him. But where is God now? Where was he for ME? All my life – searching. For something. Escape. A purpose. And what have I been given? Eh Charlotte? WHAT HAVE I BEEN GIVEN?
CHARLOTTE: (Shocked) Please calm down, please just look at yourself, you need –
BRANWELL: I’m sick of you. All of you. This little house. This little village. A little village full of memories of people that have left me, f**king deserted me. I need to get out, I feel like I’m choking. F**k this. F**K. All of you. F**k all of you.
CHARLOTTE: If you would just come with me, please, like old times, I can help –
BRANWELL: What, come with you to Church (laughs sadistically)? Oh Charlotte, we were always so close, weren’t we? My favourite sister. A jewel… But now? You just suffocate me. You’re not on my side anymore, you’re with them. If you truly cared for me, you would leave me alone. You think you’re so good, so pious. Prove it. Care for me Charlotte. Leave me. I am just fine. Fine. Fine.
CHARLOTTE exits slowly as if to get help. He begins to drink desperately and urgently, we feel this is the end for him. He says regretfully but unable to stop himself:
BRANWELL: And another one and another one and another one and another one and another one and another one.
Silence. BRANWELL sinks to the floor. He is extremely weak.
BRANWELL: Confined to my father’s bed. I’m a danger, ha, that’s what they say. I’m a… a… a thorn between roses… an ink stain… a… Devil… Death is breathing down on me, crushing me under its weight. And Lydia is stood, in the dark corner of the room. Taunting me with those dangerous eyes. And I try to reach out… but I can’t move. I can barely breathe– I need… just one more… Just another one.
Pause. A change.
BRANWELL: And then I can see them. The glass towers. And Charlotte – she’s there. “Come on, Bran, it’s a whole family affair”, and she’s right. I look to the left of her, Aunt is there. And Elizabeth. And Maria. And… (pause, his voice breaks) Mother. The light is searing through the clouds, and the air is new, fresh. I can breathe again. My body is free… I’m free. Charlotte is smiling. They all are. “To Angria?” She asks. I take her hand.
BRANWELL: To Angria.
Once again I’d like to thank Sophie for letting me post her play on Brontë Babe Blog. I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I did.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe and Sophie Marlowe.
Thanks for reading. Find me on twitter @BronteBabeBlog where I tweet about books, the Brontës, and animal rights. A lot.
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