The Opening Of The Brontë Parsonage Museum

On 5th August 1928 the Brontë Parsonage Museum opened it’s doors for the very first time. In the near nine decades since then, the collection has expanded enormously, and visitors continue to pour in from around the world to hear the fascinating stories of the writers they adore: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë!

Patrick Brontë, his wife Maria, and their six children (Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily Jane, and Anne) arrived at the Parsonage of St Michael’s & All Angels church, Haworth on 20th April 1820. Little Anne, the adored baby of the family, was just three months old. Tragically, Maria, the mother, was to die there just a year later. Within a few more years the eldest children Maria and Elizabeth also died there of tuberculosis contracted at their Cowan Bridge School.

As we all know, that wasn’t the end of the sadness at the Parsonage, with Branwell, Emily and Anne all dying within a nine month period spanning 1848 and 1849, although Anne had left Haworth for Scarborough in the days leading up to her death. Charlotte, the last remaining Brontë child, died in 1855 from complications brought on by morning sickness.

There was certainly tragedy at the Brontë Parsonage, but there was fun, joy, and triumph too. Particularly in their youth, the three sisters were very close to each other and to their brother and they delighted in their home and the moors surrounding it. It is here of course that some of the greatest books ever written were penned, including The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre.

Patrick Brontë died at the Parsonage in 1861, having served the people of Haworth for over 40 years and outlived all his family. He was immensely proud of the achievements of his daughters, and already by this time their fame was beginning to spread. Upon his death his effects, including many items which belonged to his daughters were broken up. Many pertaining to Charlotte were taken by the beloved partner of her all too brief partner in marriage, Arthur Nicholls who now returned to his native Ireland. Other items were given to the faithful servant Martha Brown, while many more were sold off, often overseas in America.

As the years passed the Brontë legend grew, and Brontë relics began to appear at salerooms across the world. In 1883 the Brontë Society was formed with a view to collecting as much of this material as possible, and preserving it locally for the people of Haworth and the world. Thanks to the help of some wealthy benefactors they soon gathered a substantial collection, and it was first exhibited to the public in 1895 above the Penny Bank on Main Street, now the Post Office.

The collection grew rapidly, and the society knew that they needed more space. There was one obvious location – the Parsonage itself, but how could they hope to get their hands on it when it was still in use by the church? In 1928 the church put the Parsonage up for sale, this was the only chance for the society to obtain the building but its price tag was £3000, around £200,000 today. Sir James Roberts, a wealthy Haworth businessman bought it and immediately handed the deeds to the Brontë Society. At last those priceless belongings of Anne, Emily, and Charlotte could return home.

Sir James Roberts
Sir James Roberts, Bronte benefactor

By August 1928 the collection was in place, and on the 5th, a Sunday, the Brontë Parsonage Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time. The response was phenomenal. As the picture at the top of this blog shows, the crowds were huge. Everybody wanted to see the Parsonage and pay homage to the sisters in the place they loved most. Thousands upon thousands of people, all wearing their Sunday best, queued for hours, stretching from the Parsonage, past the School Rooms where Anne and Charlotte taught, past the church where their father preached, and down the steep cobbled Main Street of Haworth itself.

The year after the museum was opened, a biography was published by Kaye Sugden entitled ‘A Short History of The Brontes’. It contains a fascinating photograph showing how the museum’s dining room looked when it first opened – and it’s rather different to the room we see when visiting today:

Bronte Parsonage Museum 1929 by Kaye Sugden
Bronte Parsonage Museum 1929 by Kaye Sugden

What can visitors to the Brontë Parsonage today expect? In one word: treasure. There are so many things of remarkable beauty here: things that will fill you with awe, such as the newly acquired writing desk that the sisters used with Emily’s initial carved into it. Things that are like nothing else you’ll ever see, including the tiny books the Brontës wrote as children, with writing so small that you can only read it through the handily positioned magnifying glass. Things that are wondrous, such as the headdress Charlotte wore on her wedding day or the sampler that Anne sewed when she was eight years old. Things that can make you overcome with emotion, such as Anne’s brave last letter to Ellen Nussey, or the tiny bonnet that a friend had made for Charlotte’s baby that was never to be born.

The Brontë Parsonage Museum is a place I can never grow tired of, exhibits are rotated and there’s always something new to see. I’ve even been privileged enough to walk around the Parsonage at candlelight, and it has to be said that on such an occasion it’s a serene and completely peaceful place. Throughout the year the Parsonage hosts on lots of special events that are family friendly, and they will be loved by people of all ages. You can find out more here.

The Birth Of Agnes Grey And Wuthering Heights

The beginning of December 1847 was a time of great excitement in the Brontë Parsonage at Haworth, but it was nothing to do with the impending arrival of Christmas; it was the month that saw the joint publication of Agnes Grey, by Acton Bell, and Wuthering Heights, by Ellis Bell, and the gestation of these great novels had been anything but smooth.

Of course, we know these writers better today by their real names of Anne Brontë and Emily Brontë, rather than the pen names that they, together with their sister Charlotte who masqueraded as Currer Bell, adopted to keep their identities and gender secret. They had been writing both prose and poems together since their childhood, at that time in conjunction with their brother Branwell although by the time 1847 came around he was too lost to alcohol and opium to even realise that his sisters were writing let alone collaborate.

Whilst Agnes Grey, the first of Anne’s two novels, was introduced to the public at the end of 1847 its origins were earlier, possibly much earlier. In September 1845, Charlotte had discovered, although of course we’ll never know how ‘accidental’ the discovery was, a hidden book of Emily’s poems. After a bitter argument, the three sisters eventually agreed to publish a collection of their poetry, which came out in 1846 as ‘Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell‘. Although this wasn’t a commercial success, it seemed to galvanise the Brontë sisters and they realised that what had long been a hobby could, even if ever so slightly, possibly be a way to earn an income for themselves. They quickly decided to write a short novel each, and submit them for publication together – the three volume format of novels being then a publishing norm.

Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights were accepted for publication by Thomas Cautley Newby in mid 1847, but Charlotte’s contribution of The Professor was rejected by all who saw it meaning that it would be Anne and Emily’s novels that would be published together. We know, however, that Agnes Grey was actually completed by May 1846 and an earlier version of it was possibly being worked on in 1845 as she notes in that year’s diary paper that ‘I have begun the third volume of “Passages In The Life Of An Individual”, I wish I had finished it.’

