Go Back > Urban Legends > History

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 08 February 2008, 06:28 AM
Jahungo's Avatar
Jahungo Jahungo is offline
Join Date: 23 May 2007
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 5,351
Default Bronte brother died standing up?

One of my favorite authors is Douglas Adams, and in his final posthomous published book, The Salmon of Doubt, he mentioned that one of his favorite facts was that Branwell Bronte, brother of Emily, Charlotte and Anne, died standing up against a mantle just to prove it could be done. Just a bit ago I was reminded of my long-lasting intention to try to verify this, and so I searched the internets. One of the first places I checked was wikipedia, and at first I was excited to see that the fact was replicated there, and with a cite no less! Unfortunately, the cite was Douglas Adams himself.

My favourite piece of information is that Branwell Brontė, brother of Emily and Charlotte, died standing up leaning against a mantelpiece, in order to prove it could be done. This is not quite true, in fact. My absolute favourite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.
The page linked in wikipedia with the quote.

So, is this a true story, or just something Adams made up (or passed along)? Even the part in the book is ambiguous, with the whole "this is not quite true" and then changing that so it refers to it not actually being his favorite fact.
Reply With Quote
Old 08 February 2008, 10:25 AM
Andrew of Ware's Avatar
Andrew of Ware Andrew of Ware is offline
Join Date: 22 April 2003
Location: Ware, Hertfordshire, England
Posts: 8,017

I can't answer you specific question, Jahungo, but I can shed a bit of light on Branwell's death. (The information is from Jane O'Neill's book The World of the Brontes. He died after going into a 'spiral of dispair'. Having being dismissed as a tutor to a family in Broughton in Furness (perhaps because he fathered a daughter whilst there) Branwell got a job as a clerk to a railway company. He was dismissed from this job when money went missing (he may not have taken it, but as chief clerk he was responsible).

His final post ended in another dismissal. He weas tutor to two boys who lived near York, but he fell in love with the mistress of the house. However, he was not dismissed until two and a half years later for 'proceedings ... bad beyond expression.' Branwell took to taking opium and alcohol. Emily used him as a model for Hindley in Wuthering Heights and Anne as a model for Helen Graham's husband in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Branwell, as he died, shared a bedroom with his father - so that he could be watched over. Following his death Charlotte wrote,

I do not weep from a sense of bereavement ... but for the wreck of talent, the ruin of promise, the untimely extinction of what might have been a burning and a shining light.
I don't know if people who die of alcoholism or opium do it leaning against a mantlepiece, but Branwell did draw his death in a sketch called A PARODY. Here he is lying dead in bed as a skelatal figure of death summons him towards a church in the background.
Reply With Quote
Old 12 February 2008, 03:20 PM
katdixo katdixo is offline
Join Date: 12 November 2002
Location: Maryland suburb of Washington, DC
Posts: 431

I don't even understand the Douglas Adams quote. Is it saying that Branwell wanted to prove it was possible to die standing up? If so, that would mean that either he killed himself or he had a pretty good idea of when the end was near.

A quick search indicates that he died of TB, opium addiction, and/or alcoholism. I don't know whether those conditions give you strong signals that you're about to die. However, it does seem to me that a person about to die from them would be quite weak and possibly not lucid. So, to me, it seems quite unlikely that Branwell would have been able to stand up under his own power when close to death, and even more unlikely that his family would have done it for him. In fact, I would suspect that if he tried to stand up, his family would restrain him.

Also, it would seem that if this did happen, it would be possible to find more documentation of it. I found nothing except the aforementioned Wikipedia article.

ETA: I suppose it's possible he did commit suicide and his family hushed it up. But I would still like to know how Douglas Adams knew about it!

Last edited by katdixo; 12 February 2008 at 03:35 PM.
Reply With Quote
Old 12 February 2008, 03:58 PM
Seaboe Muffinchucker's Avatar
Seaboe Muffinchucker Seaboe Muffinchucker is offline
Join Date: 30 June 2005
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 18,753

It would probably be possible to die of an opium overdose while standing up, if it was a large enough dose.

However, the body would not remain standing (or leaning against a mantlepiece).

That sort of death would be the sort described as "he was dead before he hit the floor."

Reply With Quote
Old 03 January 2012, 07:19 AM
Posts: n/a

I know this thread is older than some children who can do basic math but I thought I'd add my two cents here. Some googling netted me this website:

The author of this blog mentions an early biography of Charlotte Bronte that alludes to this legend. However it also goes on to mention that the information is most likely false.
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump

All times are GMT. The time now is 08:01 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.