History of Literature

Anne Bronte


Anne Bronte

Anne Brontë  by Charlotte Brontë, 1834


Anne Brontë 
by Charlotte Brontë, 1834

Anne Brontë

British author
pseudonym Acton Bell
born Jan. 17, 1820, Thornton, Yorkshire, Eng.
died May 28, 1849, Scarborough, Yorkshire

English poet and novelist, sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë and author of Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

The youngest of six children of Patrick and Marie Brontë, Anne was taught in the family’s Haworth home and at Roe Head School. With her sister Emily, she invented the imaginary kingdom of Gondal, about which they wrote verse and prose (the latter now lost) from the early 1830s until 1845. She took a position as governess briefly in 1839 and then again for four years, 1841–45, with the Robinsons, the family of a clergyman, at Thorpe Green, near York. There her irresponsible brother, Branwell, joined her in 1843, intending to serve as a tutor. Anne returned home in 1845 and was followed shortly by her brother, who had been dismissed, charged with making love to his employer’s wife.
In 1846 Anne contributed 21 poems to Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, a joint work with her sisters Charlotte and Emily. Her first novel, Agnes Grey, was published together with Emily’s Wuthering Heights in three volumes (of which Agnes Grey was the third) in December 1847. The reception to these volumes, associated in the public mind with the immense popularity of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (October 1847), led to quick publication of Anne’s second novel (again as Acton Bell), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in three volumes in June 1848; it sold well. She fell ill with tuberculosis toward the end of the year and died the following May.
Her novel Agnes Grey, probably begun at Thorpe Green, records with limpidity and some humour the life of a governess. George Moore called it “simple and beautiful as a muslin dress.” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an unsoftened picture of the debauchery and degradation of the heroine’s first husband and sets against it the Arminian belief, opposed to Calvinist predestination, that no soul shall be ultimately lost. Her outspokenness raised some scandal, and Charlotte deplored the subject as morbid and out of keeping with her sister’s nature, but the vigorous writing indicates that Anne found in it not only a moral obligation but also an opportunity of artistic development.


The Brontë sisters, painted by their brother, Branwell c. 1834.
From left to right, Anne, Emily and Charlotte


Agnes Grey

Anne Bronte


Anne Bronte is frequently overshadowed by her elder sisters, and yet this early novel shows how much she deserves more recognition of her talents than she often receives. Drawn from her own experiences, Bronte offers a deeply personal and insightful account of the loneliness and painful ambiguities of a governess's role, which is such that she is at the complete mercy of her charges. The narrator of this novel, Agnes Grey, is a young woman who becomes a governess in order to alleviate her family's financial difficulties. The novel follows her woes and frustrations during her work for two very different families, the Bloomfields and the Murrays, who are equally unreasonable in their treatment of Aqnes. Anne Bronte offers a sharp and insightful picture of middle-class social behavior and the hypocrisy and affectation that can accompany it. Bronte's own personal investment in this story lends the novel a depth of emotion that makes Agnes a particularly sympathetic character. Despite her troubles Agnes retains an uncompromising sense of self-respect, stemming partly from her religious faith, which is given great expression in her simple and direct narrative. Fundamentally about morality and the propensity for cruelty and egotism in human nature, the novel demonstrates the importance of individual integrity.





The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Anne Bronte


A sensational story of alchoholism and domestic abuse, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall scandalized reviewers on its publicaton. As The American Review put it, the book takes the reader "into the closest proximity with naked vice, and there are conversations such as we had hoped never to see printed in English." Nevertheless, the book sold remarkably well, and in a Preface to a second edition of the book, Anne Bronte (writing as Acton Bell) defended herself against her critics, by citing the novelist's moral duty to depict "vice and vicious characters ... as they really are." Bronte also deplored the speculation about her gender, dismissing the judgement that, should the author be a woman, both she and the book were all the more to be condemned.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, with its feminist themes, is a powerful portrayal of a young woman's marriage to a Regency rake, her pious struggle to reform him, and, finally, her flight in order to protect their son against his father's corruption.Told largely from Helen Huntingdon's point of view, through letters and journals, the novel recounts an abusive relationship at a time in English history when married women had few legal rights. As the novelist May Sinclair wrote in 1913: "The slamming of Helen's bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England"—a reverberation that continues to resound for readers of this controversial,and rebellious, novel.

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