Agnes Grey frontispiece
Original frontispiece to Agnes Grey

It seems likely that ‘Passages In The Life Of An Individual’ was the original version of what became ‘Agnes Grey’, and so she had been writing a novel at least a year before the sisters’ joint plan was formally hatched. It’s also likely that she had been collecting material for the novel since as early as 1839 when she became a governess to the Ingham family of Blake Hall, Mirfield, as this family, and Anne’s less than pleasant time with them, is recreated faithfully in her depictions of the Bloomfield family in Agnes Grey. Her time as governess to the Robinsons is also replicated in many ways in her depiction of the Murrays in Agnes Grey.

Whilst being a beautiful read in its own right, and a fascinating glimpse at the life of a nineteenth century governess, Agnes Grey is in many ways autobiographical, although we do of course have to be careful to sift the fact from the fiction. An example of this is found on the very first page where Agnes proclaims: ‘My father was a clergyman of the north of England; deservedly respected by all who knew him.’ This is also something that Anne herself could have proclaimed. Agnes Grey is an oft, and very unfairly, overlooked book, but in my opinion it’s one of the true masterpieces of English literature: it’s short and sweet, with not a word out of place. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Irish novelist George Moore called Agnes Grey: ‘the most perfect prose narrative in English letters.’ I share that view.

Anne and Emily must have been very excited when Newby signed up their book, but things didn’t progress smoothly from that point on. When they received the proofs they were disappointed to find that they contained many errors, and later they would find that many of their corrections had also been omitted. Worse than that, there was no firm indication of when, if ever, the books would see the light of day. Thomas Newby was a businessman more than a book lover, and he would only publish something if he thought he could make a healthy profit on it, but an event was about to occur that would force his hand.

Charlotte Brontë, although initially disheartened by the failure of The Professor, did not give up. She swiftly wrote another book and sent it to a publisher, Smith, Elder & Co., who had been slightly encouraging to her. The book, as we all know, was Jane Eyre and the publishers instantly realised what they had. They signed Charlotte and her novel up immediately, and it was published and distributed in record quick time. In October 1847, less than two months after Charlotte had speculatively sent her manuscript to London, it was being devoured by the public.

Jane Eyre was a huge and rapid success, and readers were already eager for more by this new young writer Currer Bell. Thomas Cautley Newby noticed what was happening, and decided that now was the perfect time to release the books that he had by what he thought were the two other Bell brothers.

Thus it was that Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights were finally published in December 1847, designed to ride upon the coat tails of the already published and successful Jane Eyre which had been written a year after the novels by Anne and Emily. Newby was an unscrupulous man, and he tried every trick he could to indicate that both Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights were both by Currer Bell, Jane Eyre’s author. When he tried the same trick with Anne’s second novel, The Tennant Of Wildfell Hall, the sisters could take no more and Charlotte and Anne were stung into action and a trip to the bright lights of London which would have unforeseen results for the whole family.

Nevertheless, December 1847 must have been a very happy time for Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë. They had achieved their objective, and these obscure young women living on the edge of the Yorkshire moors were all now published authors. Who knew what successes lay ahead of them, these three sisters with the world at their feet and dreams of happiness? We can leave them there smiling and laughing around their dining table, for as Christmas 1847 loomed it was perhaps kinder that they didn’t know that within a year Branwell and Emily would both be dead, and Anne mortally ill.

Reader, I Married Him: Marriage In Jane Eyre & Agnes Grey

On October 16th 1847 a book was published that would shake up English literature, and that will be loved and admired for as long as books are read. It was ‘Jane Eyre’ by Currer Bell, who we now know, of course, as Charlotte Brontë. Two months later, ‘Agnes Grey’ by Acton Bell, Anne Brontë of course, was published and readers and critics didn’t take long to notice many similarities.

Both novels are narrated by a heroine who has lost her father and eventually becomes a governess. They are bright and kind hearted, quiet and yet forthright, and both would never dream of doing anything immoral or dishonest. At the heart of both books, as well, is a yearning for love and a remarkably similar ending. Little wonder that many people accused Anne, as Acton, of imitating the instant smash hit that was Jane Eyre. What those people didn’t realise, of course, was that Agnes Grey was written a year before Charlotte’s book and so any imitation must have been the other way round.

Charlotte had written ‘The Professor’ at the same time as Anne wrote ‘Agnes Grey’ and Emily Brontë wrote ‘Wuthering Heights’. They had intended to publish them together, but nobody was interested in ‘The Professor’. Charlotte rapidly wrote a second novel after encouragement from the publisher Smith, Elder & Co and they published it even more rapidly, ensuring that the author became an overnight success. Anne and Emily’s publisher, Thomas Cautley Newby, in contrast had been sitting on the two novels he’d agreed to publish. Realising that he could capitalise on the success of ‘Jane Eyre’ he finally released them in December 1847.

Rochester and Jane Eyre finally find love and happiness
Rochester and Jane Eyre finally find love and happiness

Marriage is just one theme that unites ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Agnes Grey’. I don’t think I need to say ‘spoiler alert’ when I say that Jane finally, after many travails, marries her beloved Rochester, even though he is by that time blind and disfigured by a fire. “READER, I MARRIED HIM” are the capitalised opening words to chapter 38, the final chapter of ‘Jane Eyre’, and four words that have set readers hearts’ glowing then and ever since. We then get a brief and low key explanation of how they raise a family and how Rochester regains his sight. This is very similar to the ending of Agnes Grey. After being separated from Reverend Weston, the man she loves, Agnes is suddenly reunited with him. On the very last page she reveals that “A few weeks after that, when my mother had supplied herself with an assistant, I became the wife of Edward Weston; and never have found cause to repent it, and am certain that I never shall.” She then concludes by talking of how they have raised a family in a low key and yet touchingly beautiful ending.

Love and marriage are at the heart of all Charlotte’s books, including the wonderful Shirley where both the heroines (based upon her sisters Anne and Emily) marry at the end. It also features of course in Anne’s other novel, but in a very different way. In ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’, Anne explores a doomed marriage, one where the wife endures an abusive relationship with an alcoholic husband. This heroine, Helen, takes a very different view of her husband to Jane or Agnes, with capitals being used for effect once again: “It is not enough to say that I no longer love my husband – I HATE him! The word stares me in the face like a guilty confession, but it is true: I hate him – I hate him! – But God have mercy on his miserable soul.”

It shocked readers, and it shocked Charlotte especially, but it showed how Anne Brontë was prepared to explore the harsher realities of life in a way that neither of her sisters ever could. She had defied nineteenth century conventions, and created something truly unique. Within a year of its publication, Anne was dead; if she had lived who knows what other masterpieces she may have created?

