The Death and Funeral of Anne Brontë

As we reach the last days of May, my thoughts always turn to a seaside town on the east coast of England – Scarborough. It was there that Anne Brontë laid down her pen on 28th May, 1849.

Anne had been diagnosed with consumption, what we today call tuberculosis, by a Leeds Doctor named Teale in January of that year. It was the disease that had already killed her eldest sisters Maria and Elizabeth, and within the last few weeks and months had also claimed the lives of Emily and Branwell Brontë, so Anne knew that there was little hope. Nevertheless, after the initial shock abated, Anne determined to try all she could to be cured, or at least to prolong her life. A succession of medicines were tried, including ‘Godbold’s Vegetable Balsam’ but to no avail; Anne complained that they tasted of train oil, and eventually found herself unable to swallow them.

Nathaniel Godbold
Nathaniel Godbold, of vegetable balsam fame

One potential help remained, at least in Anne’s mind. She had visited Scarborough annually during her days as governess to the Robinson family, and had seen people who were convinced that the town’s spa waters had cured them of their ills. With this in mind she begged Charlotte, and then their mutual friend, Ellen Nussey to accompany her to the resort that she loved. Reticent at first, it soon became clear that it was Anne’s only hope.

They arrived in Scarborough on 25th May, and took rooms at Wood’s Lodgings, number 2 The Cliff, where the Grand Hotel stands today. Anne’s final days were filled with love, faith and courage – a perfect reflection of the 29 years that had come before them. Shortly before two on the Monday afternoon of the 29th, Anne turned to her sobbing sister and encouraged her to: ‘Take courage, Charlotte, Take courage.’ They were her well known last words, but just what happened after the death of Anne Brontë?

Charlotte Brontë’s mind must surely have travelled back to Haworth a year earlier, when three sisters were sat happily around their dining room table discussing books and poetry. Now she was the only one of six siblings left, and the depression she suffered from throughout her life descended again. In this circumstance it probably fell upon Ellen Nussey to make the funeral arrangements, and one question that needed answering was whether Anne should be buried in Scarborough or in Haworth with her family.

Anne’s love of Scarborough was taken into consideration, as was the burden a Haworth burial would place upon Patrick Brontë – by now 72, and having seen two of his children buried in the last year. He would later confess that as he watched the carriage carry Anne away from Haworth on 24th May, he knew he would never see her again. The decision was made to bury Anne in Scarborough – and she now rests in the graveyard of St. Mary’s church. She lies in the shadow of Scarborough Castle, and below her is the sea. It is a view Anne would have loved, and in fact it is next to the very spot where Weston proposes to Agnes Grey at the climax of her first novel.

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

If you visit Anne’s grave, and I like to visit and leave flowers whenever I can, be aware that Anne is not in the main churchyard, but in a smaller annexe to the side of this which now also houses a car park.

Anne’s funeral service did not take place at St. Marys, as it was being renovated at the time. The service instead took place at Christ Church on nearby Vernon Road, a building no longer standing, on 30th May. The Doctor who had examined Anne in her final hours was so impressed by her conduct that he offered to attend her funeral service. Indeed, he told Charlotte that: ‘in all his experience he had seen no such death-bed, and that it gave evidence of no common mind.’ Another indication of Anne’s calmness at her death is that the maid, Mrs Jefferson, brought food for the guests, little realising that Anne had passed away.

Charlotte and Ellen thanked the doctor, but said his presence would not be needed. The funeral service would be a quiet, personal affair with only her sister and friend in attendance. As they entered Christ Church on the Wednesday, however, they found this was not to be so – somebody else was already waiting for them.

The unexpected, yet welcome guest, was the kindly Margaret Wooler. Just 12 years earlier she had presented the young Anne with a medal for good conduct at her Roe Head School. Now with a home in Scarborough, she had come to pay the last respects to a former pupil, and to comfort another former pupil and employee, Charlotte.

