Christy Brown

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Christy Brown
Born (1932-06-05)5 June 1932
Crumlin, Dublin, Ireland
Died 7 September 1981(1981-09-07) (aged 49)
Parbrook, Somerset, England
Occupation Novelist, painter, poet
Nationality Irish

Christy Brown (5 June 1932 – 7 September 1981) was an Irish writer and painter who had cerebral palsy and was able to write or type only with the toes of one foot. His most recognised work is his autobiography; titled My Left Foot, it was later made into an Academy Award-winning film of the same name.

Biography[edit]

Christy Brown was born to a working-class Irish family at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin in June 1932. After his birth, doctors discovered that he had severe cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which left him almost entirely spastic in his limbs. Though urged to commit him to a convalescent hospital, Brown's parents were unswayed and subsequently determined to raise him at home with their other children. During Brown's adolescence, social worker Katriona Delahunt became aware of his story and began to visit the Brown family regularly, while bringing Christy books and painting materials as, over the years, he had shown a keen interest in the arts and literature. He had also demonstrated extremely impressive physical dexterity since, soon after discovering several household books, Christy had learned to both write and draw himself with the only limb over which he had unequivocal control – his left leg.[1] Brown quickly matured into a serious artist.

Although Brown famously received almost no formal schooling during his youth, he did attend St Brendan's School-Clinic in Sandymount intermittently. At St. Brendan's he came in contact with Dr. Robert Collis, a noted author. Collis discovered that Brown was also a natural novelist and, later, Collis helped use his own connections to publish My Left Foot, by then a long-gestating autobiographical account of Brown's struggle with everyday life amidst the vibrant culture of Dublin.[2]

When My Left Foot became a literary sensation, one of the many people who wrote letters to Brown was married American woman Beth Moore. Brown and Moore became regular correspondents and, in 1960, Brown holidayed in North America and stayed with Moore at her home in Connecticut.[3] When they met again in 1965 they began an affair. Brown journeyed to Connecticut once more to finish his magnum opus, which he had been developing for years. He finally did so in 1967 with help from Moore, who introduced and administered a strict working regimen, mostly by denying him alcohol (on which Brown was dependent) until a day's work was completed.[4] The book, titled Down All the Days, was published in 1970 and was inscribed with a dedication to Moore that read, "For Beth, who with such gentle ferocity, finally whipped me into finishing this book..."[5] During this time, Brown's fame continued to spread internationally and he became a prominent celebrity. Upon his return to Ireland, he was able to use proceeds from the sales of his books to design and move into a specially constructed home outside Dublin with his sister's family.[6] Though Brown and Beth had planned to marry and live together at the new home, and though Moore had informed her husband of these plans, it was around this time that Brown began an affair with Englishwoman Mary Carr, whom he met at a party in London.[7] Brown then terminated his affair with Moore and married Carr at the Registry Office, Dublin, in 1972. They moved to Stoney Lane, Rathcoole, County Dublin (now site of Lisheen Nursing Home), to Ballyheigue ' Kerry and then to Somerset. He continued to paint, write novels, poetry and plays. His 1974 novel, A Shadow on Summer, was based on his relationship with Moore, whom he still considered a friend.[8]

Death[edit]

Brown's health had deteriorated after marrying Carr. He became mainly a recluse in his last years, which is thought to be a direct result of Carr's influence and perhaps abusive nature.[9] Brown died at the age of 49 after choking during a lamb chop dinner. His body was found to have significant bruising, which led many to believe that Carr had physically abused him. Further suspicions arose after Georgina Hambleton's biography, The Life That Inspired My Left Foot, revealed a supposedly more accurate and unhealthy version of their relationship. The book portrays Carr as an abusive alcoholic and habitually unfaithful.[10] In Hambleton's book, she quotes Brown's brother, Sean, as saying: "Christy loved her but it wasn't reciprocated, because she wasn't that kind of person. If she loved him like she said she did, she wouldn't have had affairs with both men and women. I feel she took advantage of him in more ways than one."

Literary legacy[edit]

Brown's self-proclaimed masterpiece, Down All the Days, was an ambitious project drawn largely from a playful expansion of My Left Foot; it also became an international best-seller, translated into fourteen languages. The Irish Times reviewer Bernard Share claimed the work was "the most important Irish novel since Ulysses." Like James Joyce, Brown employed the stream-of-consciousness technique and sought to document Dublin's culture through the use of humour, accurate dialects and intricate character description. Down All the Days was followed by a series of other novels, including A Shadow on Summer (1972), Wild Grow the Lilies (1976) and A Promising Career (published posthumously in 1982). He also published three poetry collections: Come Softly to My Wake, Background Music and Of Snails and Skylarks. All the poems are included in The Collected Poems of Christy Brown.

Cultural references[edit]

A film adaptation of My Left Foot directed by Jim Sheridan was produced in 1989 from a screenplay by Shane Connaughton. Daniel Day-Lewis starred as Brown and Brenda Fricker as his mother; both won Academy Awards for their performances. The film also received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Daniel Day-Lewis prepared for the film by spending time at Sandymount School Clinic in Dublin getting to know several people with disabilities. He later took the Oscar back to the School spending a whole morning there accompanied by his sister Tamasin.

The Irish rock band The Pogues paid tribute to Christy Brown with a song titled "Down All the Days." It is the seventh track on their 1989 recording Peace and Love. Similarly, U2 released a song titled "Down All the Days" with the 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby.

List of works[edit]

  • 1954 My Left Foot
  • 1970 Down All the Days
  • 1971 Come Softly to My Wake (Poems of Christy Brown)
  • 1973 Background Music: Poems
  • 1974 A Shadow on Summer
  • 1976 Wild Grow the Lilies
  • 1978 Of Snails And Skylarks
  • 1982 A Promising Career (posthumous publication of his final work)
  • 1991 The Collected Poems of Christy Brown (posthumous compilation of his three books of poetry)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. (1998). Christy Brown's Women: A Biography Drawing on His Letters. Westport Books. p. 20-21. ISBN 978-0-9524447-3-2.
  2. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. p. 49
  3. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. p. 68-74
  4. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. p. 91
  5. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. p. 103
  6. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. p. 111
  7. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. p. 118
  8. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. p. 127-128
  9. ^ Peterkin, Tom. "Christy Brown 'neglected by ex-prostitute wife'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 Nov 2007. 
  10. ^ Asthana, Anushka. "The dark side of a poet that Hollywood didn't show". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2007. 

External links[edit]