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Although perhaps not as well known as her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, Anne Bronte was nevertheless a part of the most famous family in English literary history. She was the most conservative writer of the three and was best known for her novels. Anne Bronte was born in Thornton in Yorkshire, England on January 17th, 1820. She was one of six children born to Reverend Patrick Bronte and his wife, Maria. The youngest of six children, Anne’s siblings were Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell and Emily.
Anne’s early childhood was blighted with tragedy. Her mother died of cancer in 1821, the year after Anne’s birth, and two of her sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died in 1825. The majority of her childhood was in fact spent in the realms of fantasy in order to escape her unhappy childhood.
Anne began writing at an early age. Along with Emily, she created an imaginary world called Gondal. Both sisters wrote stories and poems about this world from childhood and into the 1840s, although few survive. Anne was largely educated at home. She was too young to accompany her older sisters when they briefly attended school and didn’t actually experience a school environment until 1835. She was fifteen when she enrolled at Roe Head in Dewesbury, where she stayed until 1837.
Upon leaving Roe Head, Anne decided not to return to her restrictive life at Haworth, the family home. Instead, she spent the years between 1839 and 1845 working as a governess. She was governess to the Ingham family at Blake Hall in 1839 before moving to work with the Robinsons of Thorpe Green Hall near York in 1840.
During the time she spent with the Robinson family, Anne would regularly accompany them on trips to Scarborough, a place she immediately fell in love with. However, her time with the family was abruptly cut short when her brother, Branwell, fell in love with Mrs Robinson. He had joined her at Thorpe Green in 1843 to tutor Edmund, the only son, but both were asked to leave owing to his mistake.
Anne, forced to return to Haworth, was bitter. She had previously had no plans to return to the family home because she enjoyed the freedom that had come with her move away from the Yorkshire Moors. However, it was following her return, and consequent reunion with her sisters, that her literary career began to take off.
The first task that fell to Anne on her arrival at Haworth was to play mediator in a dispute between her sisters. Charlotte had discovered Emily’s writings and insisted they be published, but Emily refused, incensed that her sister should so blatantly disrespect her privacy. Anne offered her poetry to appease Charlotte and encouraged Emily to consider Charlotte’s offer. Emily did eventually agree to the publication of her work.
In 1846, Anne’s poetry was published alongside that of Charlotte and Emily under the pseudonyms of Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell. The sisters employed the pseudonyms to make them sound more masculine, and thus more appealing to potential readers, in a practice common amongst female authors at that time. The volume was known simply as Poems.
Poems was anything but a success, selling just two copies, but it did give Anne the impetus to write her first novel. Agnes Grey was published in December 1847. The novel followed the life of a governess, drawing on her own experiences in that profession and her bitterness when she was asked to leave.
Although Agnes Grey was not a great critical success, her second and final novel sold extremely well. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was released as three volumes in 1848. It followed a character named Helen, and her struggle to gain freedom from her alcoholic husband, Huntingdon. Her brother, Branwell, and his disintegration into alcoholism provided the basis of the character.
Although Anne was a more conservative writer than her sisters, her work still attracted controversy. Alcoholism was apparently not an appropriate issue for a woman to deal with. More importantly though, Helen’s struggle for freedom, although mirroring Anne’s own feelings towards Haworth, may have given other women ideas above their station.
Anne was diagnosed with tuberculosis in January 1849. In an attempt to beat it, she departed for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nusey, a family friend, in May. It temporarily alleviated the symptoms, but ultimately Anne was too ill to survive.
Anne Bronte died of tuberculosis on May 28th, 1849. She was aged 29.
Monday Night May 11th 1846 / Domestic Peace
Why should such gloomy silence reign;
And why is all the house so drear,
When neither danger, sickness, pain,
Nor death, nor want have entered here?
We are as many as we were
That other night, when all were gay,
And full of hope, and free from care;
Yet, is there something gone away.
The moon without as pure and calm
Is shining as that night she shone;
but now, to us she brings no balm,
For something from our hearts is gone.
Something whose absence leaves a void,
A cheerless want in every heart.
Each feels the bliss of all destroyed
And mourns the change - but each apart.
The fire is burning in the grate
As redly as it used to burn,
But still the hearth is desolate
Till Mirth and Love with Peace return.
'Twas Peace that flowed from heart to heart
With looks and smiles that spoke of Heaven,
And gave us language to impart
The blissful thoughts itself had given.
Sweet child of Heaven, and joy of earth!
O, when will Man thy value learn?
We rudely drove thee from our hearth,
And vainly sigh for thy return.