The Quartette

This week marks an important anniversary in the Brontë story, for it was on July 19th 1833 that Ellen Nussey made her first visit to Haworth Parsonage. Why is this so important? Well, Ellen was there at important moments throughout the Brontë lives, from Anne’s death to Charlotte’s marriage, and it’s thanks to Ellen that we know so much about the Brontë family. In today’s post we’re going to look at Ellen’s account of that first visit, a time when the very best fab four came together, a group who called themselves ‘The Quartette.’

Haworth Village, Scribner's 1871
Haworth Village, Scribner’s 1871

After the death of Charlotte Brontë in 1855, the last of the six Brontë siblings, Ellen rapidly became famous for her Brontë connection. Literary pilgrims from across the UK and beyond made their way to Ellen’s humble home in search of information about this incredible family – and often they would leave with a Brontë fragment or even a letter. One such visitor, American artist Frederic Yates, even painted this wonderful oil painting of Ellen in old age.

Ellen Nussey by Frederic Yates
Ellen Nussey in old age, painted by Frederic Yates

In 1871 Scribner’s Magazine asked Ellen to provide her “Reminiscences Of Charlotte Brontë.” Ellen did not disappoint, and demonstrated that she herself had a wonderful way with words. Amidst this long article Ellen gave a fulsome, and at times very moving, description of her first visit to Haworth, so I reproduce it below:


Just think, exactly 191 years ago today that loving, fun filled quartette could have been making their way across the moors to the meeting of the waters – it’s now better known as the Brontë Falls. It’s important to remember that, amidst their literary triumphs and personal tragedies, the Brontës had happy, carefree moments too. If only they could have been granted more of them.

Haworth Parsonage, from Scribner’s 1871

I hope to meet you all again next Sunday, not at the waters but right here for another new Brontë blog post.

Three Lions In The Bronte Writing

Thanks to all who came to see me discuss Anne Brontë at the Bradford Literature Festival last Sunday – it was great to see how many Anne fans there are out there, and it was lovely, as always, to hear people say how much they enjoy this blog! It’s a real labour of love for me, so I’m glad that people enjoy reading it just as much as I enjoy writing it.

At the Bradford Literature Festival with Adelle Hay and Helen Meller. Photo by Rose Dawn Gant

I apologise in advance to some of you for the subject matter of today’s post. I’m a football fan and Euro fever has me in its grasp as I look forward to the big final tonight! I promise there will be no 4-4-2 or VAR discussions to follow, but we are going to look at three lions on a shirt, er I mean three lions in Brontë writing.

Jane Eyre

“No – no – Jane; you must not go. No – I have touched you, heard you, felt the comfort of your presence – the sweetness of your consolation: I cannot give up these joys. I have little left in myself – I must have you. The world may laugh – may call me absurd, selfish – but it does not signify. My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied, or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame.”

“Well, sir, I will stay with you: I have said so.”

“Yes – but you understand one thing by staying with me; and I understand another. You, perhaps, could make up your mind to be about my hand and chair – to wait on me as a kind little nurse (for you have an affectionate heart and a generous spirit, which prompt you to make sacrifices for those you pity), and that ought to suffice for me no doubt. I suppose I should now entertain none but fatherly feelings for you: do you think so? Come – tell me.”

“I will think what you like, sir: I am content to be only your nurse, if you think it better.”

“But you cannot always be my nurse, Janet: you are young – you must marry one day.”

“I don’t care about being married.”

“You should care, Janet: if I were what I once was, I would try to make you care – but – a sightless block!”

He relapsed again into gloom. I, on the contrary, became more cheerful, and took fresh courage: these last words gave me an insight as to where the difficulty lay; and as it was no difficulty with me, I felt quite relieved from my previous embarrassment. I resumed a livelier vein of conversation.

“It is time some one undertook to rehumanise you,” said I, parting his thick and long uncut locks; “for I see you are being metamorphosed into a lion, or something of that sort. You have a ‘faux air’ of Nebuchadnezzar in the fields about you, that is certain: your hair reminds me of eagles’ feathers; whether your nails are grown like birds’ claws or not, I have not yet noticed.”

“On this arm, I have neither hand nor nails,” he said, drawing the mutilated limb from his breast, and showing it to me. “It is a mere stump – a ghastly sight! Don’t you think so, Jane?”

“It is a pity to see it; and a pity to see your eyes – and the scar of fire on your forehead: and the worst of it is, one is in danger of loving you too well for all this; and making too much of you.”

“I thought you would be revolted, Jane, when you saw my arm, and my cicatrised visage.”

