A painting of Anne Brontë.
A painting of Anne Brontë.

The leader of a poorly documented life, Anne Brontë is the youngest author/poet of the infamous literary sisters, the Brontës. A “nebulous figure in the history of English letters” (Merrit), Anne existed and found her own minor success within the great shadows of her elder sisters. Although commonly accepted as a woman and literary figure of little importance (Merrit), Anne Brontë, her life, and works remain important links in the chain that is English Literary Criticism, and key topics of study today.

Born on January 17th, 1820 in the small village of Thornton within Yorkshire, England to parents Patrick and Maria Brontë, Anne joined her five siblings Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick (Branwell), and Emily in a an Anglican parsonage on Market Street (Smith). Months later, with concerns regarding the state of her mother’s health, the family relocated to the moors of Haworth Parsonage— the only home that Anne would ever really know or become strongly attached to (Harrison and Stanford 16). Unfortunately, Anne’s mother did not survive her battles against illness, and passed away in September of 1821, thus leaving Anne to be raised by her aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, and live a life “entirely without recollection of her mother” (16). A significant loss indeed, Anne’s happiness was perhaps supplemented then on by her love for both family and nature, which was discovered early in her life and remained a constant source of comfort throughout (17).

Haworth Parsonage, where Anne Brontë grew up and lived.
Haworth Parsonage, where Anne Brontë grew up and lived.

Anne, who was almost always referred to as being a mild, gentle, and delicate child, perhaps did not have the chance to be anything more, as she suffered the loss of more family members throughout her early life and was afflicted with her own illnesses (24). A young woman surrounded by powerful elders, her natural sensitiveness and shyness increased as her love for home was exaggerated— “isolation made common experiences an ordeal” (21). This is extremely interesting because, as some scholars point out, the experience of situational or self-imposed isolation was “an idea recurrent throughout Brontë’s poetry and fiction” (Frawley 4). Like Anne, the characters within her novels “live in or are displaced to secluded regions of Britain… [are affected by] death [that] separates them from loved ones… and lack intimate relationships outside family that would allow for emotional sharing” (4).

Perhaps an interest in the thematic ideas of isolation and love for the home for Anne were caused by her environment. Of course, it is true that Anne’s surroundings had a large impact on both her and her sister’s imaginations, writings, and lives. The environment of their existence was “essentially sombre… it reflected not only winter but all the beauties of changing weather and seasons well” (Harrison and Stanford 26). It is interesting to note how Anne, “…breathing in the air of the moors…” (55) wrote a substantial amount of poems such as “The Captive Dove” and “The North Wind” successively— ultimately showcasing the creative energy within her and the strength to sustain creative excitement that was found within her environment (55). Looking back at Anne’s life and works, it is hard to make conclusions about whether or not her environment was something that either helped or hindered her.
Moors similar to those near Haworth Parsonage.
Moors similar to those near Haworth Parsonage.

As some critics suggest, growing up in this environment and having access to such freedom of imagination and creative energy as adolescents on the moors of Haworth Parsonage “unfitted the Brontës for living in other places” (Harrison and Stanford 44). For example, Anne’s sister Emily had at once attempted to attend school away from home, but soon loathed the captivity of the regimented lifestyle and traded places with Anne who went to study at Roe Head instead of her in the year of 1835 (Frawley xiii). While at school, Anne herself remained shy; there is no record of her bringing home any friends to stay, for example (Harrison and Stanford 46). In addition to this, descriptions of Anne as recorded by important figures within her life (eg. Ellen Nussey, a family friend) fostered the idea that Anne was “weakly and compliant [during this time], though her behaviour and her writing suggest a hidden strength” (Ingham 15).

Upon further investigation, many facts support this hidden strength within Anne. Although Anne remained a shy individual while receiving education, she was able to rise above her classmates with regard to her behaviour and received a good conduct prize form her instructor, Miss Wooler, in December of 1836 (Harrison and Stanford 46). In addition to this, “we see her at Roe Head becoming mistress of some of the material she was to use in her books, qualifying to become a governess as painlessly as she could have done anywhere” (46). Anne went away to her first situation as governess in the spring of 1839 where she was put in charge of the Ingham family children of Blake Hall (57). Due to the fact that assuming the role of governess was one of the only career options for women during this time (56), it is no surprise that Anne went on to a second situation at Thorp Green upon “failure with the children” (58) in the first.