The Valley of The Shadow of Death in Shirley

Anne Brontë’s work was frequently autobiographical, but we can also turn to another work of fiction for information about her looks, beliefs, and life: ‘Shirley’ by her sister Charlotte Brontë. In it, she includes veiled portraits of many people and places she knew, most notably Emily Brontë as Shirley Keeldar and Anne Brontë as Caroline Helstone. She also gives detailed information on Anne’s death in a chapter that must have been incredibly difficult for Charlotte to write, and is perhaps the most moving chapter ever written under the guise of fiction; it’s chapter 24 of Shirley: ‘The Valley of The Shadow of Death’.

Charlotte began writing Shirley in 1848, at what was a time of happiness for the Brontës, even though they were having to cope with the increasingly unpredictable behaviour of their drink and drug addicted brother Branwell. Jane Eyre had become a huge success, Anne had completed her second novel, The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, and while Emily was enjoying baking bread and carrying out domestic duties, as always there was no way of telling what she may be working on in private. For three happy sisters, still walking around their table at night discussing their plans as they had at children, it was impossible to see what was soon to befall them.

After Anne and Charlotte returned from a journey to London in July 1848, one by one the family started to fall ill. The weakened Branwell was the first to succumb, dying of tuberculosis on September 24th 1848. Emily, who had often nursed him, soon showed the same terrible symptoms but stubborn to the last refused all help. She died of tuberculosis on December 9th 1848. To Charlotte’s horror, it was then Anne’s turn to contract the disease. Charlotte was determined to save her only remaining sibling, but it was to no avail, and tuberculosis claimed her on May 28th 1849.

Throughout these dreadful eight months, work on Shirley had stopped. After Anne’s death, Charlotte, always prone to bouts of melancholy, fell into a heavy depression, but eventually she found the courage to resume her half finished novel. Chapter 24 was to provide a real test of Charlotte’s courage as a writer, and as a human. She had originally planned for Caroline, the real heroine of the novel rather than Shirley, to die in this chapter, and in it she gives details of how Anne stoically faced her final illness.

The first sign of the illness comes on rapidly. Caroline, by which of course we can read Anne, walks home feeling well one night, but for the next two days she suddenly finds herself unable to eat:

“‘Am I ill?’ she asked, and looked at herself in the glass. Her eyes were bright, their pupils dilated, her cheeks seemed rosier, and fuller than usual. ‘I look well, why can I not eat?’

She felt a pulse beat fast in her temples; she felt, too, her brain in strange activity. Her spirits were raised; hundreds of busy and broken but brilliant thoughts engaged her mind. A glow rested on them, such as tinged her complexion.

Now followed a hot, parched, thirsty, restless night. Towards morning one terrible dream seized her like a tiger; when she woke, she felt and knew she was ill.”

Caroline Helstone by Edmund Dulac
Caroline Helstone by Edmund Dulac

The inability to eat continues, but there are no other symptoms other than a fever, and people hope and think that she will soon change for the better. That change doesn’t come. Whilst her uncle and Mrs Pryor, her attendant, still believe that this could be a passing illness, Caroline herself knows that she is dying. It is at this point that she again questions her faith, questions what is waiting for her, and calls out to God:

“‘Where is the other world? In what will another life consist? Why do I ask? Have I not cause to think that the hour is hasting but too fast when the veil must be rent for me? Do I not know the Grand Mystery is likely to burst prematurely on me? Great spirit, in whose goodness I confide, whom, as my Father, I pave petitioned night and morning from early infancy, help the weak creation of Thy hands! Sustain me through the ordeal I dread and must undergo! Give me strength! Give me patience! Give me – oh, give me faith!'”

This trial of spirit as the end approaches mirrors what Anne herself went through, as shown by her final poem ‘Last Lines’, which begins with dreadful doubts, was put aside, and finally completed in a spirit of acceptance and faith.

Charlotte also reveals the horror of having to listen to a loved one’s insensible, delirious ramblings as tuberculosis enters its final stage:

“Caroline, opening her eyes from a moment’s slumber, viewed her nurse with an unrecognizing glance.

‘I smelt the honeysuckles in the glen this summer morning,’ she said, ‘as I stood at the counting-house window.’

Strange words like these from pallid lips pierce a loving listener’s heart more poignantly than steel. They sound romantic, perhaps, in books; in real life they are harrowing.”

Eventually Caroline’s senses return, and finding that it is only nine o’clock, says she has a long night ahead of her. She asks her nurse, Mrs. Pryor, to sing ‘Our God, our help in ages past’ to her. She then asks her to sing a Scottish song to her, but overcome with tears Mrs. Pryor can go nor further:

“‘You are weeping at the pathos of the air. Come here, and I will comfort you,’ said Caroline, in a pitying accent. Mrs. Pryor came. She sat down on the edge of her patient’s bed, and allowed the wasted arms to encircle her.

‘You often soothe me; let me soothe you,’ murmured the young girl, kissing her cheek. ‘I hope’, she added, ‘it is not for me you weep?'”

When writing these lines, we surely know that Charlotte had in mind Anne’s death scene she had witnessed just weeks earlier in Scarborough, a scene we have full details of thanks to a memoir by their friend Ellen Nussey, who was also present. Anne herself was serenely calm, but the silence was broken by Charlotte’s sudden weeping. In her final moment Anne seeks to soothe her sister, and with her last words tells her, ‘take courage, Charlotte, take courage!’

In the midst of this chapter Charlotte now faced a searing dilemma. Could she let Caroline die, as the original plan had been when she commenced the novel at a time when they were both in full health, just as she had seen Anne die? No, it could not, would not, be. She had been unable to save her in real life, had lost ‘one for whom I would have died to save’ as Charlotte wrote in a touching elegy to Anne. In her novel, at least, she could save her, and she did.

“‘I believe grief is, and always has been, my worst ailment. I sometimes think if an abundant gush of happiness came on me I could revive yet.’

‘Do you wish to live?’

‘I have no object in life.’

Charlotte then gives Caroline an object in life, a reason to live. Mrs. Pryor reveals herself to be Caroline’s mother, the mother who Caroline lost as a baby just as Anne had lost her own mother Maria as a one year old.

A miracle happens. Caroline does not die that night, and with her new found mother’s help begins to eat again. The disease passes and Caroline regains full health. She has passed through the shadow of the valley of death, but unlike Anne she has come out of the other side.