Margaret Wooler in old age

We do not know how Miss Wooler knew of the funeral; it could be that Charlotte or Ellen, knowing that she was nearby, had written to her or visited her, or it could be that she had seen a notice of the death in a local paper. It could even be that Miss Wooler was not in Scarborough at the time but travelled there purposely for the funeral, as she had earlier offered her home for the use of Anne and Charlotte while they were in Scarborough, saying she would be away in May. However she came to be at Christ Church it was a kind thing to do, and typical of the woman who five years later would give Charlotte Brontë away at her wedding.

Margaret Wooler
Margaret Wooler in old age

A letter was sent to Haworth informing Patrick of the death of his daughter, and with his concern now for his only surviving child he wrote back to Charlotte urging her to spend some time at the coast recuperating before returning to Yorkshire.

As she revealed in a letter to W.S.Williams (of her publisher Smith, Elder & Co.) on 13th June, Charlotte now found Scarborough too happy and cheerful for these days of mourning, and so after a further week in the resort she sent Ellen home and journeyed on alone to Filey and then Bridlington.

Charlotte's of Filey
Charlotte’s of Filey, named in honour of Charlotte’s visits after Anne Bronte’s death

Charlotte could not bring herself to return to Scarborough for another three years, and even then she based herself once more in Filey. Upon visiting Anne’s grave, for the first and only time after her funeral, she was shocked to find that there were five mistakes on her gravestone.

These mistakes were presumably a result of the memorial being arranged by Ellen, and an indication of Charlotte’s state of mind when it was being prepared. We do not know what four of the mistakes were, as Charlotte paid to have them corrected – the spelling of the name is one obvious mistake that could have been made. One mistake famously remained uncorrected, however. Anne’s gravestone now is weathered and beaten by the salt air, rain and sea frets of Scarborough, but you can still make out that it says Anne died aged 28, when she was in fact 29. A memorial that Charlotte had installed in Haworth’s church, no longer there, fared no better as it stated that Anne died aged 27.

May 29th is a sad day for Anne Brontë fans across the globe. Whether we are in Yorkshire or New York, Scarborough or Sydney, we can all take a moment to reflect on the courageous end of this brilliant writer. We should not dwell on sad thoughts however; to Anne, death was just the beginning of a more glorious existence. She would want us to be happy and courageous, just as she wanted Charlotte and Ellen to be so. Therefore, let us instead open one of her wonderful books, and celebrate the life and genius of this wonderful woman.

The Brontë Hair Bracelets and Mourning Jewellery

Take a look at the beautiful bracelet at the top of our latest Brontë blog; it’s one that was especially precious to Charlotte Brontë, and she wore it wherever she went, but what is it made of? At the centre is a sparkling amethyst but the strap around it is made of the intertwined hair of her dead sisters, Emily and Anne Brontë.

It may sound a little macabre, or even odd, to us, but jewellery made from the hair of deceased relatives and friends was all the rage amongst the middle and upper classes in the early Victorian era, and there’s a good reason why.

Photography was in its infancy in the 1840s, and a photograph was a luxurious rather than commonplace item. In short, people had no way of looking back at the faces of those they had loved and lost, so they did the next best thing – by keeping locks of their hair, sometimes arranged in a band and sometimes in ornate jewellery, they could always have a piece of their loved one near to them. Charlotte could no longer see her sisters, for example, but she could touch them, she could have them with her always by wearing their hair against her wrist.

Hairworkers, the people who crafted these objects from the tresses that had been lovingly cut from a person in the hours after their passing, were much in demand as it was also common to send these memento mori, reminders of death and therefore reminders of your own mortality, to friends of the deceased. Thus it was that Charlotte presented Ellen Nussey with this reminder of the quiet, gentle friend, Anne Brontë, she had grown to love:

These items are among a number that are displayed at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth from time to time, and they have the hair of all three of the famous Brontë sisters. They have faded over time, and are now very delicate, but behind their glass case they are incredibly beautiful and moving too. We can not only read the great novels and poems of the Brontës, we can actually see their hair before us looking as vibrant as if it had been cut that day.