“Did you? Don’t tell me so – lest I should say something disparaging to your judgment. Now, let me leave you an instant, to make a better fire, and have the hearth swept up.

disfigured Rochester
Jane tends the blind and disfigured Rochester

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall

Near the top of this hill, about two miles from Linden-Car, stood Wildfell Hall, a superannuated mansion of the Elizabethan era, built of dark grey stone, venerable and picturesque to look at, but doubtless, cold and gloomy enough to inhabit, with its thick stone mullions and little latticed panes, its time-eaten air-holes, and its too lonely, too unsheltered situation, – only shielded from the war of wind and weather by a group of Scotch firs, themselves half blighted with storms, and looking as stern and gloomy as the Hall itself. Behind it lay a few desolate fields, and then the brown heath-clad summit of the hill; before it (enclosed by stone walls, and entered by an iron gate, with large balls of grey granite – similar to those which decorated the roof and gables – surmounting the gate-posts) was a garden, – once stocked with such hard plants and flowers as could best brook the soil and climate, and such trees and shrubs as could best endure the gardener’s torturing shears, and most readily assume the shapes he chose to give them, – now, having been left so many years untilled and untrimmed, abandoned to the weeds and the grass, to the frost and the wind, the rain and the drought, it presented a very singular appearance indeed. The close green walls of privet, that had bordered the principal walk, were two-thirds withered away, and the rest grown beyond all reasonable bounds; the old boxwood swan, that sat beside the scraper, had lost its neck and half its body: the castellated towers of laurel in the middle of the garden, the gigantic warrior that stood on one side of the gateway, and the lion that guarded the other, were sprouted into such fantastic shapes as resembled nothing either in heaven or earth, or in the waters under the earth; but, to my young imagination, they presented all of them a goblinish appearance, that harmonised well with the ghostly legions and dark traditions our old nurse had told us respecting the haunted hall and its departed occupants.

I had succeeded in killing a hawk and two crows when I came within sight of the mansion; and then, relinquishing further depredations, I sauntered on, to have a look at the old place, and see what changes had been wrought in it by its new inhabitant. I did not like to go quite to the front and stare in at the gate; but I paused beside the garden wall, and looked, and saw no change – except in one wing, where the broken windows and dilapidated roof had evidently been repaired, and where a thin wreath of smoke was curling up from the stack of chimneys.

While I thus stood, leaning on my gun, and looking up at the dark gables, sunk in an idle reverie, weaving a tissue of wayward fancies, in which old associations and the fair young hermit, now within those walls, bore a nearly equal part, I heard a slight rustling and scrambling just within the garden; and, glancing in the direction whence the sound proceeded, I beheld a tiny hand elevated above the wall: it clung to the topmost stone, and then another little hand was raised to take a firmer hold, and then appeared a small white forehead, surmounted with wreaths of light brown hair, with a pair of deep blue eyes beneath, and the upper portion of a diminutive ivory nose.

The eyes did not notice me, but sparkled with glee on beholding Sancho, my beautiful black and white setter, that was coursing about the field with its muzzle to the ground. The little creature raised its face and called aloud to the dog. The good-natured animal paused, looked up, and wagged his tail, but made no further advances. The child (a little boy, apparently about five years old) scrambled up to the top of the wall, and called again and again; but finding this of no avail, apparently made up his mind, like Mahomet, to go to the mountain, since the mountain would not come to him, and attempted to get over; but a crabbed old cherry-tree, that grew hard by, caught him by the frock in one of its crooked scraggy arms that stretched over the wall. In attempting to disengage himself his foot slipped, and down he tumbled – but not to the earth; – the tree still kept him suspended. There was a silent struggle, and then a piercing shriek; – but, in an instant, I had dropped my gun on the grass, and caught the little fellow in my arms.

I wiped his eyes with his frock, told him he was all right and called Sancho to pacify him. He was just putting a little hand on the dog’s neck and beginning to smile through his tears, when I heard behind me a click of the iron gate, and a rustle of female garments, and lo! Mrs. Graham darted upon me – her neck uncovered, her black locks streaming in the wind.

“Give me the child!” she said, in a voice scarce louder than a whisper, but with a tone of startling vehemence, and, seizing the boy, she snatched him from me, as if some dire contamination were in my touch, and then stood with one hand firmly clasping his, the other on his shoulder, fixing upon me her large, luminous dark eyes – pale, breathless, quivering with agitation.

Helen and Arthur
Helen and Arthur in the BBC’s brilliant Tenant adaptation

Charlotte Brontë, Letter to Francis Bennoch

So there we have three lions in the Brontë writing. In one we see a disfigured Rochester find hope, then love, with Jane Eyre; in the next we see Gilbert meeting Helen, the eponymous tenant of Wildfell Hall, for the first time, and get a first clue as to her story. Finally, we see the ever humble Charlotte say that, at 37, she is too old for praise – too old to be a lion.

Francis Bennoch

It (a national football trophy) could be coming home for the mens’ team tonight for the first time in 58 years, but let’s not forget that it came home for the lionesses just two years ago when they won Euro 22 for England’s women. Ellen Nussey, loyal friend of the Brontës, called herself a lioness in her very final interview in 1897:

In connection with her correspondence with Charlotte, Miss Nussey said she had often been badly treated, and I quite agreed with her when she informed me of the circumstances. This led me to tell her I had heard something of the kind before, and that I had felt diffident about seeking an interview, but that at last I had yielded, the suggestion being that I should ‘beard the lioness in her den.’ She laughed heartily, and exclaimed, ‘That’s exactly what I am, a lioness. I have to be, because of the way I have been treated.’ To me she was all kindness, and the interview throughout seemed to be mutually satisfactory. We parted, but she called me again to the house door, and then with a nervous air said, ‘Remember! All who have anything to do with the Brontës have had great trouble.’

I promise there will be no football next week and lots of Brontës, but tonight, whatever our nationality and whatever we think of sport, let’s get behind Gareth Southgate and the gang. After all, he lives in Swinsty Hall in Yorkshire just 20 miles from Haworth – which surely makes him an honourary Brontë fan for one night. Whatever the result for England against Spain I hope to see you next week for another new Brontë blog post.