At the chapter’s end, Mrs. Pryor “wrestled with God in earnest prayer”. At the opening of the next chapter, Charlotte reveals the agony she herself went through as Anne had hovered between life and death:

“Not always do those who dare such divine conflict prevail. Night after night the sweat of agony may burst dark on the forehead; the supplicant may cry for mercy with that soundless voice the soul utters when its appeal is to the Invisible. ‘Spare my beloved’, it may implore. ‘Heal my life’s life. Rend not from me what long affection entwines with my whole nature. God of heaven, bend, hear, be clement!’ And after this cry and strife the sun may rise and see him worsted. That opening morn, which used to salute him with the whisper of zephyrs, the carol of skylarks, may breathe, as its first accents, from the dear lips which colour and heat have quitted, ‘Oh! I have had a suffering night. This morning I am worse. I have tried to rise. I cannot. Dreams I am unused to have troubled me.’

Then the watcher approaches the patient’s pillow, and sees a new and strange moulding of the familiar features, feels at once that the insufferable moment draws nigh, knows that it is God’s will his idol shall be broken, and bends his head, and subdues his soul to the sentence he cannot avert and scarce can bear.”

As the next paragraph reveals, ‘Happy Mrs. Pryor’ did not face this, but a revived Caroline. For Charlotte herself, of course the outcome with three of her siblings in the previous year had been very different.

As if further proof was needed that Charlotte has painted Anne’s dying days, there is one very telling clue. In the previous blog, I showed how Caroline’s physical description very closely matches that of Anne, but for one point: on three occasions she is mentioned as having brown eyes, when we know that Anne was the only Brontë child to have blue eyes. See how Charlotte, with Anne’s vision and suffering so clearly etched in her imagination as she writes, describes Caroline now:

“Papa, my darling, gave you your blue eyes and soft brown hair; he gave you the oval of your face and the regularity of your lineaments.”

It is easy to remember how Charlotte often seemed to belittle Anne, and to think of how she damaged her reputation by preventing the republication of The Tenant Of Wilfdfell Hall, but in the portrayal of Caroline in Shirley, she shows how much she had always loved her, and how deeply she felt her loss.

Anne Brontë In Shirley

Shirley was Charlotte Brontë’s magnificent third novel (although it was only her second to be published), and it’s of particular interest to fans of Anne Brontë. It’s well known that Charlotte used many real people, events and locations in the novel, barely disguised under other names. Her great friend Mary Taylor, for example, is Rose Yorke. Briarmains in Shirley is the Taylor house at Gomersal. Miss Wooler, former teacher of Charlotte and Anne, is called Mrs. Pryor. The curates Malone and Macarthey are both based to some extent on Charlotte’s future husband Arthur Bell Nicholls. The book centres around the earlier Luddite struggles, which was a mask for the Chartist struggles that were still raging.

It is in the two protagonists, however, that we take most interest. The titular Shirley (the first time it had ever been used as a woman’s name) is based upon Emily Brontë. Mrs Gaskell, in her famous biography of Charlotte, says that Charlotte explained that her portrayal of Shirley Keeldar is “what Emily Brontë would have been, had she been placed in health and prosperity.” Whilst Shirley is given the title, she does not appear until a third of the way through the book. The real heroine is the parson’s niece Caroline Helstone, and this is undoubtedly a portrait of her other sister Anne. Whilst writing the novel, tragedy struck Charlotte and her family, and it is this that makes Shirley such a beautiful and very moving read. In next week’s blog we’ll take a look at one particular chapter in the novel that touches very strongly on one particular instance of Anne’s life and death, and how it changed the course of the novel Charlotte was writing. This week, we’ll look at quotes that show how, under the cover of fiction, Charlotte revealed her often hidden love and admiration for her sister, and depicted moments from Anne’s life. We’ll begin by looking at descriptions of Caroline’s appearance.

Anne’s Physical Appearance

“To her had not been denied the gift of beauty. It was not absolutely necessary to know her in order to like her; she was fair enough to please, even at the first view. Her shape suited her age: it was girlish, light, and pliant; every curve was neat, every limb proportionate; her face was expressive and gentle; her eyes were handsome, and gifted at times with a winning beam that stole into the heart, with a language that spoke softly to the affections. Her mouth was very pretty; she had a delicate skin, and a fine flow of brown hair, which she knew how to arrange with taste; curls became her, and she possessed them in picturesque profusion… The little collar round her neck lay over a pink ribbon, and was fastened with a pink knot. She wore no other decoration.”

Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte
Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte

“She is nice; she is fair; she has a pretty white slender throat; she has long curls, not stiff ones – they hang loose and soft, their colour is brown but not dark; she speaks quietly, with a clear tone; she never makes a bustle when moving; she often wears a gray silk dress; she is neat all over.”

These descriptions match nicely with what we know of Anne, the pretty, delicate, quiet young woman with hair that was browner and curlier than her sisters. Yet, on some occasions early in the novel, Caroline is described with brown eyes, whereas we know that Anne was the only Brontë with blue eyes:

“But for the soft expression of her brown eyes, the delicate lines of her features, and the flowing abundance of her hair, she would no longer have possessed a claim to the epithet pretty.

‘What on earth is the matter with you?’ he asked. ‘What is wrong? How are you ailing?’

No answer; only the brown eyes filled, the faintly-tinted lips trembled.”

As we shall see in the next blog however, at the moment when Charlotte closely reveals the details leading to Anne’s death, she describes Caroline as having blue eyes.

Anne’s Discomfort Of Mind

Anne was the most pious of the sisters, and the one who thought most deeply about religion. Throughout her life she had moments of grave doubt about the nature of faith, and often worried that she would go to Hell. Charlotte became particularly conscious of this, and gives Caroline too moments of mental and physical torment.

“Yet I must speak the truth. These efforts brought her neither health of body nor continued peace of mind. With them all she wasted, grew more joyless and more wan… Winter seemed conquering her spring; the mind’s soil and its treasures were freezing gradually to barren stagnation.”

“‘I think I grow what is called nervous. I see things under a darker aspect than I used to do. I have fears I never used to have – not of ghosts, but of omens and disastrous events; and I have an inexpressible weight on my mind which I would give the world to shake off, and I cannot do it.'”

Anne As A Governess

We know, of course, that Anne became a governess twice, and was the only sister who held down jobs for any length of time. At the age of eighteen she had to persuade her family to let her become a governess, and Charlotte reflects this exact same yearning in Caroline at exactly the same age:

“But one project could she frame whose execution seemed likely to bring her a hope of relief: it was to take a situation, to be a governess; she could do nothing else.”

