Anne Bronte was an English novelist and one of the members of the prominent Bronte literary family. She is best remembered for penning the classic 19th century novels ‘Agnes Grey’ and ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, both of which deal with the oppression and social status of women in Victorian England. Born as the youngest daughter of Patrick Bronte, a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, she had a very difficult childhood, losing her mother at a young age. More family tragedies followed as she lost two of her elder sisters in quick succession. Raised by her mother’s sister, she was primarily educated at home by her father and aunt. Her father had a well-stocked library, and Anne along with her sisters Charlotte and Emily grew up reading the Bible, Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Scott, and many others. She started working a as governess while still in her teens to help her family financially. The job experience was horrible and she had to return home after being removed from the position. Inclined towards literary pursuits from a young age, she drew inspiration from her difficult experiences as a governess and detailed it in her novel, ‘Agnes Grey’. A talented writer, her budding career was cut short when she died of tuberculosis, at the age of 29.
Childhood & Early Life
Anne Bronte was born on January 17, 1820, in Thornton, England, as the youngest of the six children of Patrick Bronte, a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, and his wife Maria Branwell, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her siblings included sisters Maria, Elizabeth, Emily and Charlotte, and brother Branwell, who also became writers in future.
Her mother died when Anne was hardly a year old. Her mother’s sister Elizabeth moved in with the family to help Patrick raise the children. She was a stern woman, but was known to have a soft corner for Anne.
Her father wanted all of his children to get a good education and sent four of his elder daughters to the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. Tragedy struck the family again when two of the girls, Maria and Elizabeth, became ill and died. The traumatized father immediately brought home the surviving daughters, Emily and Charlotte. For the next five years, all of the remaining Bronte children, including Anne were educated at home.
The family had a big library and the children read a wide variety of literature including the Bible, Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Scott. Voracious readers, they also devoured articles from ‘Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine’, ‘Fraser's Magazine’, and ‘The Edinburgh Review’. Anne, along with her siblings soon developed a love for writing as well.
At the age of 15, Anne joined the Roe Head School; this was her first time away from home. After studying there for two years she became ill and had to return home to recover.
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She started looking for a teaching job in 1839. Aged just 19, she found employment as a governess for the Ingham family at Blake Hall, near Mirfield. She found the job very difficult as the children in her charge were spoilt and disobedient. She was unable to control and educate them which made the Inghams dissatisfied with her service. She was dismissed from work and had to return home.
It did not take her long to find another job, this time as governess to the children of the Reverend Edmund Robinson and his wife Lydia, at Thorp Green Hall in 1840. The job was initially very difficult, but eventually she performed her responsibilities well and impressed her employers. She would work there until 1845.
After leaving the job in 1845, Anne and her sisters decided to publish a collection of the poems they had written. Fearing that people would not be receptive to women authors, the sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne respectively adopted male pen names of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Their first book ‘Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’, though a dismal failure paved the way for their future literary careers.
Anne published her first novel ‘Agnes Grey’ under the name of Acton Bell in 1847. The story revolved around a governess, Agnes Grey, and was largely based on Anne’s own experiences as a governess for five years. It dealt with the issue of oppression and abuse of governesses, and women in general in the Victorian England. The novel was a success which motivated her to focus more on her literary career.
Her second novel, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, was published in June 1848. It became an immediate success, and was sold out within six weeks. The novel, which was about a woman who leaves her alcoholic and abusive husband, shocked the 19th century English society. Published in an era when a married woman had no independent legal existence apart from her husband, the novel is considered to be one of the first sustained feminist novels.
Anne Bronte’s novel ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ dealt with an issue that was considered scandalous in Victorian England—that of a woman leaving her abusive husband and trying to fend for herself and her child. The book was a phenomenal success and is considered a feminist novel by many critics for challenging the prevailing misogynist morals of the Victorian era.
Personal Life & Legacy
In the late 1840s, all the Bronte siblings including Anne, her two sisters and one brother, gained much acclaim as writers and seemed to be destined for highly successful literary careers. However, a huge tragedy befell the family and the siblings began dying one after the other.
Her brother Branwell died in September 1848 and sister Emily died in December the same year. Anne was also unwell during this time, and the death of her sister affected her profoundly.
Her distraught father called for a physician who diagnosed her condition as tuberculosis. Anne took all the medicines prescribed by the doctor and struggled hard to beat the disease. She grew progressively weaker over the following months and died on May 28, 1849. She was just 29.