“But he that dares not grasp the thorn, should never crave the rose.”—Anne Brontë
The other Brontë. The forgotten Brontë. The quiet, religious, boring younger Brontë sister. Such are the descriptions used regarding Anne Brontë, the baby sister of Charlotte and Emily, the queens of Gothic romance. For decades, Anne was a footnote in her sister’s lives, rarely mentioned and never appreciated for her genius until recently. Despite early attempts by Charlotte to stifle its popularity, we now hail her second novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as one of the first feminist novels. However, Anne published an earlier novel called Agnes Grey. It is the tale of a poor, plain governess who finds love and fulfills her dreams. She wrote it before her sister wrote Jane Eyre. It closely paralleled Anne’s experiences, except it has a happy ending.
Growing up the youngest child of a poor curate, motherless, along the moors of Yorkshire in Haworth, Anne knew she would have to make her own way in the world. Working as a teacher, a governess, or a companion were the only respectable occupations open to women in the 19th century. Marriage was an option to some, but neither Anne nor her sisters had the hope of matrimony. Their father was poor, she didn’t have a dowry, and the Brontë sisters preferred their own company to those of strangers. After receiving a little formal education, Anne took the position of a governess with a family, caring for their children. However, her first posting left much to be desired.
The Ingham children were wild to the point of cruelty. Not only did they disobey Anne, they tormented her, throwing her belongings out a window, and spitting at her. One boy relished in torturing baby birds. The Ingham children refused to learn their lessons, they threw fits in the schoolroom, and the parents limited Anne the amount of discipline she could dole out. Dissatisfied with their children’s progress, they sacked Anne. Rather than admit defeat, she moved onto another post, which she held on to for five years. The Robinson children, though spoiled and their parents dysfunctional, became fond of Anne and invited her on trips to Scarborough and gifted her with a dog, named Flossy.
While Anne was working as a governess, in her spare time, she took refuge in writing. Her experiences found their way into Agnes Grey. She carefully crafted a straightforward narrative of a naïve but strong curate’s daughter who sought to make her way in the world. Agnes struggles with her first posting, finds a better position with a different family, and comes to love the kindhearted clergyman, Mr. Weston. It is speculated that Anne herself loved a clergyman who died young, caring for the poor, but Agnes Grey ends positively.
Whether Anne began her novel with publication in mind is unknown, but publication eventually became her goal. Anne quit her second posting when her brother, who worked as a tutor for the family, became entangled in a love affair with Mrs. Robinson. Anne returned home, uncertain of what to do next… until she and her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, decided to published a book of poetry. After they made their literary debut, the Brontë sisters agreed to send off works of fiction. Though written and accepted for publication first, Agnes Grey didn’t appear in print until after Jane Eyre left its mark on the public. Due to unfair criticisms between the two novels, Agnes Grey often stands in the shadow of Jane Eyre. Rather than write a brooding Bryonic anti-hero, Anne made Mr. Weston kind, thoughtful, good, and charming. A devout Christian, Anne believed her writing should encourage, educate, and enlighten others. She wanted to make the world a better place.
Anne continued writing, finding more success with her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, until she contracted tuberculosis. God had a bigger plan than Anne for herself. She died at age twenty-nine, at Scarborough, a place dear to her heart. Her grave is separate from her family’s in Haworth, a testament to her own individuality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.