Bronte hair collection
A collection of cuttings of the hair of the Brontes, at the Bronte Parsonage Museum

This Brontë hair jewellery also helps us lay aside one popular misconception of the Brontë: that they had red hair. There are two reasons, I feel, for this misconception. One is that they were of Irish descent, which has a higher than average proportion of redheads, and that Branwell Brontë‘s self-portraits show that he did indeed have red hair. The other is this description given by Francis Grundy, a close friend and drinking companion of Branwell:

“Branwell, like his sisters, was small, red-haired, large of nose, prominent of spectacles, with eyes cast down.”

Some have taken this to mean that all his sisters had red hair too, but this isn’t necessarily the correct reading of course. The description may simply mean that the first part relates to his sisters, that he was small. Anne and especially Charlotte were diminutive, although Emily was somewhat taller than average. Charlotte certainly did were spectacles, and had the exceedingly poor eyesight which dogged her father, but there is no evidence of Anne or Emily wearing them. It seems, therefore, that Grundy’s description is meant merely to illustrate that Branwell shared some of his physical characteristics with some of his sisters.

In the pictures of Anne, by Branwell and Charlotte, she clearly has brown hair, and indeed she is described as having chestnut brown hair that was somewhat lighter than her sisters. The hair jewellery too, although it has now become lighter than it was, displays brown hair. As a redhead myself I’d love to claim the Brontës for the titian team, but alas it wasn’t so. Nevertheless, the Brontë hair bands and bracelets remain a true treasure of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and a tangible link to the three young women we all know and love.

Patrick Brontë – Poet, Novelist and Influence

Every writer of talent is inspired, to a greater or lesser degree, by the literature they read during their formative years. In her childhood, Anne Brontë would be thrilled by the Tales of The Arabian Nights, and later by books such as Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In their early teenage years the Brontës would thrill to poetry by the likes of Wordsworth, Southey, Cowper (Anne wrote a poem in tribute to him) and Byron. The novels of Walter Scott were also important to the development of the Brontës, and his influence can most clearly be seen in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

Arabian Nights
Tales from The Arabian Nights were loved by the young Brontes

There was one other important literary influence on them; one closer to home and often overlooked: their father Patrick Brontë. The love of poetry and writing that flowed through Anne, Emily and Charlotte was found just as powerfully, if not as profitably, in their father, and it was he that became the first Brontë to be published.

Patrick Brontë’s first foray into poetry was entitled ‘Cottage Poems’, and like much of his writing it centres upon the importance of faith and religion. Published in 1811, it contains a lengthy introduction by Patrick in which he explains that his poetry is intended for those who would not normally read verse:

‘For the convenience of the unlearned and poor, the Author has not written much, and has endeavoured not to burthen his subjects with matter, and as much as he well could, has aimed at simplicity, plainness, and perspicuity, both in manner and style.’

Even in this early collection there are hints of themes that would later be brought to greater fulfilment by his youngest daughters Emily and Anne. The religious allegories in his verse have an echo in poems by Anne such as The Three Guides, and his poem ‘The Rainbow’ revels in the beauty of nature, in a manner that Emily would raise to a crescendo decades later.

Rainbow Patrick Bronte
From The Rainbow, by Patrick Bronte

Emboldened by his first book of verse, in 1813 Patrick followed this up with his second collection entitled ‘The Rural Minstrel’. By this time he had met, fallen in love with, and married Maria Branwell, and this influence too can be seen on Patrick’s poetry.

There now comes another similarity between Patrick’s writing and that of his daughters, as he abandoned poetry and turned instead to prose – just as Charlotte, Emily and Anne would do after the initial failure of ‘Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.’