Truth And Fiction In Agnes Grey

My latest Brontë blog post is a day earlier than usual, so don’t worry – you haven’t slept in and missed the England football match, Wimbledon tennis or Michael McIntyre’s ‘The Wheel’. I’m writing and posting on Saturday this week because on Sunday I’m appearing at the Bradford Literature Festival, at 1pm at the grand Midland Hotel – a location once known to Branwell Brontë.

You can buy tickets by clicking on this link, and it would be lovely to see you there. It’s a question and answer session, and no doubt we’ll also have time to mention Charlotte, Emily and other Brontë-related subjects. The main subject however, is Anne Brontë and her first novel Agnes Grey, and the parallels between Anne’s fiction and her life. We will look at a few brief examples in today’s post.

Agnes Grey was the debut novel of Anne Brontë – published in December 1847 (alongside her beloved sister Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights), it is believed that Anne may have been referring to an early iteration of the book in her diary paper of July 1845, in which she wrote: “I have begun the third volume of passages in the life of an individual. I wish I had finished it.” If this is an indeed an early draft, then it would make it the earliest of the Brontë novels now in print.

Agnes Grey frontispiece
Original frontispiece to Agnes Grey

The book as it is today is in three distinct sections, so it would suit a three volume treatment as mentioned in the diary paper, although it is a short book. It is very clearly, in my opinion, autobiographical in nature in many instances. When I was re-reading the book whilst writing my Anne biography In Search Of Anne Brontë, I got a cheap edition and highlighted passages which seemed to be at least partly autobiographical in nature (please note that I don’t generally approve of writing in books, or of turning page corners down); I found sixty such passages. Looking back through the self same edition this week I find that I’m not quite as confident on some of the highlighted passages, but that there are other sections I didn’t highlight which seem to me be based on Anne’s life and experiences.

We don’t have to look far for instances of autobiographical information; on the very first page Agnes, the eponymous narrator, tell us: “My father was a clergyman of the north of England.” If we take ‘of’ to mean living in, rather than born in, then this also describes Anne Brontë herself of course.

Blake Hall, Mirfield
Blake Hall is Wellwood House in the novel

In that same opening chapter, Agnes describes how her mother had come from much wealthier stock, and how she is one of six children. Both of these match the Brontë facts precisely. Agnes decides to become a governess, but because she is the youngest sibling her parents do not think her capable of looking after others – she will always be the baby of the family to them. We can easily imagine that Anne faced the same problems when she two announced her decision to become a governess.

This book is not only full of autobiographical signposts, it also paints a vivid portrait of life as a governess. Agnes has two positions, in the first she has children who are unruly and whose parents treat her with disdain. In the second, the children are much less vicious, but Agnes is dismayed at the way their mother is preparing them for society weddings without considering love.

Lydia Robinson
Lydia Robinson, the model for Mrs Murray

These two episodes seem very closely related to Anne’s time as governess to the Ingham family of Blake Hall and the Robinson family of Thorp Green Hall. Indeed, I believe writing the first section may have been a cathartic experience for Anne as it allowed her to get revenge, on paper, on the horrors that she had experienced as governess to the Inghams. Agnes lasts a matter of months as governess to the Bloomfields; in real life Anne was dismissed mere months after becoming governess to the Ingham family – her position deemed untenable after the parents entered the schoolroom and found that Anne had tied one of her charges to a table leg so she could write poetry in peace.

The most moving element of the novel to me is the ever so sweet romance between Agnes and Edward Weston, the assistant curate near Horton Lodge, based upon Thorp Green Hall. I have no doubt that Weston is a near facsimile, in character and actions, of William Weightman – Anne’s eternal love who was ripped from life far too soon.

William Weightman by Charlotte Bronte
William Weightman was the inspiration for Anne’s hero Weston

Weightman’s death had destroyed Anne’s dreams – she could have enjoyed a mutual love with him, have married him – after all what could be more natural for an assistant curate than to marry the daughter of the more senior clergyman he assisted? Real life killed the dream Anne dreamed, but she resurrected it on paper and gave herself the happy ending she had always wanted. 

I will be talking about this and much more tomorrow at the Bradford Literature Festival. If you can’t make it, do pick up a copy of Agnes Grey – it’s a fabulous read. I’m firmly in the camp of the great Irish novelist George Moore who said of it: “Agnes Grey is the most perfect prose narrative in English literature… a narrative simple and beautiful as a muslin dress… We know that we are reading a masterpiece. Nothing short of genius could have set them before us so plainly and yet with restraint.”

Anne herself is quite candid about the nature of her novel right at its beginning: “All true histories contain instruction… shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture; and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.”

We can all be grateful that Anne did exactly that. I’m off now to watch the England match, er I mean to prepare for my talk, but I hope to see you next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.


The Brontes And Politics

After a campaign that started in a downpour and ends with a hurricane, at last the day of judgement has arrived for the UK and its politicians. Who will be Prime Minister tomorrow – Sunak or Starmer? The polls suggest that’s the biggest foregone conclusion since Rochester wondered if it was safe to marry again now that his wife was safely in the attic. It’s election day 2024, but what did the Brontës think of politics?

