Anne Bronte: The Courageous Sister

Those born on the the seventeenth of any month are said to be strong in spirit throughout the difficulties of life.

Anne Bronte was born on January 17, 1820, the youngest surviving child of the family.   One day, her older sister, Charlotte, watched over Anne’s wooden crib.  She cried out to her father to come, for she had seen an angel hovering over Anne.

This angelic image still lingers over Anne Bronte.  She has long been thought of as the “sweet, shy” sister.  The sister that would be all but forgotten if not for her surname.

As is often the case, Anne’s gentleness  was mistaken for weakness.  Anne’s sweet smile belied a will of iron.

By the age of  five she’d lost her mother and her two eldest sisters.  The remaining siblings: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne formed an  enduring bond.  Encouraged by their father, they read voraciously and created their own magical worlds which they set down on paper.  While Charlotte and Branwell continued working on Angria,  Emily and Anne branched off with their own  kingdom of Gondal which was inspired by tales from Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott.

Charlotte’s best friend, Ellen Nussey, noted Anne and Emily were, “like twins, inseparable companions in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”  Indeed, it was only to Anne that the reclusive Emily ever opened up.

Deeply religious and ambitious, Anne was determined from an early age to succeed at all she set out to do.   While all of her siblings had failed at their career attempts away from home, Anne used her faith to survive her two tenures as a governess.   First, at the age of eighteen, for the Inghams of Blake Hall, Mirfield; and later with the Robinson family of Thorp Green.  Governesses were not only paid less than the general servant or lady’s maid, but they found themselves in very lonely situations.  They were not part of the family and the other servants usually shunned them.

Anne depicted these experiences as a governess in Agnes Grey.   Written in a simple, down-to-earth style, it was deeply overshadowed by Charlotte’s Jane Eyre.   In 1848, The Atlas critiqued, “Perhaps we shall best describe it as a coarse imitation of one of Miss Austen’s charming stories.”  Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Paper, while dismissing  the character Agnes as being inferior to Jane, did commend the authoress on her extraordinary powers of observation.

Anne used these powers on her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.   Inspired by the horrors she’d witnessed of  Branwell’s addiction  to liquor and drugs, she wrote an unflinching account on alcoholism.   The general public and reviewers were outraged at the story of a woman who “steals” her child,  runs away from her alcoholic  husband, and finds love with another man while in hiding.   Realistic, sharp, and unsentimental, the novel was years before its time.  

It  proved as controversial as Emily’s, Wuthering Heights.

Anne was branded immoral.   Undaunted,  she set out to write a third novel.    However,  in September of 1848, Branwell died after years of alcohol abuse.   Only three months later, Anne’s beloved companion, Emily, succumbed to tuberculosis.

One year later, Anne was diagnosed with the same disease.    She begged Charlotte to bring her to Scarborough (a seaside resort that Anne had first visited with the Robinsons).  Anne always loved the sea and hoped for its curative powers.   Charlotte and her father eschewed the idea for Anne was barely able to walk by now.

Seeking support for her plan, Anne wrote to Ellen Nussey: “I have a more serious reason than this for my impatience of delay: the doctors say that change of air or removal to a better climate would hardly ever fail of success in consumptive cases if taken in time, but the reason why there are so many disappointments is, that it is generally deferred till it is too late. Now I would not commit this error; and to say the truth, though I suffer much less from pain and fever than I did when you were with us, I am decidedly weaker and very much thinner my cough still troubles me a good deal, especially in the night, and, what seems worse than all, I am subject to great shortness of breath on going up stairs or any slight exertion. Under these circumstances I think there is no time to be lost… 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 practisehumble and limited indeedbut 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.”

Anne and Charlotte set off for Scarborough on May 24, 1849.   Anne spent her final days enjoying the horizons of her beloved sea.

Anne Bronte died on May 28, 1849.   Her last words to Charlotte were, “take courage.”


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24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. She was only 29.

    Thanks for the post, Tasha. The part at the end, where Anne wishes she could live a little longer and do a little more… that was so sad. And so easy for writers to understand.

    Did any of the Bronte children have children of their own?

  2. Hi Marian,

    Glad you liked the post.

    Oh, I know. I always feel a bit sniffly when I read her last letter. And it motivates me to get writing on my own stuff.

    No. None of them had any children. Charlotte was the only one who married. She wed Arthur Bells Nicholls in 1854 and died one year later. She was pregnant at the time of her death. (some sources claim tuberculosis as the cause, others perpetual fever)

  3. Can I say one thing? I don’t understand why Jane Eyre is considered better than anything…bleh! I hated it. Just my two cents….

  4. Hey Ralfast,

    I love Jane Eyre. (However, it is far below Emily’s Wuthering Heights in my heart)

    Charlotte was superb at first person POV. I see and feel everything that Jane does. Jane remains one of the most brilliant, “living” characters in literature.

    And let’s also give Charlotte her due for daring to create characters who are explicitly described as not good looking. Even- plain and ugly. This was unheard of before Jane and Rochester. Heroines had to be drop dead gorgeous and heroes, dashing and utterly faint-worthy handsome.

    This adds a realism not seen before. Orphan Jane has to survive by her intelligence, prudence, and courage. Again, before Jane Eyre, such orphans always were blessed with beauty that attracted men into helping them.