In 1815 Patrick had an extended short story published in a magazine called ‘The Pastoral Visitor’. Patrick’s tale was called ‘The Cottage In The Wood or The Art Of Becoming Rich And Happy.’ It is perhaps hardly surprising that the magazine published Patrick, as it was run by his best friend Reverend William Morgan, the man who would later preside over the baptisms of the Brontë children, and most of their funerals.

The title of Patrick’s work makes it sound like an early self-help manual, but it’s easy to guess what Patrick’s solution is to find riches and happiness: turn to God and secure an education for yourself. It also shows the importance of Sunday Schools, something that Patrick was passionate about in real life; he built Sunday schools in both Thornton and Haworth, and Anne, Charlotte and Branwell Brontë were regularly called upon to teach at the Haworth School.

Patrick’s story was well received, and so he next turned to a novel. In 1818, the year that Emily Brontë was born, the company of Baldwin, Cradock & Joy published: ‘The Maid Of Killarney; or Flora and Albion; A Modern Tale.’ This time Patrick delves into political allegory, as an englishman called Albion falls in love with the Irish girl Flora, but their cultural and religious differences drive them apart. Albion disappears for many years, but returns a changed and wealthy man and in a happy ending he marries Flora.

There is a clear similarity here between Patrick’s Albion and Emily’s Heathcliff who also disappears and returns a rich and changed man. Where Emily’s greater genius and literary talent is apparent is that she makes her hero return a worse, not better, man, and she eschews the niceties of a happy ending and a loving marriage.

Patrick Brontë’s poetry and prose are very interesting to read simply because of what we know came next from his daughters; they could never be said to be of great literary value, but on the other hand they do have a charm, and are not badly written. Their importance comes because of their influence upon the Brontë sisters. From their earliest days they would have looked at their father’s bookshelf and seen his own books there. This must certainly have encouraged their own love of writing, their ‘scribblemania’ as Charlotte referred to it, and it must also have encouraged them in the dark days when they struggled to find a publisher: ‘our father did it, and so can we’ they would say, and thankfully they were right!

Kirkstall Abbey by Charlotte Bronte
Kirkstall Abbey, drawn by Charlotte Bronte

I leave you with an extract from the long poem ‘Kirskstall Abbey’, part of Patrick’s collection The Rural Minstrel. It was a sight that Patrick knew well, for he often courted his love Maria there. It is believed to be the sight of his proposal, around the time that he wrote this poem:

‘Hail ruined tower! That like a learned sage,
With lofty brow, looks thoughtful on the night;
The sable ebony, and silver white,
Thy ragged sides from age to age,
With charming art inlays,
When Luna’s lovely rays,
Fall trembling on the night,
And round the smiling landscape, throw,
And on the ruined walls below,
Their mild uncertain light.
How heavenly fair, the arches ivy-crowned,
Look forth on all around!
Enchant the heart, and charm the sight,
And give the soul serene delight!
Whilst, here and there,
The shapeless openings spread a solemn gloom,
Recall the thoughtful mind, down to the silent tomb,
And bid us for another world prepare.
Who would be solemn, and not sad,
Who would be cheerful, and not glad,
Who would have all his heart’s desire,
And yet feel as his soul on fire,
To gain the realms of his eternal rest,
Who would be happy, yet not truly blest,
Who in the world, would yet forget his worldly care,
With hope fast anchored in the sands above,
And heart attuned by sacred love,
Let him by moonlight pale, to this sweet scene repair.’

Anne Brontë’s Lesson To The Robinsons – And Us

When Anne Brontë was writing her brace of great novels in the 1840s, she surely never imagined how many lives she would touch nearly two centuries later, how the power of her mind, the words she put onto a page, would bring pleasure to so many and make their days that much better.

Anne was acutely aware, however, of the opportunity to touch the lives of those she had close contact with – especially the charges that she was governess over. The children of the first family she served, the Inghams of Mirfield, were a lost cause. Barely educated and full of self-importance, they were, as Charlotte Brontë called them, ‘desperate little dunces.’The children of the second family Anne served were much more promising.