It is commonly stated that the sisters were ‘high Tory’, but before Labour, Reform or Lib Dem supporting Brontë fans go red, yellow or blue in the face it’s important to remember that voters at this time had only two choices: Tory, equivalent to the modern day Conservatives, or Whig, who evolved into the current Liberal Democrats.

A punch cartoon depicting Robert Peel as Pecksniff, the hypocritical Dickens character

It’s also important of course to remember that large sections of the country were completely disenfranchised. Women over 21 wouldn’t be allowed the vote until 108 years after Anne was born. The vast majority of men, including Patrick and Branwell Brontë, were also barred from voting by the archaic system then in place. By 1832 around 1 in 1000 people had the vote in England. Cities that were growing rapidly such as Leeds and Manchester had no MPs at all while Dunwich, with a recorded population of 32, was represented by two Members of Parliament.

This was a source of great unrest, with the Chartist movement calling for large scale reforms, including votes for men. The area around Haworth was said to be a hotbed of Chartist activity, with the threat of a violent uprising hanging in the air. This was an inspiration for Shirley by Charlotte Brontë, as well as a reason that Patrick slept with loaded pistols by his bed every night.

female chartists
A contemporary cartoon on female chartists

Although they couldn’t vote, the Brontës were firm supporters of the Tory cause. Patrick had been at University with Henry Temple, later Lord Palmerston. Palmerston was a Tory grandee and would serve twice as Prime Minister, although he later became a Liberal. The undoubted hero of the family was Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. He was not only a famous war veteran, he was also a Tory politician who would serve as Prime Minister. 

Thanks to her publisher Charlotte finally met Wellington in 1850, as George Smith described in his memoirs: “Miss Brontë and her father had a passionate admiration for the Duke of Wellington, and I took her to the Chapel Royal, St. James’s, which he generally attended on Sunday, in order that she might see him. We followed him out of the Chapel, and I indulged Miss Brontë by so arranging our walk that she met him twice on his way to Apsley House.” In a letter sent after this event Charlotte wrote excitedly that Wellington, by then aged 80, was ‘a real grand old man.’

Wellington iron
This iron miniature of the Duke of Wellington was a prized possession of Charlotte Bronte

The children took a keen personal interest in politics, and would gain a real grasp of the issues of the day from the newspapers and periodicals that they read. Charlotte described them thus: ‘Papa and Branwell are gone for the newspaper the Leeds Intelligencer – a most excellent Tory newspaper edited by Mr Wood the proprietor Mr Hennaman. We take 2 and see 3 Newspapers as such we take the Leeds Intelligencer Tory and the Leeds Mercury Whig Edited by Mr Bains and his Brother Soninlaw and his two sons Edward and Talbot – we see the John Bull it is a High Tory very violent’.

Her friend Mary Taylor of the Red House at Gomersal was later to reveal how interested Charlotte was in politics: “We used to be furious politicians, as one could hardly help being in 1832. She [Charlotte] knew the names of the two Ministries; the one that resigned and the one that succeeded and passed the Reform Bill. She worshipped the Duke of Wellington, but said that Sir Robert Peel was not to be trusted; he did not act from principle like the rest, but from expediency… She said she had taken an interest in politics ever since she was five years old. She did not get her opinions from her father – that is, not directly, but from the papers he preferred.”

The Reform Act of 1832 led to some major cities including Leeds getting their own MP. Emily and Anne’s jointly written diary paper of 1834 reveals their excitement that Sir Robert Peel had been chosen to stand as MP for nearby Leeds: ‘Branwell went down to Mr Drivers and brought news that Sir Robert Peel was going to stand for Leeds.’ We can only imagine what Charlotte thought of that!

Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston, was at University with Patrick Bronte

If Anne Brontë was alive today, would she have voted Conservative? It’s an intriguing question, and one that’s impossible to answer, but we can look at what would have been important to her and draw our own conclusions. Anne, following the example of her father, was very keen on the power of education to improve people’s lives. She took a keen interest in the conditions of the poor. She cared greatly about animals and animal welfare, and it’s safe to assume that she would also have been passionate about modern environmental concerns. I would hazard a guess as to which party Anne would be giving her cross to today, but I will keep it to myself!

I’ll see you this weekend for another new Brontë blog post, and I promise it will be a politics (and football) free zone!

Vote Bronte

The Seven Guests At Charlotte Bronte’s Wedding

Weddings are beautiful occasions, what could be better than a celebration of that most powerful and important emotion: love. It doesn’t matter whether they are big or small, all weddings are magical. Yesterday marked the 170th anniversary of a wedding where only nine attended, and yet we still know of it today. The bride’s name: Charlotte Brontë. I’ve included some pictures from a Haworth recreation of this wedding throughout this post.

