In the 1967 comedy-drama movie The Graduate, a bright young graduate named Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is seduced by the older, wiser and saucier Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Benjamin finds himself way out of his depth, and his troubles only increase when he falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter.
The movie was based on a book of the same name. There has been some speculation that the inspiration for the fictional Mrs. Robinson was a certain real-life Mrs. Lydia Robinson in nineteenth-century England, who caused a scandal by her affair with young Branwell Brontë, the wayward brother of the famous English novelists, the Brontë sisters. (Note the initials B.B.: Branwell Brontë, Benjamin Braddock).
I am not aware of any of the writers ever owning up to this “coincidence”.
Anyway, I have posted elsewhere on the possibility of the rock star John Lennon (1940-1980) being a reincarnation of Branwell Brontë (1817-1848). This possibility was first raised in the autobiographical past-life book All You Need Is Love by Jewelle St. James. As Jewelle points out, there are very striking similarities between the two not only in their facial appearance but also in character, talents and lifestyle.
If Branwell Brontë actually reincarnated as John Lennon, then it is quite likely that one or more of Branwell’s close associates would also have appeared in John’s life. Not necessarily in the same roles or relationships, but somewhere within his circle.
I think I have uncovered who “Mrs. Robinson” is at present. First, though, let’s look at the story of Branwell and Lydia.
Lydia Robinson, née Gisborne, was the youngest daughter of the Reverend Thomas Gisborne (1758-1846), a well-known Anglican priest and writer who lived at Yoxall Lodge in Staffordshire. The Gisbournes had eight children, of whom the youngest was Lydia.
By the time Lydia met Branwell Brontë, she was in her thirties and had been the wife of the Rev. Edmund Robinson, a curate from Derby, for at least fifteen years.
Mrs. Lydia Robinson
In 1840, the 20-year-old Anne Brontë (the youngest of the Brontë girls) had started working for the Rev. and Mrs. Robinson as a governess to their four children. Anne had moved in with the Robinsons, living in their family home at Thorp Green Hall, a wealthy country house near York [below].
(Note: Thorp Green Hall no longer exists, for the most part. It does, however, live on in Anne’s novel Agnes Grey as Horton Lodge.)
In 1843, Anne also secured a position there for her unsettled brother Branwell, then aged 26. While Anne continued to tutor the three Robinson girls, Branwell was to take over from her as tutor to the Robinsons’ only son, Edmund (junior), who was now growing too old to be under Anne’s care.
Branwell did not live in the Hall itself with the Robinson family as Anne did, but in a smaller building nearby on the same grounds, known as The Monk’s Lodge. This building still exists [below].
For the next two years, Anne and Branwell Brontë continued to teach at Thorp Green Hall. But in June 1845, Anne resigned her position. While she gave no reason for doing so, it is generally believed to have been over the sexual relationship going on between Lydia and Branwell, which had the makings of a huge scandal.
Branwell was dismissed in the same year as soon as the Rev. Robinson himself found out about the affair.
Elizabeth Gaskell (Charlotte Brontë’s biographer) refers to a letter from the Rev. Robinson to Branwell,
sternly dismissing him, intimating that his proceedings were discovered, characterising them as bad beyond expression, and charging him, on pain of exposure, to break off immediately, and for ever, all communication with every member of the family.
She also refers to Mrs. Robinson as “that bad woman who corrupted Branwell Brontë.”
Branwell’s own letters at the time suggest that he may have been paid by Mrs. Robinson (through her servants) to keep his silence about the affair so as to avoid a scandal. He had, however, already disclosed his infatuation to close friends.
In 1846 the Rev. Robinson died, but Lydia showed no further interest in Branwell. He continued to live at the Brontë home on a path of alcohol-fueled self-destruction. He was devastated both by Mrs. Robinson’s abandonment of him and by his surprising inability to make anything of himself, just as his sisters were about to light up the literary world.
Three years after the end of the affair, Branwell died of tuberculosis. One way or another, though, his early demise seemed inevitable. He was just 31.
I think I may have identified Branwell’s Mrs Robinson in John Lennon’s life.
Cynthia Lennon (b. 1939) was John’s first wife. Born Cynthia Powell, she was the daughter of Charles and Lillian Powell, with two older brothers Anthony (Tony) and Charles. Their father died of lung cancer when she was 17.
In September 1957, Cynthia gained a place at the Liverpool College of Art. In class one day, a lad dressed as a Teddy Boy came in late, sat down behind her, tapped her on the back and said, “Hi, I’m John.” (I suspect this encounter was a pre-arranged by the two souls before birth.)
Their relationship started after a college party when John invited her to go the pub with him and some friends later that evening. Cynthia pretended to be engaged, however, and John stormed off, shouting, “I didn’t ask you to fucking marry me, did I?” Cynthia did go to the party, though, and that night they had sex.
In July 1962, Cynthia learnt that she was pregnant with John’s child. They agreed to marry.
John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, who looked after him, did not warm to Cynthia at all and the news of the forthcoming marriage made Mimi furious. When John and Cynthia married, in Liverpool on 23 August 1962, Mimi did not attend. She also prevented a number of John’s other relatives from attending.
Cynthia and John’s son, Julian Lennon, was born on 8 April 1963.
The pregnancy, marriage and birth had so far been kept secret (another kind of “illicit relationship”?). But with Beatlemania now in full swing, the press were inevitably hearing rumours. Only after Cynthia had Julian christened (without telling John beforehand) did she finally open the door to the press and cameras.
A short while later the Lennons moved to London, and then to suburban Surrey.
Cynthia struggled to juggle the two roles: Beatles WAG and suburban mum. And John showed her little respect. The marriage came to an end when, in May 1968, Cynthia arrived home after a holiday in Greece to find that John had been sleeping with Yoko Ono.
In the ensuing court case, John refused to give Cynthia any more than £75,000, telling her “What have you done to deserve it? Christ, it’s like winning the bloody pools.” In the end, she was awarded £100,000 plus £2,400 a year, custody of Julian, and the house.
Although she is once again re-married, Cynthia has retained the name Lennon, perhaps for obvious reasons. She now lives in Mallorca, Spain.
The facial similarity between Cynthia and Branwell’s Mrs. Robonson is quite impressive, so if this is the same soul then it seems they did finally get together in the end — if only for a few years.
In both cases there is an element of secrecy about the relationship followed by one partner rejecting or abandoning the other. In the first case it was Lydia who rejected Branwell. In the second case it was John, perhaps still carrying the emotional bruises, who pushed Cynthia away.
So, here’s to you Mrs. Robinson!