The Robinsons of Thorp Green Hall near York are depicted, with a little artistic license, as the Murrays of Agnes Grey, and while Anne finds fault with some of their behaviour she gives them a much more sympathetic portrayal than the Bloomfields who were based on the Inghams. They are most famous today because of Mrs Robinson, and the impact that she had upon Branwell after Anne obtained him a job at Thorp Green Hall. It was a disastrous move, but then when a young man falls for a middle aged woman named Mrs Robinson things are surely going to graduate!

Lydia Robinson
Lydia Robinson, mistress of Thorp Green Hall

We know, then, the impact the Robinsons had on the Brontës, but what impact did Anne Brontë have on the Robinsons? We can judge this both through clues within Agnes Grey, and by looking at what happened to the Robinsons after Anne Brontë left her post with them.

Anne Brontë spent five years as governess to the Robinson family, from 1840 until 1845, meaning that she held down a job for far longer than any of her siblings. This gave her time to teach the children, Lydia junior, Elizabeth and Mary, the things that she believed really mattered: honesty, truth and respect for themselves and others. These lessons may have taken a while to sink in, but it is clear that the Robinson girls really grew to love Anne, seeing her almost as a mother figure, even though she was in fact only a few years older than them. An indication as to why they liked her so much is given at the end of Chapter 7 of Agnes Grey. It is a strange end to the chapter, as it bears no relation to what comes before or after, and there is no indication of who is speaking. In truth, these are the words that Anne had heard the Robinson girls say about her:

‘Miss Grey was a queer creature. She never flattered, and did not praise them half enough; but whenever she did speak favourably of them, or anything belonging to them, they could be quite sure her approbation was sincere. She was very obliging, quiet, and peaceable in the main, but there were some things that put her out of temper: they did not care much for that, to be sure, but still it was better to keep her in tune; as when she was in a good humour she would talk to them, and be very agreeable and amusing sometimes, in her way; which was quite different to mamma’s, but still very well for a change. She had her own opinions on every subject, and kept steadily to them – very tiresome opinions they often were; as she was always thinking of what was right and what was wrong, and had a strange reverence for matters connected with religion, and an unaccountable liking to good people.’

Anne was the first person to instil discipline into the girls lives, and they grew to appreciate this as a great treasure. It was this respect that led the girls to buy Anne a very special gift – the cavalier spaniel puppy that she named Flossy. The girls must have been distraught when Anne left suddenly in the summer of 1845, but this was far from the end of her involvement in their lives.

Thorp Green Hall
Thorp Green Hall in the nineteenth century

One of the themes relating to the Bloomfield section of Agnes Grey is the importance of love in marriage. The Robinsons were a wealthy and well connected family, and Mrs Robinson tried to arrange exalted marriages for them based upon social standing rather than upon any idea of romance or partiality. This was perfectly normal for the time, but to Anne it was anathema. We hear from Charlotte how the Robinsons would write to Anne with their problems and worries, and she would write back offering them advice. This continued until the end of Anne’s life, as two of the girls Elizabeth (known as Bessie) and Mary made an arduous journey to see Anne in Haworth in December of 1848. Charlotte was amazed at the obvious love and respect between the girls and Anne, writing of it to Ellen Nussey:

‘The Robinsons were here about a week ago – they are attractive and stylish looking girls – they seemed overjoyed to see Anne; when I went into the room they were clinging around her like two little children – she, meantime, looking perfectly quiet and passive. Their manners evinced more levity and giddiness than pretension or pomposity.’