“‘The fact is, you don’t know precisely what you want.’

‘Only to be a governess.'”

“‘I wish it fifty times a day. As it is, I often wonder what I came into the world for. I long to have something absorbing and compulsory to fill my head and hands and to occupy my thoughts.'”

“‘Mrs. Pryor, I should like to go from home, but not on any purposeless excursion or visit. I wish to be a governess.'”

Anne’s Timidity And Work As A Sunday School Teacher

We know that Anne was naturally very shy, but she worked to overcome it. We know also that she taught at Haworth’s new Sunday school, as did her siblings, with one former pupil recollecting that she was his favourite teacher as she was ‘the prettiest and most serious’. These too are reflected in the Caroline of Shirley:

“Not naturally very confident, a failure of physical strength and a depression of spirits had not tended to increase Caroline’s presence of mind and ease of manner, or to give her additional courage to face strangers.”

“She was always held back by the idea that people could not want her, that she could not amuse them.”

“‘They made her a Sunday-school teacher when she was a little girl of twelve. She is not particularly self-confident by nature, as you may have observed; and the first time she had to ‘take a tray’, as the phrase is, and make tea in public, there was some piteous trembling and flushing. I observed the speechless panic, the cups shaking in the little hand, and the overflowing teapot filled too full from the urn.'”

“Miss Helstone knew these girls liked her, yet she was shy with them even outside of school. They were not more in awe of her than she of them… Her knowledge commanded their esteem when she taught them; her gentleness attracted their regard; and because she was what they considered wise and good when on duty, they kindly overlooked her evident timidity when off.”

Anne And Emily

Anne and Emily were incredibly close to each other, with Ellen Nussey describing them as acting like twins. It is especially moving, therefore, to see the close bond that Charlotte gives between Caroline and Shirley, the depiction of the two sisters she would lose forever while she was writing the novel.

Shirley Keeldar by Edmund Dulac
Shirley Keeldar by Edmund Dulac

“Caroline’s instinct of taste, too, was like her own. Such books as Miss Keeldar had read with the most pleasure were Miss Helstone’s delight also. They held many aversions too in common, and could have the comfort of laughing together over works of false sentimentality and pompous pretension.”

“Caroline, she found, felt the value of the true ore, and knew the deception of the flashy dross. The minds of the two girls being toned in harmony often chimed very sweetly together.”

“‘I am a blind, weak fool, and you are acute and sensible, Shirley. I will go with you; I will gladly go with you!’

‘I do not doubt it. You would die blindly and meekly for me…’

Caroline rapidly closed shutter and lattice. ‘Do not fear that I shall not have breath to run as fast as you can possibly run, Shirley. Take my hand. Let us go straight across the fields.’

‘But you cannot climb walls?’

‘To-night I can.’

‘You are afraid of hedges, and the beck which we shall be forced to cross?’

‘I can cross it.'”

There can be no doubt that in Caroline, Charlotte Brontë was depicting her sister Anne, relaying things she had heard her say, things she had seen her do. Nowhere is this more evident that in chapter 24 of the book, a chapter we shall look at in the next instalment of this blog, entitled ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death‘. This incredibly moving chapter gains even more force when you realise that when Charlotte commenced work on ‘Shirley’ her sisters were in full health, and talking about their work around the table at night as was their habit. By the time Charlotte reached chapter 24, she was the only Brontë child left. It was to have a profound effect on the chapter, and on the book to come.

What would Anne have thought of her sister writing so candidly about her? She would have borne it with her characteristic courage. After all, as Caroline Helstone says:

“Do not be afraid of offending me. I always like the truth.”

Which Is The Greatest Brontë Second Novel?

The Royal Society of Literature are currently engaged in trying to discern the nation’s favourite second novel. There are some real classics on the list, but of course our eyes are drawn to the two Brontë novels on there: Shirley by Charlotte Brontë and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (if only Emily had managed to complete her fabled second work!).

You can only vote once, so just which novel should you support? Both books are works of genius, and both Anne and Charlotte thought their second novel was their greatest work. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is gaining in reputation all the time, partly because it’s a very modern novel in the way that it deals with modern themes such as marital abuse, women’s rights, alcoholism and addiction. It is also, as we would expect from a wordsmith as brilliant as Anne, superbly written. Every word serves a purpose, and that purpose as Anne revealed in her famous preface to the second edition was as follows:

‘My object in writing the following pages, was not simply to amuse the Reader, neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to ingratiate myself with the Press and the Public: I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.’

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Anne succeeded completely in this laudable aim, so much so that some critics called it a brutal novel that was unfit for women to read. Nevertheless, Anne also infused it with moments of light and laughter not often associated with Brontë novels – particularly in the character of Fergus, the pompous young man who likes to play tricks on others but often ends up being the victim himself.

There is also, for a novel dealing with such shocking themes, a tenderness running through The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. The scene where Helen finally declares her love for Gilbert by means of a snow covered flower is wonderful and moving:

‘This rose is not so fragrant as a summer flower, but it has stood through hardships none of them could bear: the cold rain of winter has sufficed to nourish it, and its faint sun to warm it; the bleak winds have not blanched it, or broken its stem, and the keen frost has not blighted it. Look, Gilbert, it is still fresh and blooming as a flower can be, with the cold snow even now on its petals – will you have it?’

The novel, along with the sublime Agnes Grey, has cemented Anne Brontë forever as one of the greatest writers of all time, so surely it deserves your vote in the RSL survey? Wait – for Shirley is worthy of recognition too.

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Shirley was, of course, the third novel Charlotte Brontë wrote, but as her first effort The Professor was published posthumously, it qualifies for the competition. I have seen many events over the last few years where scholars and authors debate which was Charlotte’s best book – and the choice is always between Jane Eyre and Villette. Unfairly neglected – in my opinion, Shirley is Charlotte’s greatest achievement.

Taking a leaf out of Anne’s book, Charlotte decided to inject some contemporary truths into her novel. The locations ring true – as it’s based in the heavy woollen area of Yorkshire she knew so well from her school days in Mirfield, and her visits to Ellen Nussey in Birstall and Mary Taylor in Gomersal.

It is a novel that ostensibly looks back at the Luddite riots earlier in the century, the loom smashing riots that frequently turned deadly in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Shirley has a hint of menace running throughout it, and a hint of a message as well, as Charlotte shows that we need to value people more than machines, but also that we need to see people as they really are not just what they are perceived to represent.

