This month’s “Spotlight On:…” is going to focus on Anne Brontë – the last Brontë sister I need to write about.
As always, the blog post will be divided into 6 different parts.
1. A little bit about their life
2. Their works I have read
3. Their works I am yet to read
4. Great film/TV adaptations based on their works
6. An author biography recommendation
So without further ado…
A Little Bit About Their Life
Anne Brontë was the youngest of the Brontë sisters born on 17th January 1820 in Thornton, England where her father was serving in the parsonage. The family moved in April 1820, not long after Anne’s birth, to the parsonage at Haworth (where the Brontë’s are most well-known for living!) Her father had been appointed as perpetual curate there, meaning an appointment for life: he and his family could live in the parsonage as long as he continued his work there.
The year after Anne was born, her mother Maria died and her aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, moved in with them. Although Branwell was a stern aunt, not an outwardly affectionate one, Anne was apparently her favorite of all the children.
In September of 1824, the four oldest sisters, including Charlotte and Emily, were sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, a school for the daughters of impoverished clergy. Anne was too young to attend along with her sisters; she was educated at home mostly by her aunt and her father, later by Charlotte. Her education included reading and writing, painting, music, needlework and Latin. Her father had an extensive library that she read from and she was encouraged to play on the moors where they lived.
A typhoid fever outbreak at Cowan Bridge school led to several deaths. The next February, Anne’s sister Maria was sent home very ill and she unfortunately died in May, probably of tuberculosis. Then another sister, Elizabeth, was sent home late in May, also ill. Patrick Brontë brought his other daughters home as well, and Elizabeth died on June 15th. From then, their father decided they would all be educated from home.
In 1826, their brother Branwell was given a set of wooden soldiers that the siblings began to make up stories about the soldiers. They wrote the stories in tiny script, in books small enough for the soldiers, and also provided newspapers and poetry for the world they apparently first called Glasstown. Charlotte and Branwell wrote most of the initial stories.
While Charlotte was away in 1831 at Roe Head School, Emily and Anne created their own land called Gondal. Many of Anne’s surviving poems recollect the world of Gondal; any prose that existed around this land did not survive though she continued to write about it until 1845.
It was in 1835 that Charlotte was sent away to teach, taking Emily with her as a sister. Emily soon fell ill and Anne took her place at the school. Anne was successful but longely and eventually she became ill too. She returned home in 1837.
Anne left home in April 1839 to take up a position as a governess of the two eldest Ingham children at Blake Hall. She found the children to be spoilt and returned home at the end of the year, probably having been dismissed.
In August, a new curate called William Weightman arrived to assist the Brontë father. He as young and new to the girls and seemed to have attracted flirting from both Charlotte and Anne, but moreso from Anne who fell in love with him. Weightman died of cholera in 1842 and he is likely the inspiration for Edward Weston in Agnes Grey.
From May 1840 to June 1845, Brontë served as governess to the Robinson family at Thorp Green Hall, near York. She taught the three daughters and may have also taught some lessons to the son. She briefly returned home, unsatisfied with the job, but the family prevailed on her to return in early 1842. Her aunt died later that year. In 1843, her brother Branwell joined her at the Robinson’s as a tutor to the son. While Anne had to live with the family, Branwell was allowed his own home. Anne quit her job in 1845 after apparently becoming aware of the affair between Branwell and the wife of Anne’s employer, Mrs Lydia Robinson. She was certaintly aware of Branwell’s increasing drinking and drug use. Branwell was also dismissed shortly after Anne and they returned to Haworth.
The sisters, reunited at the parsonage, decided with Branwell’s continuing decline, and abuse of alcohol and not to pursue their dream of starting a school.
In 1845, Charlotte found Emily’s poetry notebooks. She got excited at their quality, and Charlotte, Emily and Anne discovered each others’ poems. They published their poems under male pseudonyms. The false names would share their initials: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The poetry was published with the help of the inheritance from their aunt. They did not mention this to their brother or father and the book initially sold only two copies, although it did get positive reviews.