It should be noted that the oldest child, Lydia, did not make the journey, but by this time she had broken off contact with her mother of the same name, and perhaps we can see Anne’s hand in this event too. The young Lydia travelled to the fashionable resort of Scarborough every year, and Anne went along with them. It was a place to see and be seen for Lydia, and it was hoped and expected that she would pick up a suitably wealthy husband. Lydia had other plans. She fell in love with Henry Roxby, a circus and stage performer whose father Robert, a comedian and performer himself, owned Scarborough’s Theatre Royal. It seems reasonable, in light of the letters her sisters sent, to presume that Lydia opened up to Anne about her feelings. There is no doubt that Anne would have impressed upon her the importance of following her heart and marrying for love, just as Agnes Grey does to the oldest Bloomfield girl in Anne’s first novel. One night, Lydia Robinson and Henry Roxby eloped and married.

The Misalliance Cost Lydia her Inheritance
‘The Misalliance Cost Lydia Her Inheritance’, a portrait of Lydia Robinson junior by wonderful artist Amanda White

Mrs Robinson was outraged, and her eldest daughter became a persona non grata. She now turned her eyes onto her next child Bessie Robinson, and arranged a marriage to a rich mill owner named Milner. Bessie wrote despairingly to Anne, and we can be certain that Anne implored her to be firm with her mother, to follow her heart just as her eldest sister had.

An emboldened Bessie protested fiercely to her mother, and the engagement was broken off. It was a scandal that went to court, and Lydia Robinson had to pay substantial compensation of £90 (around ten thousand pounds today) to the Milners. When Bessie did marry it was to the factory owner William Jessop of Butterley Hall in Ripley, Derbyshire (that’s it at the top of this post). Anne’s influence could be seen here as well, as Bessie Jessop became known for her compassion and kindness to the poor. Every year she invited 200 local people to tea at Christmas, and gave them a shilling each. When she died in 1882 she left the equivalent of over two million pounds to her own daughters, and the local paper reported that ‘the poor people of Ripley had lost a true friend’. Factories closed for the day, and flags flew at half mast.

This was the true measure of Anne Brontë as a person. She is loved by us today from a distance, we see her through a glass darkly and still we are impressed, but to those who knew her closely she was adored. Anne Brontë gave Lydia and Bessie Robinson the courage to be true to themselves, to do what they knew was right rather than what was expected of them. It is a lesson we can all learn from today.

Robert Southey and the Infamous Letter

When Anne Brontë and her sisters Charlotte and Emily made their first foray into print, they decided to do so under the male pen names of Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell. Charlotte later said they took this decision as: ‘We did not like to declare ourselves women, because we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.’

Perhaps the sisters were thinking back to one particular example of this when they made their decision, and one that involved one of the greatest literary figures of his day – Robert Southey.

Southey was born in Bristol in 1774, and was one of the leading figures of the Romantic era of poetry. He is most particularly associated with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as the three ‘Lake Poets’. He served as Poet Laureate for thirty years, from 1813 until his death in 1843 (when he was succeeded by Wordsworth).

Grasmere in the Lake District that inspired Southey and others

The Brontë sisters had been writing poetry since a very early age. Their teenage poetry was often concentrated on the imaginary lands of Angria, created by Charlotte and Branwell, and Gondal, created by Anne and Emily Brontë. As they grew older, however, they began to write about the things that touched them in real life too: nature, love, despair.

Charlotte Brontë was never one to sit on her laurels, so she determined to seek an expert opinion on whether her poetry was good or not, and whether she should persevere with it. She turned to the top expert she could think of, the poet laureate Robert Southey.

We know that Charlotte wrote to Southey on 29 December 1836, when she was twenty years old and serving as a teacher at Roe Head School. Alas, we don’t have her original letter or the poem it contained within it, but we certainly have Southey’s reply, and it’s become infamous.

Southey starts by apologising for a three month delay in sending his reply, and then praises Charlotte’s work, saying that:

‘You evidently possess & in no inconsiderable degree what Wordsworth calls “the faculty of verse”. I am not depreciating it when I say that in these times it is not rare.’