It was a timely message, for Charlotte was using the story of the Luddites to comment on the Chartist dissatisfaction of her time – one that again threatened to break out into violence at any time.

It is a thrilling novel certainly, but what I like most about it is that most of the protagonists in the book are based upon people she knew – from the Taylor family, to Margaret Wooler, to Arthur Bell Nicholls, they all make an appearance under assumed names (and what is wrong with that after all, Charlotte was using the assumed name of Currer Bell to write it).

The two female leads of the novel are of particular interest to me. Shirley Keeldar herself is a portrait of Emily Brontë, proud and lovely, defiant and caring. Shirley may be the title character, but the real heroine, and featured much more within the novel, is Caroline Helstone – a loving portrait of Anne Brontë:

She is nice; she is fair; she has a pretty white slender throat; she has long curls, not stiff ones – they hang loose and soft, their colour is brown but not dark; she speaks quietly, with a clear tone; she never makes a bustle when moving; she often wears a gray silk dress; she is neat all over.’

Most touching to me is when Charlotte describes the close relationship that Shirley and Caroline develop.

‘Caroline’s instinct of taste, too, was like her own. Such books as Miss Keeldar had read with the most pleasure were Miss Helstone’s delight also. They held many aversions too in common, and could have the comfort of laughing together over works of false sentimentality and pompous pretension.’

Shirley and Caroline, by Edmund Dulac
Shirley and Caroline, by Edmund Dulac

Caroline, sweet, thoughtful and loyal to the last, will do anything for her beloved Shirley, even when she is asked to face the greatest danger:

‘”I am a blind, weak fool, and you are acute and sensible, Shirley. I will go with you; I will gladly go with you!”

I do not doubt it. You would die blindly and meekly for me…”

Caroline rapidly closed shutter and lattice. “Do not fear that I shall not have breath to run as fast as you can possibly run, Shirley. Take my hand. Let us go straight across the fields.”

But you cannot climb walls?”

To-night I can.”

You are afraid of hedges, and the beck which we shall be forced to cross?”

I can cross it.”’

What is most moving to me is that Charlotte completed this novel at a time of great personal despair. Emily and Anne, Shirley and Caroline, both died while she was writing the novel. It is thought that Charlotte had planned that the Caroline character would die, of tuberculosis, only to see this happen in reality to Anne. The novel was changed, and Caroline makes a miraculous recovery and gains a happy ending. In real life Charlotte had been in powerless, but on the page at least she could save Anne, but Charlotte submitted, with tears dripping from her eyes onto the paper before her, what she had endured during the final illness of her youngest sister:

‘Not always do those who dare such divine conflict prevail. Night after night the sweat of agony may burst dark on the forehead; the supplicant may cry for mercy with that soundless voice the soul utters when its appeal is to the Invisible. ‘Spare my beloved’, it may implore. ‘Heal my life’s life. Rend not from me what long affection entwines with my whole nature. God of heaven, bend, hear, be clement!’ And after this cry and strife the sun may rise and see him worsted. That opening morn, which used to salute him with the whisper of zephyrs, the carol of skylarks, may breathe, as its first accents, from the dear lips which colour and heat have quitted, ‘Oh! I have had a suffering night. This morning I am worse. I have tried to rise. I cannot. Dreams I am unused to have troubled me.’

Then the watcher approaches the patient’s pillow, and sees a new and strange moulding of the familiar features, feels at once that the insufferable moment draws nigh, knows that it is God’s will his idol shall be broken, and bends his head, and subdues his soul to the sentence he cannot avert and scarce can bear.’

The next paragraph, a miracle, the prayers have been answered. As Charlotte knew too well, in real life it’s not that easy.

So, we are faced with a tough choice – The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall or Shirley? Team Anne or Team Charlotte. I am,of course, Team Anne, so I finally voted for The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. I wonder if I can sneak a vote for Shirley in as well? It would be well deserved.

World Poetry Day 2017: The Consolation by Anne Brontë

Today marks World Poetry Day, so what better occasion to take a look at a poem by Anne Brontë?

We all know, surely, that Anne’s two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, are wonderful and rewarding reads, but she was a very accomplished poet too. In Agnes Grey she writes of how she often takes refuge in poetry when the struggles of life are oppressing her, and in her final months it brought her another brief glimpse of happiness.

Ellen Nussey visited the Parsonage in December 1848 to provide support to Charlotte and Anne after Emily’s death. She writes:

“I observed a slow smile spreading across Anne’s face as she sat reading before the fire. I asked her why she was smiling, and she replied: ‘Only because I see they have inserted one of my poems.'”

Even at this terrible nadir in Anne’s life, and when she herself is desperately ill, she finds solace in the power of poetry. The poem, by the way, was called ‘The Narrow Way’ and it was published by both the Leeds Intelligencer and the prestigious Fraser’s Magazine, meaning that Anne was the only Brontë sister whose poetry was published without it having to be paid for (as it was in the earlier Poems Of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell).

Anne’s poetry is much more natural, musical, and shorter, than Charlotte’s and the poems tend to follow themes: they are adventure poems based in the land of Gondal, poems of mourning lamenting the loss of William Weightman, poems of faith (including despondent poems about failing faith), or happy poems extolling the beauty of nature and home.

It’s a happy day, so let’s finish with a poem from this latter category. ‘The Consolation’ was written in November 1843, when Anne was a governess at Thorp Green Hall and dreaming of Haworth. Charlotte seemed to miss this point somewhat when, in 1850, she edited the poem and re-christened it ‘Lines Written From Home’. Here is Anne’s original poem, Happy World Poetry Day 2017!

“Though bleak these woods, and damp the ground
With fallen leaves so thickly strown,
And cold the wind that wanders round
With wild and melancholy moan;
There IS a friendly roof, I know,
Might shield me from the wintry blast;
There is a fire, whose ruddy glow
Will cheer me for my wanderings past.
And so, though still, where’er I go,
Cold stranger-glances meet my eye;
Though, when my spirit sinks in woe,
Unheeded swells the unbidden sigh;
Though solitude, endured too long,
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue,
And overclouds my noon of day;
When kindly thoughts that would have way,
Flow back discouraged to my breast;
I know there is, though far away,
A home where heart and soul may rest.
Warm hands are there, that, clasped in mine,
The warmer heart will not belie;
While mirth, and truth, and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.
The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly, then,
The joys of youth, that now depart,
Will come to cheer my soul again.
Though far I roam, that thought shall be
My hope, my comfort, everywhere;
While such a home remains to me,
My heart shall never know despair!”

