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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Life of Christy Brown

The Book Review

Some time ago I had the pleasure of reading the Book "My Left Foot" which is the 1954 autobiography of Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy (a spastic quadriplegic) on June 5, 1932 in Dublin, Ireland. As one of 13 surviving children, Brown went on to be an author, painter and poet. Christy Brown is born into a large, poor Irish family. His mother, Mrs. Brown, recognizes the intelligence and humanity in the boy that everyone else regards as a vegetable. Eventually, Christy matures into a cantankerous writer who uses his only functional limb, his left foot, to write and to paint with.

Mr. Brown begins his book by telling the reader about his early childhood. When he was four months old, Brown's mother was the first to notice that there was something wrong with his health. He could not hold his head upright or control his body movements. After seeking medical advice, the family's worst fears were confirmed: Christy was physically handicapped and suffered from an incurable disability called cerebral palsy. His family, besides his mother, thought he was an idiot. They told his mother to give up.

Although the doctors did not believe in Brown's mental intelligence, his mother did not lose faith in her son and supported him as a full member of the family.

A transforming moment occurs in the young boy's life that proves him to be intelligent. He discovers that he can control his left foot and toes. At the age of five, he snatches a piece of yellow chalk from his sister with his left foot. He marks the letter "A" on the floor with his foot and the help of his mother. He had wanted to make, what he described as, "a wild sort of scribble with it on the slate". It is from this incident that the book received its title. In this moment, Brown had found a way to express himself since he could not speak like a healthy child.

Throughout his childhood, Brown played with local children and with his siblings, assisted by a small cart that he called "Henry". As time went on, he became more introverted, as he began to realize that his handicap made him different from his family and friends and impeded his enjoyment of life. Through this struggle, he discovered his creative and artistic talents, becoming devoted to literature, writing and painting. He used his left foot to carry out these tasks.

At the age of 18, Brown went to Lourdes in France. Here, he met individuals whose handicaps were even worse than his. For the first time in his life, he began to experience energy and hope. He also began to accept himself as the person he was, and do the best with what he had. He started a new treatment for cerebral palsy, which led to the improvement of his speech and physical condition.

In his teenage years, he met the Irish doctor Robert Collis. Collis had established a clinic for cerebral palsy patients and Brown was his very first patient at this clinic. Collis was also a noted author, and provided supervision of Brown's writing. This included two first drafts of this book and its final version.

The autobiography makes reference to its own creation. The final pages tell of Collis reading the first chapter of the book to the audience at a fundraising event. The chapter was warmly received by those in attendance.

During Brown's adolescence, social worker Katrina 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. 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

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. 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. 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..."
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. 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. 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 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.

Brown's health had deteriorated after marrying Carr, despite what was portrayed in the film of My Left Foot. 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. 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. 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."

The Movie Review

Today; raining as it were, I had the supreme pleasure to finally take a few moments to watch the movie in which Daniel Day-Lewis played the part of Christy Brown. Over all I must admit that it was a "feel good" movie. Of triumph over the worst of conditions. Of love, or wanting to be loved above all else, of a mother's love for her child- with moments of heart break. Of viewing poverty and sadness. Had I not already had a working knowledge of the life (and death) of Christy Brown I probably would have enjoyed it so much more.

Daniel Day-Lewis simply could not have done a better job of playing the part of someone that is afflicted with cerebral palsy- so much so that at times one could very much imagine that he actually did. Brenda Fricker (who played the part of Mrs. Brown- Christy's mother) was equally perfect for the part. With just the right amount of maternal love and encouragement mixed with a stern amount of "stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something". I loved her and I loved the way that she played her.

The movie gives anyone that has a child with a disability hope. Hope for their future. Hope for their happiness. Hope for love- the one thing that everyone on earth desires above all else. I give this movie a two thumbs up across the board- if you do not read the book first.

Because as the movie ends on a happy note; sadly the life of Christy Brown did not.

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