Charlotte must have been delighted with this pronouncement, even though she would characteristically try to dampen her enthusiasm a little. It may also be seen as rather a generous judgement from the poet laureate: Charlotte is of course a brilliant novelist of the first order, but her poetry is often very long, and lacking the sparkle of the verse produced by Anne and especially by Emily.

It is later in the letter, however, that we reach the truly contentious point, as Southey counsels:

‘There is a danger of which I would with all kindness & earnestness warn you. The daydreams in which you habitually indulge are likely to induce a distempered state of mind, & in proportion as all the “ordinary uses of the world” seem to you “flat & unprofitable”, you will be unfitted for them, without becoming fitted for anything else. Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity. You will not then seek in imagination for excitement.’

Southey here is stating that once Charlotte marries, and after all marriage is the reason d’etre for a woman’s life, she will no longer want to write poetry: she will have all the excitement she needs in darning her husband’s socks, washing his clothes and cooking his meals.

There are a couple of other surprising things about this letter. One is that Southey says that he believes the writer has sent the letter under an assumed name, when in fact she had used her real name in contrast to her later actions as a writer. Perhaps most surprising of all, however, is Charlotte’s reaction to it – she was not angry, but elated.

Robert Southey memorial Westminster Abbey
Robert Southey’s memorial
at Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey – the Bronte memorial is nearby

Charlotte wrote straight back to Southey, saying: ‘I had not ventured to hope for such a reply; so considerate in its tone, so noble in its spirit. I must suppress what I feel, or you will think me foolishly enthusiastic.’

She treasured the letter and kept the original envelope, upon which she wrote: ‘Southey’s advice. To be kept forever.’

Southey has become castigated for his views expressed in the letter. Of course it seems laughable at best, if not downright offensive, to believe that literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life. The poet laureate was, however, a product of his time, and his views would have been widely agreed with, as they even were by Charlotte at first.

Just what changed Charlotte’s viewpoint in the time between receiving this letter and becoming Currer Bell to escape prejudice? She certainly became more worldly-wise in the intervening nine or so years, but perhaps she was also influenced by Emily and Anne.

There is no doubt that Charlotte would have read Southey’s letter to her sisters, possibly to Anne on the day she received it, as she was then a pupil at the school Charlotte was teaching in. There is also little doubt that they may have been less impressed with the letter.

Anne Brontë formed her own opinions on matters ranging from religion to equality of the sexes, and she cared not if she was at odds with the prevailing opinions of the day. Her brilliant second novel The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall has been hailed by many as an early work of feminist fiction, and Anne leaves the reader in little doubt that she sees no difference between a man and a woman, and in what they should do with their lives. It is a theme that she returned defiantly to in her preface to the second edition of the Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, when she writes:

‘I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.’

There is no better rebuttal to Robert Southey’s opinion than the poetry novels of Anne Brontë, and of her sisters Charlotte and Emily.

In Search Of Anne Brontë – Now In Paperback!

As you know, I use this blog to talk about Anne Brontë and her family, posting at least one new post every week (and I still have lots of the old posts from the previous site to upload, so please bear with me on that). I don’t like to use this Anne Brontë website for promotional reasons, but I hope today you’ll grant me one indulgence, as I wanted to say that my biography of Anne is now out in paperback.

In Search Of Anne Bronte paperback
I celebrated getting the first copy of In Search of Anne Bronte with coffee and shortbread!

When ‘In Search Of Anne Brontë’ was released in hard back form by The History Press it was the culmination of a labour of love that stretched back over two decades. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve been blown away by the reception it’s had – gaining me a glowing two page review in The Mail On Sunday and appearances at literary festivals. The thing that has meant most to me is the kind words I’ve had from people like you – fellow Brontë lovers!

In Search Of Anne Bronte paperback front cover
In Search Of Anne Bronte paperback front cover

The History Press must be happy as well – as they’ve now released it in a paperback version! You can buy it on Amazon here: and it should soon be in bookshops too. It’s a little cheaper than the hardback, of course, and I absolutely love the cover design (which had nothing to do with me, so I don’t mind saying that!). I may also call it a new and improved version, as a few typos and errors that came to light in the earlier version have now been corrected.