The Brontës In Halifax

As this year marks the start of the four year ‘Brontë 200’ celebrations, we’ll be looking at some of the locations particularly associated with our favourite sisters. The Brontës were born in Thornton and lived most of their lives in Haworth, both part of the Bradford district of West Yorkshire today. We’ve also looked at Anne Brontë’s connection with Mirfield in recent posts, now part of the Kirklees council area centred upon Huddersfield. In this week’s blog we’ll examine the Brontë connection with an area that lies between Bradford and Huddersfield – Halifax.

Halifax is a town just over ten miles to the south of Haworth. Like much of industrial Yorkshire, recent decades haven’t been overly kind to it, and yet the centre still retains some very grand and beautiful buildings, in particular its famous Peace Hall and an imposing Minster. Finished in 1438, it was a landmark that was to become familiar to both Branwell and Emily Brontë.

Emily had enjoyed only a very short period of formal tutoring at Roe Head School before she became so home sick that Charlotte worried she might die, and arranged for her to return to Haworth. Nevertheless she was an obviously intelligent and scholarly young woman, and in September 1838 she amazed her family by taking a position as a governess and teacher.

Emily Bronte plaque
Emily Bronte plaque outside Law Hill

The establishment she took her one and only job at was Miss Patchett’s school for girls at Law Hill, Halifax. Law Hill school is in an area called Southowram, around one and a half miles outside the centre of Halifax itself. I visited it myself recently and two things struck me. The first was the beautiful views that still exist around Law Hill, moor like scenery that must have pleased Emily and reminded her of home. The second was the incredibly steep ascent to the location. It is at the top of an inclination that makes the climb of Haworth’s Main Street look almost flat. If Emily and her pupils had to attend the Minster from there the walk down would have been pleasant, but the walk back up must have been very challenging.

Emily Brontë was an intensely private woman, hiding her shyness behind a fierce reserve. Mixing with pupils and teachers alike must have been difficult for her, and the demanding seventeen hour days that she worked left her little or no time for the activity she truly loved – immersing herself in her imaginary world of Gondal, and writing poetry about it.

Charlotte Bronte wrote to Ellen of her worries about Emily overworking herself in Halifax: ‘This is slavery. She will never stand it.’

Stand it she did, however, at least for a little while. We don’t know exactly when Emily gave up her position and returned to Haworth, but most people estimate that it would have been in the Spring of 1839, around half a year after she became a teacher.
Law Hill School is now Law Hill House, a private dwelling in the village of Southowram, easily spottable thanks to the unusual wall that dominates the frontage of it. It’s around two miles from Shibden Hall, then the home of famous, and controversial, Yorkshire diarist Anne Lister. We know that Miss Patchett and Lister did know each other, but we’ll never know if Emily came into contact with her.

As a private house, you can’t enter Law Hill, but you can see the outside and the blue plaque to Emily that hangs on the wall. It’s well worth a visit, but unless you’re a keen hill walker with sturdy legs I recommend you drive there or take the bus from Halifax bus station.

Emily was back home with her beloved sister Anne, but another Brontë was about to make his acquaintance with Halifax.

At the end of August 1840, Branwell Brontë was given the position of Assistant Clerk at Luddendon Foot railway station near Halifax, earning £75 a year. The prospects were good for a man of intelligence like Branwell on the railways. It was a new boom industry that was transforming Britain and making people rich – indeed Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë all bought shares in the railway, unfortunately losing the money they invested in the process.

Branwell, predictably, was not a diligent worker. He preferred frequenting the taverns of Halifax, particularly The Swan Hotel and The Old Cock Inn where he frequented with sculptor Joseph Bentley Leyland, his brother Francis Leyland, and others of an artistic temperament.

By March 1842, Branwell’s career in the railway was over as he was dismissed due to negligence. His connections with the inns of Halifax continued however, much to the chagrin of his family in Haworth.

In December 1846 a bailiff had arrived at the Haworth Parsonage seeking the payment of debts that Branwell owed to Thomas Nicholson, landlord of Halifax’s Old Cock Inn. This wasn’t the only instance, and Patrick repeatedly had no choice but to settle Branwell’s large outstanding bar bills rather than see him be taken away for trial at the York assizes.

The Old Cock, Halifax
The Old Cock, Halifax

The Old Cock Inn is still in operation today, not far from Halifax railway station. It has an old world charm outside, but it’s a little rough and ready inside. The fireplace from Branwell’s time is still there, although it’s now underneath a large flat screen television and surrounded by pool tables. I had to go in and drain a glass in memory of Branwell of course, and if today’s clientelle seemed a little boisterous at times, I can’t imagine Branwell disapproving of that.

Anne Brontë In Lancashire

Anne Brontë and her sisters will be forever associated with Yorkshire, and quite rightly so – as a Yorkshireman myself I’m immensely proud of their association with my home county. It’s also true, however, that Anne may often have spent time in the old enemy of that county – Lancashire.

The enmity between Yorkshire and Lancashire is a historical one. The houses of Lancaster and York were among the most powerful in the land in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and were two rival branches of the Plantagenet family that each felt they had a claim to the throne of England. This eventually led to all out warfare in what has become known as the Wars Of The Roses. Lasting from 1455 to 1487, it was in effect England’s first civil war with fighting spreading across the country.

The emblem of the two sides has remained – the white rose representing Yorkshire and the red rose Lancashire, legend saying that these roses were plucked by supporters of each side at the outbreak of the conflict. Today, Lancashire and Yorkshire have a sporting rivalry rather than being at war with each other. Whilst the fighting has long ceased, there is still an edge on such occasions, and the mutual distrust of the two counties was very prevalent in the Brontës’ time.

A glimpse of this can be seen in Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë. Born in London, Gaskell had nevertheless spent much of her time in the north west, and lived in Manchester, the largest city of Lancashire (at that time both Lancashire and Yorkshire were bigger than they are today, when boundary changes have resulted in new counties such as Cleveland and Greater Manchester being separated from their historical origins).

Early on in her biography, Gaskell takes the time to give a very unflattering portrait of Yorkshire people: ‘Even an inhabitant of the neighbouring county of Lancaster is struck by the peculiar force of character which the Yorkshiremen display.’ She then describes how Yorkshire people are suspicious of everyone, surly and dour, slow to make friends, and unforgiving of their enemies (she states that Yorkshire people typically carry a stone for six years in their pocket, and then turn it over for another six years, so if they meet their enemy on the road they’ll be ready for him).