Sadly, there exist no surviving poems or letters written by Anne herself during her first experiences as governess; assumptions about her thoughts and feelings remain heavily reliant on descriptions within her novel Agnes Grey and in the poems written at Thorp Green, which provide clues about her own life. As scholar John Merrit suggests, “The significance of this period of Anne Brontë’s life and the vital importance it played in her education, her maturation, and her growing understanding of mankind should be neither overlooked nor underestimated” (Merrit). Similarly, Anne Brontë’s most famous works such as Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) should not be overlooked as they seemingly “promised well for Anne’s maturity both as a woman and a writer” (Harrison and Stanford 105).

Although Anne Brontë’s position within history contrasts that of her sisters, some critics “find it a relief” (Harrison and Stanford 63) because she was a different kind of artist who maintained a different kind of prose. She was “simple, fresh, brief, and flat” (63), and as George Moore declared regarding her death by Tuberculosis in 1849, “if [she] had lived ten years longer, she would have taken a place beside Jane Austen, perhaps even a higher place” (qtd in Merrit). Whether or not she exists as a highly celebrated literary figure today is irrelevant; she is part of a literary legacy that we should always appreciate — drawing attention to her life and sharing her stories — within the shadows as they are.

Anne Brontë's grave.
Anne Brontë's grave.

Interesting Facts about Anne Brontë:

  • Anne was "inseparable" from her sister, Emily. The two have been said to have acquired "considerable linguistic skills, developed their talent for music, and invented a secret, exotic, imaginary land- Gondal" (Smith) in their adventures together. Although there exist no remaining prose stories related to Gondal, 23 of Anne Brontë's poems have been maintained and "describe the loves and griefs of its romantic heroes and heroines" (Smith).
  • Anne was said to be one of the most attractive looking out of all the Brontë sisters (See Photo at Top of Page). Descriptions from one of the Brontë's family friends, Ellen Nussey, describes Anne as she appeared in 1833: "Her hair was a very pretty light brown and fell on her neck in graceful curls. She had lovely violet blue eyes, fine pencilled eye-brows, a clear, almost transparent complexion." (qtd. in Smith)
  • Anne's brother, Patrick Branwell Brontë, was said to have had a problem with "increasingly heavy drinking and drug taking, grieved over his wasted talent and his moral and spiritual degeneration." (Smith)
  • Most information about Anne Brontë does not come from Anne herself, but from the letters and correspondents between family (eg. Charlotte Brontë) and others (eg. Elizabeth Branwell) around her during her life.
  • Anne Brontë sometimes wrote under the pseudonym "Acton Bell". Her sisters sometimes wrote under pseudonyms, as well.
  • Anne's home, Haworth Parsonage, is now a museum.

Some titles by Anne Brontë:

  • Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846) - Joint Poetry Publication with her sisters
  • "Music on Christmas Morning" (1846) - Poem
  • "Views of Life" (1846) - Poem
  • Agnes Grey (1847) - Novel
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) - Novel
  • "The Captive Dove" (Publication Date Unknown) - Poem
  • "The North Wind" (Publication Date Unknown) - Poem
  • "Dreams" (1915) - Poem

Works Cited:

Merrit, John. “Anne Brontë.” Victorian Novelists Before 1885. Ed. Ira Bruce Nadel and William e. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol 21. Literature Resource Centre. Web. 22 Jan 2015.

Ingham, Patricia. The Brontës. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Frawley, Maria. Anne Brontë. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996. Print.

Harrison, Ada. and Stanford, Derek. Anne Brontë Her Life and Work. Britain: Camelot Press, 1959. Print.

Smith, Margaret. "Anne Brontë (1820-1849)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/3522, accessed 3 Feb 2015]

Post Created By: L.W. Eg386.UVIc.Winter2015