Thank you so much again to you all for your continued support – it’s thanks to you and all the help you’ve given me that I will have books on both Emily Bronte and Elizabeth ‘Aunt’ Branwell published next year! Thank you for listening to my advert, I hope I haven’t been too self-promoting, but I like the look of it so much that I had to let you know!

Back to normal tomorrow, with a new post on a literary giant who tried to put an end to the Brontës writing career before it began!

Anne Brontë On World Asthma Day

As it’s World Asthma Day, my thoughts have turned to Anne Brontë and the illnesses she had to endure. Often thought of as being weak and permanently unwell, was that really the case and was asthma actually the cause of her complaints?

Anne was the last of the six Brontë children to be born, and her mother Maria died just a year later. It’s easy to imagine how this could lead to her siblings, father and Aunt Elizabeth spoiling her and being extra protective of her. It seems as well that Anne suffered from asthma and was thought of as a fragile child, as it’s referred to in letters from Charlotte and from Anne herself.

A particularly bad attack occurred in late 1846, and it was to leave Anne in a weakened state for all of the coming year. Charlotte wrote of it to Ellen Nussey:

‘She had two nights last week when her cough and difficulty of breathing were painful indeed to hear and witness, and must have been most distressing to suffer; she bore it, as she does all affliction, without one complaint, only sighing now and then when nearly worn out.’

Asthma is a condition that results in a constructing of the airways, making it very hard to breathe when an asthma ‘attack’ occurs. The air struggling through the narrow passageway often produces a characteristic wheezing sound, and coughing. Like large numbers of other people today, I myself suffer from asthma, and it can be controlled through the use of preventative and relieving inhalers that allow the sufferer to live a relatively normal and active life. I can hardly imagine how awful and debilitating an attack of asthma would be without any medication to control or remove it.

Of course, medicine in the 1820s, 30s and 40s was very different to that of the present day. One treatment that was believed to help was crab cheese, and Anne thanks Ellen for sending her a jar of it in a letter dated 4th October 1847. It sounds unappetising to us today, even though it is made of sour crab apples rather than the crustaceans, but Anne ate it dutifully; she was always willing to try a remedy if it offered hope to her and the people who cared for her.

crab cheese
Crab cheese, as used by Anne Bronte

It’s easy to imagine Anne being housebound by this complaint, and being at death’s door throughout her life, but that wasn’t really so. Even though at some periods in her life, particularly when the cold east wind blew through the parsonage, she would often be ill and struggling to breathe, at other times she could be very active. She was a regular walking partner of her beloved sister Emily, and their excursions across the rugged moors could take in 20 miles or more in a day, distances that most people in modern society would think twice about attempting.

Is there another misconception about Anne’s recurring illness and breathing difficulties, could it be that asthma wasn’t the underlying cause at all, but something even deadlier? Leading medic Professor Philip Rhodes wrote in 1972:

‘In the winter of 1846 everyone at the Parsonage suffered from repeated colds and influenza. All except Anne seemed to recover, but her vitality was still impaired by the spring of 1847, and she suffered from asthma. She was then 27. Asthma is a wheezy type of breathing, which when it is of relatively late onset, as in Anne’s case, is usually due to some underlying disorder of the lungs. This could have been tuberculosis.’

Professor Rhodes also opines that Anne could have caught tuberculosis from her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth who succumbed to it when she was a child, or from her time as a teenager at Roe Head School, the first time she had spent time away from her home and family. Since that initial infection, Anne had lived with tuberculosis without realising it, and the coughing and breathing difficulties were one of its symptoms. When exposed to an even larger dose of consumption in London in 1848, then a hotbed of the disease, her sad end was inevitable.

The fact that Anne Brontë bore all this ‘without one complaint’ is testament to her fortitude and incredible character.