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The Forgotten Sister, Anne Brontë

Having read an article the previous day that argued about how the youngest member of the Brontë family is less known in the world for her novels. Hidden behind the successful fame of her older sisters, Charlotte and Emily Brontë with their successful novels of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I thought it would be nice to make today’s blog in a tribute to the forgotten sister, Anne Brontë.
Anne was born on January 17th 1820, the youngest of the family and was barely a year old when her mother would die (in 1821). After the quick and sudden deaths of the eldest children of the family, Anne with her remaining sisters Charlotte and Emily were educated at home by their father and aunt, (who had come to reside with the family during the illness of Mrs Brontë and latter stayed with the family to raise the children and take care of the household.) The children grew up close together, along with their only brother Branwell, and the bleak moors that surrounded their home, became their playground.
Anne along with her sisters, found more interest in literature, the collections of their father’s library having been well-stocked and they read from Shakespeare to Milton, also on topics of history and geography. Together, with her siblings, Anne and the others created an African kingdom called “Angria” which was illustrated with maps and water colourings. Characters of people in the kingdom were created and chronicles of the kingdom were written in little small books.
At age 15 Anne took the place of Emily as a pupil at Roe Head. She was quiet and hardworking and stayed for two years before she became ill and was sent home to recover. As the family were poor, Anne like her other siblings, had to find work to make a living. During this time the only well occupation for a poor but educated woman was to be a governess. In 1839 (age 19), Anne began to work for a family at Blake Hall. Anne had no enjoyment during her time as a governess, as the children were spoilt and rotten and ill-treated Anne. When she complained, she was criticised for not being able to properly handle the children. The family dismissed Anne and she returned home during Christmas of 1839, joining her sisters who had also left their positions, and Branwell. It is believed that her experience was so traumatising that Anne depicts it in her novel Agnes Grey, in almost perfect detail.
On her return home in 1839, Anne meet her father’s new curate, William Weightman. There is a suggestion that Anne fell in love with him, but if that is so, there is no proof that her love was returned. Anne wrote many poems during this time of her acquaintance with Weightman. Weightman died in 1842.
Between 1840 to 1845 Anne worked as a governess at Thorp Green Hall. At first she found herself in similar situations as Black Hall, feeling isolated and missing her home and family, but Anne stayed and taught the Robinson children – the daughters and her having a lifelong friendship, even after Anne left.
Together with her sisters Anne, completed a book of poems which, they published under pseudonyms. Charlotte became Currer Bell, Emily, Ellis Bell and Anne, Acton Bell. The poem was not a success as they had hoped. However, even before this Anne was writing her first novel, Agnes Grey whcih was published in 1847 with Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Agnes Grey was outshone by Emily’s novel. Anne’s last novel was published in late June of 1848. It was an instant success, the depictions of alcoholism and debauchery was profoundly disturbing to 19th-century sensibilities.
The following month Anne along with Charlotte travelled London to prove that the “Bell Brothers” were not the same person. The success of the novels of Anne and her sisters were a great achievement for them, many believed that a successfully career of literary was ahead of them.
However, tragedy struck the family and within ten months, the deaths of Branwell and Emily occurred causing a grief stricken family and Anne at only age of 29, died in 1849. A year after Anne’s death further editions of her novels were reprinted but Charlotte prevented re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Charlotte found the novel disliking to her tastes. Despite the fact that for years Anne lacked interst to literary soceity, in recent years her life and work has been re-examined. Sally McDonald of the Brontë Society said in 2013, “In some ways though she is now viewed as the most radical of the sisters, writing about tough subjects such as women’s need to maintain independence and how alcoholism can tear a family apart.”

Novels by Anne Brontë.
Agnes Grey: (from Goodreads) Agnes was the daughter of a minister whose family was in financial difficulty. She has only a few choices for employment. Agnes experiences the difficulty of reining in spoiled children and how wealth can corrupt morals. She later opens a school and finds happiness.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: (from Goodreads) Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behaviour becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

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The Forgotten Novels

How many times do readers hear of a famous author and read the novel that gave the author a name, and yet never read other novels by the same author? Is it because the others are not as good? Or are they overlooked because they have not been given much consideration in the literary world.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This is the opening sentence in Jane Austen’s prestige novel Pride and Prejudice. Many who have not read the novel, surely know the name of Mr Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, because of the television or movie adaption. Austen published four novels during her life and two posthumously. Of these six novels, Pride and Prejudice, the second novel to be published, is her most well-known novel. But, what about her other novels, are they hidden behind the prestige of Pride and Prejudice? Northanger Abbey (1818) is one of Austen’s overshadowed novels.  The novel is a parody of Gothic fiction, as Austen turns the conventions of eighteenth-century literature on its head, with her literary allusions and plain heroine. But, despite this the story is cleverly written and comical, displaying an ordinary picture of a young girl, with a wild imagination and falling in love.

Another novel that has been pushed aside, to the forgotten to read books, is Charlotte Bronte’s Villette (1853). This novel is Bronte’s fourth, and is a favourite of mine with Bronte’s prestige Jane Eyre, (1847) her most commonly known novel.  Villette follows Lucy Snowe, who after an unspecified family disaster, travels from England to the fictional French-speaking city of Villette to teach at a girl’s school, where she is drawn into adventure and romance. Villette, is exceptionally written and provides a deep character portrayal of Lucy Snowe. It is difficult to say why Villette is overlooked by fans of Jane Eyre, perhaps because we had no idea what Mr Rochester had in his attic, that still astounds the readers today. But, Villette doesn’t disappoint, with its psychological state of Lucy Snowe, and the ambiguity of the ending as, Bronte stated as a “little puzzle.”

Overall, Austen and Bronte, are more commonly known for their one novel that made their name in the literary world. Even though they have other novels, which are just as well written, developed and classics, they are overlooked, by the prestige that is given to their more famous of novels. But, as readers, we shouldn’t forget the other novels that have been written by some of the greatest writers of English literature.

JMR

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