Anne began to publish her poetry in magazines, and all three of the sisters began preparing novels for publication. Charlotte wrote The Professor, Emily wrote Wuthering Heights, adapted from the Gondal stories, and Anne wrote Agnes Grey rooted in her experiences as a governess.
Anne’s style was less romantic, more realistic, than that of her sisters. The next year in July 1847, the stories by Anne and Emily (but not Charlotte’s) were accepted for publication still under their male pseudonyms.
Brontë’s first novel, Agnes Grey, borrowed from her experience in depicting a governess of spoiled, materialistic children; she had her character marry a clergyman and find happiness. Critics found the depiction of her employers “exaggerated,” and her novel was overshadowed by her sisters’ more attention-grabbing Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
Nonetheless, Brontë was not intimidated by these reviews. Her next novel was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall which followed a mother and wife who leaves her philandering and abusive husband, taking their son and earning her own living as a painter and hiding from her husband. When her husband becomes an invalid, she returns to nurse him, hoping to change him and save him. The book was successful and sold out in the first six weeks.
Of course this novel was completely shocking in its complete overthrow of the Victorian social norms, particularly in its depiction of a woman who (illegally, at the time) left her husband, took her son and supported them both financially. When critics were harsh and called her depiction of the violent husband Huntington too graphic and too disturbing, Brontë was steadfast in her response: that such cruel people exist in the real world, and that it is far better to write them honestly without mitigating their evil than to gloss over it for the sake of keeping everything “pleasant.”
Anne continued to write poems until her death.
Her brother, Branwell Brontë died in April 1848 possibly of tuberculosis (some have speculated that the conditions at the Haworth parsonage were not great, including a poor water supply and chilly wewather). Emily then caught what seemed to be a cold at his funeral and became very ill. She declined quickly, refusing medical care until relenting in her last hours. She died in December.
Anne began to show symptoms at Christmas that same year. After Emily’s experience, she knew to seek medical help. Charlotte and her friend, Ellen Nussey took Anne to Scarborough for some sea air, but Anne died there in May of 1849. Anne had lost so much weight and was very thin, but she reportedly met her death with dignity, expressing no fear of death but a frustration that she would not live longer and achieve more.
Branwell and Emily were buried in the parsonage graveyard and Anne in Scarborough. Her sister, Charlotte, kept The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from publication, writing “the choice of subject in that work is a mistake”. As a result, Anne was the least-known Brontë sister and her works were hardly ever touched upon until the 20th century.
Today, interest in Anne Brontë has revived. The rejection of the protagonist in Tenant of her older husband is seen as a feminist act, and the work sometimes considered a feminist novel. In contemporary discourse, some critics position Anne as the most radical and overtly feminist of the three Brontë sisters.
Their Works I Have Read and Their Works I Am Yet To Read
I have only read Agnes Grey and am still yet to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Reading more and more about it whilst writing this post has really made me want to pick it up very soon!
Great Film/TV Adaptations
Anne’s books are definitely the least adapted. I can only find one adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996) starring Tara Fitzgerald as Helen. I will be adding that to my list of films to watch!
“My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring and carried aloft on the wings of the breeze.”
“Beauty is that quality which, next to money, is generally the most attractive to the worst kinds of men; and, therefore, it is likely to entail a great deal of trouble on the possessor.”
“My heart is too thoroughly dried to be broken in a hurry, and I mean to live as long as I can.”
“What a fool you must be,” said my head to my heart, or my sterner to my softer self.”
“The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than any one can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking.”
“I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.”
“It is foolish to wish for beauty. Sensible people never either desire it for themselves or care about it in others. If the mind be but well cultivated, and the heart well disposed, no one ever cares for the exterior.”
“Smiles and tears are so alike with me, they are neither of them confined to any particular feelings: I often cry when I am happy, and smile when I am sad.”
“I love the silent hour of night,
For blissful dreams may then arise,
Revealing to my charmed sight
What may not bless my waking eyes.”
“Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.”
An Author Biography Recommendation
If you want to learn more about the life of Anne Brontë I would recommend reading: Crave the Rose: Anne Brontë at 200 by Nick Holland and Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis.
Let me know who is your favourite Brontë sister in the comments below!
Thanks for reading.
Love, Zoë xx