Pour One Out for Branwell, and Other News


On the Shelf

Give the guy a little love.


  • Poor Branwell Brontë. He had three brilliant, literary sisters. He had a way of courting misfortune. And, worst of all, he had a first name that sounds like an off-brand cereal from the health-food store. But now that Branwell’s siblings have ascended into the highest reaches of the canon, Emma Butcher argues that we’ve failed to give him his due: “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 thirty-one from the long-term effects of substance abuse … Life threw repeated punches at Branwell, but within this series of unfortunate events there was happiness and worth. We must not forget that the Brontë brother grew up in the same literature-charged environment as his three siblings … Although his influence was not always positive, Branwell remained a primary muse for his sisters, and we should remember him as a major cog in the Brontë writing machine—even if his own work was always ‘minor.’ And the story of a young, talented fantasist failing to make his way in the world resonates with our experiences of hardship and lost dreams.”

  • David Wallace reads Austerity Measures, a new anthology of Greek poets responding to their nation’s economic tumult: “It’s become a cliché to say that we turn to poetry in times of trouble, or that we need the vibrant language of poets to console ourselves after disaster. Greece’s debt is a different kind of catastrophe, one that occurs in slow motion: its mechanisms are abstract and impersonal, although the consequences are very real for those who rely on government institutions. These strictures insinuate themselves into the ambience of everyday life and language, something that poets can observe with careful attention … In an economic system that scrambles extreme scarcity (of resources and public cohesion) and extreme abundance (of images and entertainments), individual action can seem disempowered or useless, lost in the churn of financial transactions. Perhaps there’s an ‘economic’ role for poetry in the solitude and independence that it calls for: it remains completely under the poet’s control to create it as he or she pleases. Consider the difference in capital required between writing poems and making a film. All you need, for the former, is pencil and paper, or maybe just your memory.”
  • Cristian Mungiu is a director out of the “Romanian New Wave,” a loose coalition of filmmakers who began working after the fall of Communism, favoring what Adam Thirlwell calls a “lo-fi avant-garde” aesthetic, with natural light and handheld cameras. Mungiu’s latest, Graduation, finds him pressing his style to the limit, Thirlwell writes: “Mungiu has refined his explorations in a hybrid form: melodrama filmed with naturalistic technique. The stories his films tell possess an old-fashioned three-act structure: crisis, complication, finale. His characters are starkly arranged on either side of a moral border. And yet the look is much more casual and less controlled. It’s visible in the cinematography, where random objects block the camera’s view, or the focus is adjusted in mid-shot; and also in the wonderful clutter of his sets, like the opening image (another still life) in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days—a table with a burning cigarette in an ashtray, a clock, a cup and saucer, a bowl, some bank notes, a cigarette package, a lamp, underwear drying on a radiator, some hand lotion, some milk, and a fish bowl with a drawing of a cityscape inside it. Only the cigarette smoke and the fish are moving.”
  • Let’s close with some gossip from the eighties—John McEnroe’s new memoir reveals a deep-seated antipathy for Andy Warhol, whose antic disposition apparently prevented McEnroe from getting laid: “Of Warhol, McEnroe writes, ‘He was always there at every party I was ever at, taking your picture late at night, even when you were super fucked up … I remember thinking, Who is this weirdo with the fake hair? Why is he waving his camera around when we’re here at three in the morning? Isn’t there a place that could be off-limits?’ But in his book, McEnroe complains that Warhol interfered with his sex life, saying that at late-night parties, where one might ‘loosen your collar and try to find a good-looking model or whatever,’ the artist ‘always seemed to be up in everyone’s face with his camera, being a pain in the ass.’ The seven-time Grand Slam winner didn’t think much of Warhol as an artist either, saying he found him to be ‘mediocre’ before he later came to appreciate the work. When Warhol died in 1987, McEnroe says, ‘everyone all of a sudden is going, He’s one of the world’s greatest, unbelievable … I’m like, He is?’ ”