    Where Charlotte and the book fails is that it could use some serious editing. Then again, its rawness adds to its urgency and power.

    It really was unfair of critics to compare Anne’s, Agnes Grey to Jane since the only thing they have in common are governesses. They’re two extremely different books.

  5. I could never connect with the character and it went downhill from there.

  6. I can picture Anne thinking now, “Damn it! Gypsyscarlett writes a post about ME. A rare time someone pays attention to ME, and AGAIN Charlotte steals the spotlight!”

    So, in Anne’s honor, here is one of her poems:

    BRIGHTLY the sun of summer shone,
    Green fields and waving woods upon,
    And soft winds wandered by;

    Above, a sky of purest blue,
    Around, bright flowers of loveliest hue,
    Allured the gazer’s eye.

    But what were all these charms to me,
    When one sweet breath of memory
    Came gently wafting by?
    I closed my eyes against the day,
    And called my willing soul away,
    From earth, and air, and sky;

    That I might simply fancy there
    One little flower–a primrose fair,
    Just opening into sight;
    As in the days of infancy,
    An opening primrose seemed to me
    A source of strange delight.

    Sweet Memory! ever smile on me;
    Nature’s chief beauties spring from thee;
    Oh, still thy tribute bring!
    Still make the golden crocus shine
    Among the flowers the most divine,
    The glory of the spring.

    Still in the wall-flower’s fragrance dwell;
    And hover round the slight blue bell,
    My childhood’s darling flower.

  7. I read somewhere that the Brontes lived downstream of a cemetery, and that toxins or heavy metals of some kind seeped into their drinking water, contributing to so many of them dying.

    It might be pure speculation, though.

  8. What a beautiful poem, are there many of her poems preserved?

  9. Marian,

    Yes. Mr. Bronte attributed the extremely high mortality rate of the village to the toxins in the water. He wrote many letters of complaint. Unfortunately, his complaints fell on deaf airs.

  10. Hey D D AKA Astro Sis,

    Glad you liked the poem. I think it’s very beautiful, too- how she can focus such emotion on a single flower.

    Here is a link to a free e-text of the book of poems the sisters published together (before any of their novels)

    Their poems are color-coded by authorship:
    Anne- blue
    Emily- green
    Charlotte- purple

  11. They were all women ahead of their time, sounds like.

    I have never read Anne’s works. I love her sisters’ novels. It will be interesting to read from Anne’s perspective.

  12. Hi Jewel,

    I’d definitely recommend Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It’s so honest and brave. Of course, reading it nowadays- the themes are no big deal. But when you think of when she wrote it…

    Her first novel, Agnes Grey is a much quieter, simple tale. It’s amazing how much Anne improved maturity wise with her writing within only one year.

    Another damn shame she never got to pen a third novel.

  13. I loved Jane Eyre, but I need to read the other books by the Bronte sisters (read Wuthering Heights long ago when in high school and probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I would now). I need to try and read Anne’s novels as well.

  14. Interesting post! Her last words were the sort I’d like to be able to come up with in that particular moment, but I’m sure I’ll say something far less dignified, and probably far more profane. 🙂

  15. Hey Astro Sis 🙂

    Just wanted to say thanks for the link to the poems, I have been really enjoying reading them.

  16. Hi Dara,

    Glad my post piqued some interest for Anne’s work.

    As for WH- I think a lot of people don’t like it upon their first reading because they’re expecting some traditional tragic love story. And it’s so much more than that. Emily deals not only with eternal love, but also with nature, death, liberty… the same themes that are abundant in her poetry.

  17. Hey Amy,


    Oh, I know. My last words will probably be: “Oh. My. God. Destroy all the drafts on my hard drive! And toss all the hard copies into the fire!”

  18. Hey Astro Sis,

    I’m so glad you like the link.

    Charlotte read Emily’s poems and insisted they should be published. It took her weeks to convince Emily (who was angry enough that Charlotte had gone through her private works). Good thing Charlotte was a nosy little thing because it started their professional writing careers. 🙂

  19. Fascinating story. I never knew much about Anne..nor have I read any of her books. I’ll have to take a second look at her books next time I see them in the store or library!

  20. Hi Dominique,

    I’m really glad my post has piqued interest for Anne’s work.

    I’d recommend “Tenant” over “Agnes” since Tenant has a much stronger storyline.

    I like “Agnes”. The writing is so down-to-earth and unpretentious. But I think the story itself might be a little too simple for a lot of people today. But if you’re in the mood for something gentle but truthful-it’s a good read.

  21. This is very interesting, thanks. I was born on the 17th and I suppose that description fits. 🙂

  22. Hey Melanie,

    Thanks! Glad you liked the post. Cool that you are a “17”. 🙂

  23. Gypsy, I love your book reviews and background research on authors. Agnes Grey and The Tenant In Wildfell Hall are both books I liked long before I knew who the Bronte sisters were or the story of their lives. Agnes Grey is such a simple sweet story in dark contrast to the Tenant and the Wuthering Heights. The sisters all had unique styles and yet were equally strong storytellers in their own ways.

  24. Hey Venus,

    Thank you so much! 🙂

    I agree that all the sisters had unique styles. People tend to lump them together as, “The Bronte Sisters” (I can be quilty of this as well). But all three actually wrote quite differently.

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