A happy reminder of Charlotte Bronte’s big day

We know details of the wedding thanks to one of the guests of whom many people will know little. He plays no other role in the Brontë story, and was a teenage apprentice at the time of Charlotte’s marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls, and yet it is thanks to two interviews that John Robinson of Barnsley gave over 60 years later that we know who was in the church on that late June morning in 1854. In today’s Brontë blog post we’re going to take a look at the seven guests who witnessed this intimate wedding ceremony:

“One morning I met the sexton, John Brown, the father of Martha Brown, who said that he had been  waiting for me. He told me that Charlotte and Mr. Nicholls were going to get  married, and my instructions were to go to the top of a hill and look for the approach of three men. When I saw them I was to run back to the parsonage and tell the folk there that they were coming. I went to my place and watched, and presently I saw in the distance three   persons – Mr. Nicholls, Mr. Grant, and Mr. Sowden. Then I went back to the parsonage, and was told to go as fast as I could for Josh Redman, the old parish clerk. I found him, and told him he had to come to   church as quickly as possible. He came immediately. On the way he stopped and said, ‘I’d better lace up my boots,’ and he went to the wall and did so. We hurried to the church, and on the stroke of eight Charlotte entered with her two women friends. There were thus in the church Charlotte, her two friends, the  clerk, the sexton, and myself – nine persons in all. I don’t think Mr. Brontë was there.”

Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls
Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls, at a wedding re-enactment

John Robinson

We will start with the narrator himself. John Robinson was a Haworth-born boy from a poor background. He would have been expected to work in local mills, but his intelligence marked him out from an early age. It was decided to train him up to be a teacher, and he was apprenticed in this trade to the man who ran the local church school: the parish’s assistant curate Arthur Bell Nicholls.

Being young and fit, it was also decided by parish sexton John Brown to use Robinson as runner on this momentous day. Thus Robinson, to his great surprise, on his way to his school was told that Charlotte and Arthur were being wed that morning and to round up the necessary people at the appropriate times. Robinson never forgot Arthur Bell Nicholls, saying of him over six decades later: “No kinder-hearted man or one more anxious to see others improve their position in life, ever lived, and I myself – I might say scores besides – have him to thank for putting us in the way to make a way in life instead of remaining where we had been born, which was undoubtedly at one time one of the poorest places in England.”

John Robinson went on to have a long and successful career as a teacher, leaving Haworth and eventually becoming head of a school in Wombwell, Barnsley. At the time of his newspaper interviews he was himself celebrating his own diamond wedding anniversary!

Charlotte and Arthur

John Brown

It was undoubtedly John Brown who selected the unwitting Robinson to be Charlotte Brontë’s wedding day runner. He was parish sexton, an important role with functions within St. Michael’s church and in the graveyard stretching away from it. By the time of the wedding he was also the next door neighbour of Charlotte Brontë, living in the building named Sexton House which he himself constructed.

He was also a great friend of the Brontë family, and had been especially close to Branwell Brontë. It was John Brown who took Branwell to Liverpool in an attempt to wean him off his drink and narcotic addictions, and John’s daughter Martha Brown was a live-in servant in the Brontë parsonage. Alas he died in 1855 just a year after the wedding and, double alas, just weeks after the death of Charlotte Brontë. 

Branwell's painting of the sexton (& his drinking friend) John Brown
Branwell’s portrait of his friend John Brown

Sutcliffe Sowden

Sutcliffe Sowden was one of the three men Robinson was told to watch for coming over the hill. (In his other account, Robinson said Brown told him: “We want tha to go to t’top of t’ ‘ill to watch for three parsons coming from t’other hill, coming from Oxenhope. Charlotte and Mr. Nicholls are going to be married, and when tha sees Mr. Nicholls, Mr. Grant, and Mr. Sowden coming at t’ far hill, tha must get back to t’ Parsonage, so’s Charlotte and Ellen Nussey can get their things on to go down to t’ church.”)

Sutcliffe was a close friend of groom Arthur Bell Nicholls and had an important role to perform on that day: it was he who would perform the wedding ceremony. Reverend Sowden was from the Halifax family who had been farmers on land owned by the mistress of Shibden Hall Anne Lister, but it was the pulpit rather than the pigpen which called Sutcliffe. He was the vicar at Hebden Bridge but returned to Haworth to conduct one more ceremony in 1855: the funeral of Charlotte Brontë. Sutcliffe Sowden himself fell into a canal one foggy night in 1861 and drowned.

Charlotte Bronte's Wedding certificate
Charlotte Bronte’s Wedding certificate, bearing Sutcliffe’s signature

Joseph Grant

The other close friend accompanying Arthur on his wedding morning was Reverend Joseph Grant. He had been Arthur’s predecessor as assistant curate in Haworth, but Charlotte seems to have taken a dislike to him – in her novel Shirley she used Grant as the model for Reverend Donne, a domineering and self-centred man.

Nevertheless he was loved by Arthur, and as curate of neighbouring parish Oxenhope it was with him that Arthur stayed on the night before his wedding. It eventually became well known that Grant was the model for Donne, and he was often called Mr Donne from then on, but he seems to have taken it in good faith.

Joshua Redman

Redman was parish clerk, and it was he who had to sign the papers and declare the wedding legal. It is a measure of the secrecy with which Charlotte and Arthur planned their wedding therefore that even he knew nothing of it until minutes before it was due to take place. His daughter Martha Redman was an occasional helper in Haworth Parsonage during busy times. Redman died aged 66 in 1862.

Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls
Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls, at a wedding re-enactment

Ellen Nussey

Ellen Nussey was Charlotte Brontë’s great lifelong friend, and yet at first it seemed that the marriage of Charlotte and Arthur would cause a terrible schism between them. After Charlotte wrote to Ellen telling her that she had accepted Arthur’s proposal there was a long break in communications between them. Ellen loved Charlotte dearly, and it could be that she (like Charlotte’s own father Patrick) felt that Arthur was beneath her, or it may be that she had hoped and expected that Charlotte and she would remain single for the rest of their lives.

