Anne Brontë

Anne Bronte

Anne Brontë (January 17, 1820 – May 28, 1849) was a British author born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, the daughter of Patrick Brontë, a clergyman, and Maria Branwell. She followed in her older sisters’ (Charlotte and Emily Brontë) paths by delving into the literary world as a novelist and poet.

Along with her sisters and brother Branwell, Anne grew up in Haworth, an isolated town on the moors of Yorkshire. Anne Brontë was one of six, raised by her father after the death of her mother a year after Anne was born. The children’s aunt Elizabeth Branwell acted as a surrogate parent and helped inspire Anne spiritually, as their relationship was the closest of all.

 

Anne Brontë biography highlights

  • Anne was the youngest of the Brontë siblings. Of those who survived to adulthood, she followed Charlotte, Branwell, and Emily.
  • Anne and Emily created imaginary worlds during their childhoods, notably Gondal, setting the stage for their literary endeavors.
  • She left home to attend a boarding school, and at age nineteen, began working as a governess.
  • Her poetry became part of a volume of poems, along with Emily and Charlotte’s, and was published in 1846. Titled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, Anne was “Acton” in this pseudonymous group.
  • Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey ,was published in 1847. She wove her rather negative real-life experiences as a governess into the narrative. It had a modest response in its initial reception.
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne’s second novel, is now considered a groundbreaking feminist work.
  • Anne had not yet turned thirty when she died of tuberculosis in 1849. Her death followed soon after Branwell’s and Emily’s deaths.

In terms of birth order, first came Maria, named for their mother, then Elizabeth. Each of them died around the age of ten. Then came Charlotte, followed by Branwell, the only brother, then Emily and finally Anne, the youngest.

The four surviving siblings received little formal education and grew up in imaginative play, constructing a make-believe world called Angria, putting on plays, and creating journals and magazines.Anne’s make-believe world, Gondal, became the setting for many of her literary pieces. She and Emily created the kingdom of Gondal, yet another fictional world that lay in the North Pacific.

 

In her sisters’ footsteps

Like her sisters, Anne spent much of her life at the family parsonage in Haworth, England, on the Yorkshire moors. She left home briefly to attend a boarding school while in her teens, and at age nineteen, began working as a governess. These experiences wove themselves into her first novel, Agnes Grey.

Following in the footsteps of her sisters, she studied at Roehead School, where she began to write poetry. Her work had themes of emotional attachment to her home, which she ultimately had to leave, determined to support herself.

It is suspected that Anne and William Weightman, a curate in Haworth where she grew up, fell in love. Poetry exchanged and character inspiration suggests that their relationship was built on mutual fondness. When William died, Anne’s poetry contained motifs of grief and longing for connection.

Her poetry, though skillful, wasn’t nearly as brilliant as Emily’s, became part of a volume of poems, along with Charlotte’s, and published in 1846. Titled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, the volume, sold a humiliating total of two copies, did not dampen the sisters’ desired to continue writing and pursuing publication.

 

Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey, Anne’s debut novel took inspiration from her time teaching at the Ingham family’s Blake Hall. Dissatisfied with her performance, the Ingham family let Anne go after a year, but the experience influenced her writings. Agnes Grey was published in 1847 by the same publisher of Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Its second edition was published in 1850, a year following Anne’s death.

The story of Agnes Grey, a young governess, is based on Anne’s unhappy experiences in this line of work, something she did for five years. It highlights the precarious nature of the work, and its unremitting hours and accumulated humiliations for little reward. With Agnes Grey, Anne had an outlet for her views on the oppression of women, especially poor women, and the isolating nature of the job of caring for other people’s children.

Critics generally felt that Agnes Grey is a less assured work than Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It’s still worth a read as part of the Brontë canon. It contains shrewd character sketches and observations about the limited opportunities for females of her time.

Unlike her sisters, Anne spent more time away from the family home in Haworth, which allowed for her experiences with religion and society to come through in her writing. She expressed progressive observations for her time, as well as a feminist bent.

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Anne Bronte 3

Quotes from Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)was more popular than Agnes Grey, yet never achieved the renown of Charlotte’s novels.Like Agnes Grey, it was written under the pen name of “Action Bell” so as to disguise her gender. Both of Anne’s novels, as well as her poems, contain many autobiographical elements that correspond with events and people prominent in her life.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, now considered a groundbreaking feminist novel, appeared in 1848.

