Biography of the disabled Irish artist and author whose life story inspired the Oscar-winning film My Left Foot.
The film was 13 years old and its subject long dead in 2003, when a chatty Dublin taxi driver first tipped off University College undergrad Hambleton about Christy Brown (1932–81). She began reading his poetry, memoirs and sole novel. Amazed that there had been no scholarly investigation of this extraordinarily accomplished work, she chose Brown as the subject of her masters thesis and then decided to write his biography. Here she dives into his family history, dreams, successes and tribulations. She dexterously recounts the genesis of his illness—double athetoid cerebral palsy caused by partial suffocation at birth, which left his entire body paralyzed save for his left foot. Mute until the age of 17, Brown had no formal schooling and instead garnered bits of knowledge from his many siblings. Determined to see him succeed, his mother tirelessly taught her son two invaluable lessons: how to grasp chalk and brushes with his foot to write letters and paint, and how to use body language and grunts to communicate. As Brown matured, the desire for “an ordinary life” and to be loved by a woman became paramount, as did affinities for classical music (a reliable remedy for his depressions) and travel. His autobiography, My Left Foot, was published in 1954 to great acclaim that somewhat tempered the tragedy of his father’s death the following year. Heavy drinking, hubris, recurring ailments and his mother’s death in 1968 all played a role in his complex, erratic artistic growth. Brown’s 1970 novel, Down All the Days, was an international bestseller, and he went on to marry a nurse. Making use of heretofore unpublished letters and poems, as well as personal interviews with friends and family, the author sheds new insights into what drove Brown’s creativity. Private photos of family and friends and color reproductions of Brown’s paintings add an intimate note to the narrative.
A stirring life story recounted in straightforward, serviceable prose.