The Brontes: To Walk Invisible

Anne, Emily, Branwell, and Charlotte Bronte in a painting by Branwell around 1834.  He later painted himself out of the portrait. www.

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On March 26, 2017, PBS broadcast the film To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters. I found this title curious since the film devoted a great deal of time to Branwell Bronte, the sisters’ only brother. Branwell cast a shadow over the lives of his family for multiple reasons: he was the only male heir; he was as talented as his sisters; and he was an alcoholic and drug addict. That the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were superbly gifted writers goes without saying. However, Branwell remained the unrealized talent.

For my Senior Seminar as an English major at Indiana University Bloomington in the 1970’s, I was fortunate to have been accepted into the seminar, “The Brontes,” spearheaded by Professor Susan Gubar. We read everything, and I do mean everything, poems, novels, and unfinished manuscripts, written by The Brontes, including Branwell. Jane Eyre’s pluck and compassion; Heathcliff’s virility and vulnerability, Helen Graham’s defiance and liberation thrilled me no end. Yet Branwell’s dissolute living seemed to me to stem from a sense of fear and sense of inferiority. He certainly could have applied to study art in London, but he shrunk from what? The competition? His possible lack of great talent? Whatever his demons, Branwell squandered his money on drink, and then returned to his father’s home at Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England. He painted portraits, worked on translations of the classics such as Homer, and composed poetry.

I found Branwell intriguing. I mused about what his life must have been like with the intellect and writing grandeur of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne under the same roof. His sisters elected not to reveal to him the success of their novels, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey because they feared upsetting him. Clearly Branwell turned out to be a disappointment, having thwarted his own considerable talents, and having engaged in a liaison with his employer’s wife, Lydia Robinson, which resulted in another loss of a job. Branwell’s behavior worsens as To Walk Invisible progresses, as it did in reality. The continual havoc he inflicted upon himself and upon his family becomes increasingly hard to watch. His death serves as a relief that put him out of his addictive thrashing and raving, opium as the drug of choice and the alcohol. All I could think of was what I pondered in my Senior Seminar class on The Brontes all those years ago: such tormented talent cast aside. I even wrote my lengthy Seminar paper on Branwell. To Walk Invisible rekindled my interest in Branwell, in spite of his demons.

Ciao for now.


Letting Go

Sorority Formal -
Sorority Formal –















By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi


Today I sit in the library of the law school my daughter is again visiting.  I am the chauffeur for the second look at this law school located less than ninety minutes from our home.  While she has several other schools to visit over Spring Break, this law school feels like coming home, not only because of the geographical proximity to our hometown, but because of the impression the students, faculty, and staff have made.

I am seated next to a series of large windows overlooking a forested area surrounding   the law school.  The beauty of the landscape is impressive.  Even the adjacent 1870’s building, recently refurbished, exudes a classical aura.  The gray squirrels scampering across the courtyard between the law buildings struck a piquant note with me, perhaps since only chunky chestnut colored squirrels raid our bird feeder at home.

This whole experience has a curious sense of déjà vu about it:  Over four years ago I accompanied Anjelica on a return visit for prospective admitted undergraduate students at the university she ultimately attended.  She was excited and nauseous at the prospect of going away to college.  In spite of her trepidation and tears, she forged ahead.  That first semester was rough emotionally.  Her cadre of high school friends had scattered; only she had opted for the gargantuan campus downstate.  But once she hit her stride, she thrived; once she pledged a sorority, went to London and Paris with several favorite professors, she never looked back.

We arrive again at a crossroads.  Four years older, more poised, more confident, ready to tackle law school, she begins to pursue her dream. Gazing at her, I remember when I decided to chase a graduate degree in linguistics. That same fire blazes in her about studying law.  Sometimes she worries maybe she will find law school is not her cup of tea.

“If it’s not, then you go with your Backup Plan.  The world won’t end,” I tell her.

I do not need to reinvent any perceived thwarted academic aspirations through her.  While we talk or text almost daily, I understand that she has begun to live her life, knowing I am her familial anchor, come what may.

I continue to learn how to gently let go as she soars into becoming the Anjelica of her own invention.

Ciao for now.

Viva Las Vegas! Part III: Bellissima Bellagio


Bellagio Gardens
Bellagio Gardens (Photo credit: Ben Adamson)

Bellagio Gardens
Bellagio Gardens (Photo credit: Ben Adamson)
Hall Bellagio - Las Vegas
Hall Bellagio – Las Vegas (Photo credit: Eduardo Mateos)

It seemed that I was the last person with whom I was acquainted who had never set foot in Las Vegas, or even in the State of Nevada for that matter.  Over the years, various aunts, uncles, cousins, even my own mother had traveled multiple times to Las Vegas.  For me, it had held little appeal.

When it came time to give serious consideration to where and how to celebrate Anjelica’s 21st birthday, we each had several ideas:  Dublin, Ireland; London, England; San Francisco, California; and Las Vegas.  Since Anjelica had been in London a little over a year ago, and with the Summer Olympics looming, and Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations just over, we nixed London.  Tony Bennett might have left his heart in San Francisco, but the the Golden Gate Bridge would have to wait another year or so for us to converge.  Since we might journey to Copenhagen, Denmark over Thanksgiving this November, we ruled out Dublin and overseas travel this summer.  Finally, we gravitated toward Las Vegas.

After well-placed phone calls with our friend, Mary the Italian Travel Agent Extraordinaire, we landed at The Bellagio.  Unlike Tony Bennett [another Italian whose given name is Antonio Benedetto], I lost my heart to The Bellagio.  The first stunner is the ceiling of the enormous foyer:  The ceiling is covered with Dale Chihuly’s colorful glass artwork.  In case one is interested in purchasing a piece or two or three of Chihuly’s art glass, there is a Chihuly shop conveniently located in the Botanical Gardens of The Bellagio.  My daughter, the journalism and classical studies major, snapped photo after photo of Chihuly’s glass.

In fact, both of our iPhones had workouts because Bellagio’s floors mesmerized me.  Various inlaid marble designs were lavished throughout the hotel, primarily on the first floor, which is vast.  We cared little about how much we ate because we walked miles throughout The Bellagio each day, my eyes riveted to the intricate mosaic tile designs.  I had not seen anything so beautiful since I lived for several months in Vietri Sul Mare, Italy, home of multiple ceramic fabbricas.

My idea of Las Vegas wedding chapels had been formed by movies and television shows.  Ergo, I figured them to be sleazy and low-life.  How wrong I was:  The Bellagio had several wedding chapels that exuded sophistication.  We even glimpsed a bride in a lovely long white gown.

The primary swimming pool reminded us a bit of the Borghese Gardens in Rome, Italy, although I gather that The Bellagio’s pool emulates the one at San Simeon in California.   The mosaic design on the floor of the pool brought on waves of nostalgia for swimming in Amalfi, Italy, as I used to do.  Attractive cabanas around the pool reminded me of those along the beach of Sorrento, Italy.

All was palatial at The Bellagio, yet tastefully so, from the foyer to the swimming pool to the art museum to the restaurants to Cirque Du Soleil’s O show, and even to the casino.  Bellissima Bellagio!

Ciao for now.