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 practise–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.”
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.”