It took some diplomacy on behalf of the next guest to bring them together again, and Ellen finally agreed to be Charlotte’s bridesmaid. The friendship was restored, and it is thanks to Ellen’s preservation of hundreds of Charlotte’s letters that we know so much about the Brontë story today. Between Ellen and Arthur, however, there was a lasting enmity.

Ellen Nussey's bridesmaid bonnet
Ellen Nussey’s bridesmaid bonnet

Margaret Wooler

Margaret Wooler was head and founder of Roe Head School, MIrfield when Charlotte Brontë went there as a schoolgirl in 1831. For years later Charlotte came back as a teacher and Margaret was now her employer. It was an at times fractious relationship then, especially as Charlotte was ill suited to the role of teacher, but they became firm and enduring friends.

As the day of the wedding arrived it was still unclear whether Patrick Brontë would attend his daughter’s wedding. In the end he declared he was too ill to take the short walk to the church, and to be fair this may have been true as Patrick was 77 by this time and suffering again from sight loss.

Margaret stepped up to the occasion, and it was she who gave Charlotte Brontë away at her wedding. Margaret Wooler and Ellen Nussey were also the two witnesses who signed the wedding certificate for Charlotte and Arthur. Margaret lived to a ripe old age, sharing a house with two of her sisters well into her nineties.

Margaret Wooler
Margaret Wooler in old age

The other two members of the nine were, of course, the bride and groom themselves. Charlotte Brontë and Arthur Bell Nicholls had a happy but all two short marriage – but at least Charlotte Brontë found love and happiness in the last months of her life.

I hope you can join me next Saturday for another new Brontë blog post. That’s right – it’s Saturday not Sunday next week as on 7th July I will be discussing Anne Brontë at the Bradford Literature Festival – you can buy tickets at this link:ë-and-agnes-grey-parallels-of-resilience-and-reality/


Charlotte Bronte: Brussels Friendships And Enmity

Summer has finally arrived, so make the most of the sunny weather while you can. Of course, wherever you are, on a patio or beach, it’s always improved if you have a good book to hand. On this day in 1852 we know that Charlotte Brontë was walking the fine sands of Filey on the Yorkshire coast, and she wrote from there to her friend Laetitia Wheelwright about an old schoolmate Maria Miller. We’ll take a look at that letter in today’s post, for it also gives us an insight into the Brontës’ time in Brussels, and to Charlotte’s magnificent novel Villette.

Laetitia Wheelwright was a pupil at the Pensionnat Heger in 1843, at the time that Charlotte Brontë had changed from being a pupil there to being a teacher. She was perhaps the only real friendship that Charlotte made in Brussels (if we discount Monsieur Heger) and it was a lasting one, as we see from the fact that Charlotte is writing to her nearly ten years later.

A drawing by Laetitia Wheelwright

Laetitia’s father was an English doctor, and his four daughters attended the Pensionnat Heger school in Brussels. Laetitia, born in 1828, was the oldest of the four daughters, and she quickly became Charlotte’s favourite pupil. Frances Wheelwright later recalled how Charlotte was first attracted to Laetitia after seeing her standing on a stool watching misbehaving Belgian pupils ‘with an expression of contempt and disgust’. As anyone who has read Villette, or especially The Professor, knows this was a view shared by Charlotte herself. Many years later Charlotte often visited the Wheelwright family at their London home when she was in the city, so let us turn to a letter Charlotte Brontë sent there exactly 172 years ago today:

It seems that Laetitia has forwarded a letter from Maria Miller, seeking their advice. Charlotte knew Maria too from their time in Brussels, and we can read between the lines to see why Maria had been in correspondence with Charlotte. The Miller family have sought help from their present abode in Boulogne, France. Charlotte warns that “it is the asylum of a not very respectable class.” In fact, it was a place where many British families fled to hide from their creditors, just as Becky Sharp does in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

Maria has presumably been writing to Laetitia to seek funds to escape her debts, but Charlotte tells Laetitia in no uncertain terms to wash her hands of her. Charlotte twice calls Maria selfish, as well as impudent and worldly – it’s fair to say that Charlotte was not a fan of Maria Miller, and in fact it is believed that she based the character of the shallow, preening Ginevra Fanshawe in Villette upon Maria.

Maria Miller was the inspiration for Ginevra Fanshawe

Charlotte’s dislike for Maria Miller lasted, just as her affection for the Wheelwright family lasted. Nevertheless when she visited the family in London she never let them know the reason for her visits to the capital, and even her close friend Laetitia never knew that Charlotte was a writer. As she confessed in an 1849 letter to publisher George Smith: “they [the Wheelwrights] are of the class, perfectly worthy but in no sort remarkable – to whom I should feel it quite superfluous to introduce Currer Bell [Charlotte’s pen name]; I know they would not understand the author.”

Incidentally, when Charlotte sympathises with Laetitia about her father’s ‘gradual darkening’, she was speaking quite literally – Laetitia’s father, like Charlotte’s, was going blind.

A letter sent to Laetitia by Charlotte from Filey earlier in the month.