All through the late 19th and early 20th century, fascination with the Brontë sisters continued on both sides of the Atlantic. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, as part of a May 1900 article on the literary sisters’ lives, offered these insights:

Mary A. Ward [1851 – 1920; a Brontë biographer] says of Anne Brontë that she “serves a twofold purpose in the study of what the Brontë wrote and were. In the first place, her gentle and delicate presence; her sad, short story; her hard life and early death, enter deeply into the poetry and tragedy that have always been entwined with the memory of the Brontë, as women, and as writers.

In the second, the books and poems that she wrote serve as a matter of comparison by which to test the greatness of her two sisters. She is the measure of their genius — like them, yet not with them.”

It is Mrs. Ward’s opinion that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shows the effect of Bramwell Brontë’s dissipations. He was a victim of both opium and drink, and he seems to have led his sisters to believe that he was the possessor of all manner of dark and guilty secrets. They did not know enough of the world to differentiate between the frenzied dreams of an opium drunkard and the reality; there is no reason to think that the offenses of which he accused himself had any other origin than in his own disordered mind.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall bears traces of these supposed forbidding revelations — revelations that had a most unhappy effect on his three sisters. Their brother’s fate could be borne by Charlotte and Emily; it crushed Anne.

It seems strange that so gentle a creature as Anne — “Acton Bell” — should have written such a book as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She is said to have written it as a warning, and the necessity for it is believed to have had its origin in her belief in her brother’s fancied revelations of his own moral turpitude.

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Bronte sisters

The Brontë sisters’ path to publication
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The early death of Anne Brontë

Unfortunately, the literary career of this talented writer was cut short, as she hadn’t yet turned thirty when she died of was called consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) in 1849.

Following Branwell’s death in September of 1848 at the age of thirty-one, Emily became ill. Though she was wracked with misery, she refused medical attention until it was too late, and died in mid-December of that same year at the age of thirty.

The shock of Emily’s death weakened Anne, and she caught what was thought to be the flu. But alas, it was also consumption. Anne, characteristically, faced the news with courage, though she was disappointed that she would not have the chance to further her ambition as a writer. Her last poem was “A Dreadful Darkness Closes In” — describing an imminent death. She wrote to Ellen Nussey, a dear friend she shared with Charlotte:

“I have no horror of death: if I thought it inevitable I think I could quietly resign myself to the prospect… But I wish it would please God to spare me not only for Papa’s and Charlotte’s sakes, but because I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head for future practice — humble and limited indeed — but still I should not like them all to come to nothing, and myself to have lived to so little purpose. But God’s will be done.”

Over the next few months, Anne regained some strength and was even able to travel to Scarborough. It was hoped that a change of scene and fresh sea air would improve her health, but it was not to be. When death was at hand, she was unable to travel back to Haworth and died in Scarborough on May 28, 1849, at the age of twenty-nine.

 

The Legacy of Anne Brontë

A year after Anne’s death, Charlotte did something that was quite surprising, bordering on unforgivable: She prevented the re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She remarked in 1850,”Wildfell Hall it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve. The choice of subject in that work is a mistake, it was too little consonant with the character, tastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring inexperienced writer.”

The result was that Anne’s work received far less critical attention for many decades, and was viewed as a rather minor Brontë, without the genius of her sisters. Much later, her work was reassessed, and more contemporary biographies and criticism have given her more of her due as an important literary figure.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is now viewed as a major contribution to literature. In 2013, Sally McDonald of the Brontë Society noted that Anne Brontë is “now viewed as the most radical of the sisters, writing about tough subjects such as women’s need to maintain independence and how alcoholism can tear a family apart.”

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Anne Brontë page on Amazon


More about Anne Brontë 

On this site

Major Works

Biographies about Anne Brontë

  • A Life of Anne Brontë by Edward Chitham

More Information

Film adaptation

Read and listen online

Visit the Brontë’s Birthplace and Home

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Anne Brontë grave at Scarborough

Anne Brontë’s grave at Scarborough. The gravestone mistakenly
gives her age of death as 28; she was actually 29.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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