Artwork of Branwell Brontë’s letters: 'Our Lady of Grief'
'Our Lady of Grief' is found at the end of Letter 10, addressed to Leyland and dated 28th April 1846 (BC MS 19c Brontë/02/01/10). The sketch is a statue of a woman in a pose of despair, and is described by Branwell as: 'a horrible ill drawn daub done to wile away the times this morning. I meant it to represent a very rough figure in stone.'
In this letter Branwell claims his family remain unaware of his suffering, caused (according to other letters in the sequence) by his separation from Lydia Robinson. Francis Leyland would later write of 'Our Lady of Grief': "we need not entertain a doubt as to whom it is intended to represent."
Details of the alleged relationship between Branwell Brontë and Mrs Robinson are not clear, but critics have persuasively argued that their affair was the reason for Branwell's dismissal from Thorp Green.
In her 1857 biography of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell claimed Branwell had been 'beguiled by this mature and wicked woman'. Certainly, Mrs Robinson's actions on being widowed seem calculated to distance herself from Branwell, while confirming their affair, as described in Juliet Barker's 2010 book The Brontës.
In contrast, Branwell's affection for Mrs Robinson is evident in Letter 11. His state, 'for four nights I have not slept – for three days I have not tasted food', is mirrored in Catherine Linton's breakdown in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, published the following year.
The unsympathetic reaction of Catherine's servant Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights perhaps finds its counterpart in Charlotte Brontë's reaction to Branwell's distress. In a letter of January 1846 she wrote: 'the faculty of self-government is, I fear almost destroyed in him.'