Brussels changed Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, and Laetitia Wheelwright forever, so I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been asked to give a talk to the Brussels Brontë Group in May next year. I’ll bring you more details closer to the date. You can also buy tickets to see me talking all things Anne Brontë and Agnes Grey at the Bradford Literature Festival on Sunday 7th July. Tickets are available right now at this link:ë-and-agnes-grey-parallels-of-resilience-and-reality/

Whether you’re in Brussels, Bradford or anywhere in between I wish you a happy Sunday and I hope to see you next week for another new Brontë blog post.     

Bronte Wedding Preparations And A Diamond Anniversary

What links today’s date, wedding preparations and a diamond wedding anniversary? Why, the Brontës of course as we shall see in today’s blog post. We’ll begin by taking a look at a letter sent by Charlotte Brontë to best friend Ellen Nussey on this day 1854:

The wedding of Charlotte Brontë and Arthur Bell Nicholls was less than two weeks ago – they were married first thing in the morning on the 29th of June 1854 and the wedding went much as Charlotte had planned. It was a small affair with very few people in attendance, and, incredible as it may seem today, it was kept a secret from the village of Haworth as a whole. 

Only a select group of people knew in advance, and a young man named John Robinson found out on the day. He was an apprentice teacher being taught his craft by the village’s assistant curate, and Charlotte’s fiance, Arthur Bell Nicholls. By being in the right place at the right time he became one of only nine people at the wedding ceremony.

Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls
Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls, at a wedding re-enactment in Haworth

We have looked before at one account Robinson gave of this special day, but he gave another account to the Keighley News on 27th October 1923, as he was approaching his own diamond wedding anniversary! It is another fascinating and illuminating account, so I have reproduced it below:


 the sixtieth anniversary of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. John Robinson, which was celebrated at Wombwell, interesting memories of Charlotte Brontë are revived. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson are both 86 years old. Mr. Robinson was   born near Haworth, where Mr. Patrick Brontë, the father of the famous writer,   was incumbent, and he used every Sunday morning to receive instruction from   Mr. Nicholls, who afterwards married Charlotte Brontë.   Mr. Robinson was one of the few persons who attended the early morning   wedding of Charlotte and Mr. Nicholls. ‘‘I owe a lot to the Brontë family,’’ said Mr. Robinson to a representative of ‘‘The Sheffield Independent,’’ who called upon him to offer him and his wife congratulations on reaching the sixtieth anniversary of their wedding, which they were then celebrating. ‘

I come from Stanbury, where Patrick Brontë, Charlotte’s father, was incumbent, and   Mr. Nicholls, whom she married, used to have me up to his lodgings every Saturday morning to give me lessons,’’ he said. ‘‘It was Mr. Nicholls who taught me what love-sickness means. I have heard him moan with anguish when things did not run smoothly.   


‘‘Charlotte’s father was, I think, against the marriage, because, as fame came to her, she, of course, became comparatively well off, and her father seemed to think that Mr. Nicholls was after her money. Charlotte, however, appears to have given him some encouragement. The   Brontës had an old and faithful servant, Martha Brown, who was as familiar with her employers as a servant very well can be, and she told me that once when the young couple had had to part, she found Mr. Nicholls with his head against the garden door sobbing as though his heart would break. However, after this separation things seemed to improve for them, and one morning I met the sexton, John Brown, the father of Martha Brown, who said that he had been   waiting for me. He told me that Charlotte and Mr. Nicholls were going to get   married, and my instructions were to go to the top of a hill and look for the appach of three men. When I saw them I was to run back to the parsonage and tell the folk there that they were coming.

I went to my place and watched, and presently I saw in the distance three   persons – Mr. Nicholls, Mr. Grant, and Mr. Sowden. Then I went back to the parsonage, and was told to go as fast as I could for Josh Redman, the old parish clerk. I found him, and told him he had to come to   church as quickly as possible. He came immediately. On the way he stopped and said, ‘I’d better lace up my boots,’ and he went to the wall and did so. We hurried to the church. and on the stroke of eight Charlotte entered with her two women friends. There were thus in the church Charlotte, her two friends, the  clerk, the sexton, and myself – nine persons in all. I don’t think Mr. Brontë  was there.   

Charlotte Bronte's wedding bonnet
Charlotte Bronte’s wedding bonnet


The ceremony was gone through quickly, and, passing out of the vestry, they left the church as they came – by the back door leading into Church Lane, close to the Vicarage. They went to the Vicarage, and then I remember seeing a   carriage and pair drive off to the nearest station – Keighley. I went back to the school for my lessons, but I had not been there many minutes when a message came from the Parsonage to say that I was to go for some breakfast. I went and remember having boiled ham, so that you see I had some of Charlotte Brontë’s wedding breakfast, although, of course, not with them. When Charlotte Brontë and her husband returned a lumber room was cleared out at the Parsonage and fitted up as a study for him. He was then   curate, and each Saturday morning I went for my lessons as usual. My apprenticeship continued until I was 18. When I said good-bye, Mr. Brontë held my hand for a long time and gave me some good advice. Remember, all this was a long time ago, and we were in a village where we knew little and heard little, and he told me how different I should find things elsewhere. As a parting gift he gave me a portrait of himself, bearing his autograph. The officials of the Brontë Museum at Haworth have begged long and earnestly for that, but I shall not part with it, although I have given them his snuffbox.’   