I have previously mentioned that the trip that Anne and Charlotte Brontë took to London in July 1848 was the only journey that Anne ever made outside of Yorkshire, and it’s true that it was the only time Anne deliberately travelled outside of her home county, but it’s also true that she would have walked into Lancashire on many occasions.

Haworth is at the very western edge of Yorkshire, with the Lancashire boundary around four miles across the moors, with the Lancashire village of Wycoller another three miles further on. Lancashire and Yorkshire are indistinguishable in this natural, rugged, moorland boundary, and it can’t be doubted that Anne and Emily would have often walked into the county on their regular walks across landscapes that they loved so much – walks that could extend for twenty miles or more, despite the harsh terrain and often even harsher weather.

Wycoller Hall
Wycoller Hall

It seems likely that Charlotte knew this area too, as Wycoller Hall is believed to be the Ferndean Manor that Rochester retires to after escaping from the fire in Jane Eyre. Another Lancashire location with a strong Charlotte Brontë connection is Gawthorpe Hall near Burnley, the closest town of any size to the west of Haworth. This imposing building was home to the Kay-Shuttleworths, who became great fans and then friends of Charlotte. It was at Gawthorpe Hall that Charlotte met the atheist writer Harriet Martineau among others.

Lancashire is proud of its association with the Brontës, even if it has to play second fiddle in that respect. There have been a number of Brontë related events to celebrate the start of the Brontë 200 period (four years that cover the two hundredth anniversaries of the births of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë respectively), including walks around the Pendle region of the county that the Brontës would have explored. There have also been Brontë talks at Gawthorpe and Wycoller, with more to come – you can find details via the Pendle council information leaflet here.

Gawthorpe Hall
Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire

The truth of the matter is that Anne Brontë and her sisters aren’t just for Yorkshire, or for Lancashire, but for the whole world to enjoy. After all, as Charlotte wrote wistfully of her sister:

‘The distant prospects were Anne’s delight, and when I look round, she is in the blue tints, the pale mists, the waves and shadows of the horizon.’

After The Death Of Anne Brontë – The Legacy

Anne Brontë died on May 28th, 1849 in Scarborough, watched by her sister Charlotte and their friend Ellen Nussey. For Charlotte Brontë especially it marked the end of a traumatic period that had seen Anne, Emily and Branwell Brontë all die from tuberculosis within a nine month period. Being far from home as she was, she knew that it was now incumbent upon her to make the arrangements for Anne’s burial, but it was beyond her medical and physical capability at that time.

A mournful letter was sent to the Haworth Parsonage, and Patrick wrote back saying that he had known when his youngest daughter Anne had left him on May 24th, that he would never see her alive again. He also urged Charlotte to take a much needed break before returning to her home nearly a hundred miles away at the other side of Yorkshire.

Charlotte's of Filey
Charlotte’s of Filey remembers the stay of Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte had little choice but to accept, feeling weak in body and mind, and with Ellen beside her she stayed another week in Scarborough. After that she journeyed down the coast to the resort of Filey, where she remained for ten days, and then Bridlington. Cliff House, where she stayed in Filey, is now a café called ‘Charlotte’s’ in honour of its guest who returned there once more in 1852. She finally arrived back, alone, in Haworth on 20th June, nearly a month after she had left with her only remaining sibling. She wrote a poignant and moving letter to W.S.Williams, of her publisher, telling how she was greeted by the dogs that Anne and Emily had left behind:

“The ecstasy of these poor animals [Flossy and Keeper] when I came in was something singular… I am certain they thought that, as I was returned, my sisters were not far behind – but here my sisters will come no more. Keeper may visit Emily’s little bed-room, as he still does day by day, and Flossy may look wistfully round for Anne – they will never see them again – nor shall I.”

In the immediate hours and days following Anne’s death, it was the ever helpful Ellen who had to take on many of the organisational duties. This included organising Anne’s headstone. Unfortunately, Ellen made several unintentional errors, as it seems that Charlotte was in no state to supply the correct information to her at the time. When Charlotte gathered the mental strength to re-visit Anne’s grave for the first time three years later, she found that the headstone contained five errors. She paid to have them corrected, but one, famously, still remains. The headstone reads: ‘She died aged 28, May 28th 1849′. She was in fact 29. The fact that this remained unchanged may indicate that Charlotte herself wasn’t sure how old her sister actually was. Further evidence of this could be found in the Brontë memorial that stood in St. Michael & All Angels’ church in Haworth. This, as evidenced by Elizabeth Gaskell in her biography of Charlotte, stated that Anne had died even younger than the Scarborough headstone did, saying that she was aged 27.

Anne Brontë's final resting place at Scarborough
Anne Brontë’s gravestone underneath Scarborough Castle

Anne now lies buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s, Scarborough just underneath the hill and castle. I, and many others, still visit it and lay flowers there. Here’s a tip: if you want to visit it, Anne’s grave isn’t in the main churchyard itself, but at the top of an annexe to the side and above what is now a car park.

St. Mary’s, however, was being renovated at the time, and so the funeral itself had to be held in Scarborough’s Christ Church. The doctor who had visited Anne in her last hours was so impressed with her character that he offered to come to the funeral, but Charlotte excused him of this duty. It would be just she and Ellen at the funeral; or so she thought. Upon arriving at the church on Tuesday, 30th May, they found a woman already there. It was Margaret Wooler, Anne’s former teacher, who was residing in Scarborough and had heard of her passing and come to pay her respects, as well as providing comfort to her former pupil and colleague Charlotte.

In the weeks, months and years following Anne’s death, Charlotte would often suffer from dark bouts of depression; just the sight of the moors around her home would remind her of her departed sisters Emily and Anne, who had loved to roam them so recently.

Her feelings at this time are summed up in perhaps her best, and certainly most succinct poem, ‘On The Death Of Anne Brontë’, written on 21st June, 1849:

‘There’s little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave;
I’ve lived the parting hour to see,
Of one I would have died to save.
Calmly to watch the failing breath,
Wishing each sigh might be the last;
Longing to see the shade of death
O’er those beloved features cast.
The cloud, the stillness that must part
The darling of my life from me;
And then to thank God from my heart,
To thank him well and fervently;
Although I knew that we had lost
The hope and glory of our life;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
Must bear alone the weary strife.’

Charlotte Brontë’s relationship with Anne, like that of any sisters, could be fractious at times, but as this poem shows there was also a real love between them. Anne Brontë is gone, but her work remains, and that legacy is gaining more recognition and praise as the years pass.