War, trauma and alcoholism: Charlotte and Branwell Bronte (article)

During and after the Napoleonic Wars, there was an outpouring of military-based biographical writing never before seen in British history. Over 200 military memoirs were published either as standalone entities or in periodicals such as Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and The United Service Journal. As a result, the experiences of ordinary soldiers were brought to the forefront of Britain’s public consciousness. Although many of these memoirs glorified war, a number revealed the psychological damage war inflicted on the British male population and explicitly exposed the horrors of combat to a domestic readership. Furthermore, this explosion of life writing also exposed a connection between suffering and alcoholism, consolidating trauma as a post-war, national problem. The Brontës, typically recognized as canonical, Victorian authors, first participated in this military-based literary movement. This article attempts to reposition and establish two of the siblings – Charlotte and Branwell – as significant post-war commentators. By focussing on their military reading, it will become clear how they vicariously processed and reimagined war trauma and addiction through their Glass Town and Angrian sagas. Not only will this article argue that the introduction of military biography into British society generated wide-scale recognition of war trauma, despite its absence within contemporary medical discourse, but it will also argue that the young Brontës’ literature is an important historical source for understanding and re-evaluating the public response to post-war military masculinity.
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