The card Patrick Bronte gave to John Robinson


Mr. Robinson said that Charlotte Brontë was a wonderful little woman. He had watched her often from the church tower, from whence he could see into the room where she was writing. She was very short-sighted, and when she came into the school to inspect the children’s needlework she had to hold it very close to her eyes.

‘‘I have seen it sometimes suggested that she and her husband were not altogether happy together,’’ went on Mr. Robinson. ‘‘There never was a bigger lie than that. To see them together, arm-in-arm, walking over the moors, and to see the way in which he assisted her in the difficult places, was to be convinced that there never was a couple more completely in love with each other.   

Charlotte and Arthur

Charlotte’s brother Branwell was different from the rest of the family, being of a more gay disposition. In the local inn he always used to occupy the same chair, and entertain the company, and I remember once that a stranger tried to take a rise out of him. There was on the wall a picture of a man riding a donkey, and the stranger, turning to Branwell, remarked, pointing to the picture: ‘That reminds me of you.’ In a moment Branwell had jumped on to the stranger’s back, and remarked: ‘The likeness is now complete.’’’

Charlotte Bronte's Wedding certificate
Charlotte Bronte’s Wedding certificate, bearing Sutcliffe’s signature

It is lovely to hear a first hand account of how happy Charlotte and Arthur were in their marriage. If you have an anniversary of your own approaching I wish you many happy returns, and I hope to see you next week for another Brontë blog post.

Charlotte Bronte, Stone Gappe And Jane Eyre

There were some similarities in both the life and work of Charlotte and Anne Brontë, beyond the fact that they were sisters of course. Both wrote books whose eponymous heroine was a governess: Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey, and both worked as a governess – although Anne’s nearly six years in service to the Robinson and Ingham families was much longer than the brief periods Charlotte spent as a governess to the White family of Rawdon and the Sidgwick family of Stone Gappe. Charlotte stayed in that job for less than two months, but as we shall see in today’s post it was a time which greatly influenced her most acclaimed novel.

Stone Gappe
Stone Gappe

Stone Gappe is an early 18th century mansion near Lothersdale in North Yorkshire, ten miles from Haworth. Charlotte became governess there in May 1839, her first attempt at being a governess. Her employees were the Sidgwick family who employed Charlotte to teach their young children, but she found this a far from enjoyable role – as we see in a letter she wrote exactly 185 years ago this weekend. The letter, sent by Charlotte to sister Emily Brontë (referred to affectionately by Charlotte as ‘Lavinia’), is reproduced below:

The letter starts promisingly, the hall is divine and the grounds are divine – and still are, by the way, if you ever get the chance to visit this Grade II* listed building. It is an area which delights Charlotte’s senses, but she has not a moment to enjoy it and her time is spent endlessly sewing and darning and looking after the children from hell. Alack-a-day indeed, as Charlotte so charmingly puts it! There is one portion of the letter which is particularly striking to one who is reading it with nearly two centuries worth of hindsight:

“I see now more clearly than I have ever done before that a private governess has no existence, is not considered as a living and rational being except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfil.”

Adèle dancing in Jane Eyre
Jane found it hard being a governess to Adèle

Surely we see a glimpse of Jane here, and in the only solace that Charlotte gets from her despondency – time spent with the taciturn, yet kind, master of the house. He is a vision of Charlotte’s ideal, older, plain speaking, wealthy – a man who strides ahead with a great big dog by his side: “It is very seldom that he speaks to me, but when he does I always feel happier and more settled.”

The master of Stone Gappe was John Benson Sidgwick, a wealthy mill owner. Born in 1800 he was sixteen years older than Charlotte, and had made vast sums of money from owning High Mills in Skipton at a time when the industrial revolution was beginning to boom. He and his family spent summers at Stone Gappe and wintered at Skipton Castle.

At this very same time Anne Brontë too was working as a governess to the family of a wealthy industrialist – to the Ingham family of Blake Hall in Mirfield. Anne found that her charges were ill educated, unruly and often downright violent – but she turned this experience to good use by recreating the family as the monstrous Bloomfield family. 

Charlotte too found that her children had a tendency towards spontaneity of the violent kind. Although not mentioned in her letter we know, very revealingly, that one of the children – a Benson Sidgwick threw a Bible at Charlotte’s head! We know this from a memoir by an A. C. Benson of his father Archbishop Edward Benson of Canterbury – who was in turn a cousin of John Benson Sidgwick. In it, he tells the story of Charlotte’s Stone Gappe sojourn from the Sidgwick point of view:

“Charlotte Brontë acted as governess to my cousins at Stone Gappe for a few months in 1839. Few traditions of her connection with the Sidgwicks survive. She was, according to her own account, very unkindly treated, but it is clear that she had no gifts for the management of children, and was also in a very morbid condition the whole time. My cousin Benson Sidgwick, now vicar of Ashby Parva, certainly on one occasion threw a Bible at Miss Brontë! and all that another cousin can recollect of her is that if she was invited to walk to church with them, she thought she was being ordered about like a slave; if she was not invited, she imagined she was excluded from the family circle. Both Mr. and Mrs. John Sidgwick were extraordinarily benevolent people, much beloved, and would not wittingly have given pain to any one connected with them.”

An interesting but not unbiased account from A. C. Benson there; perhaps his most lasting legacy is a rather different piece of writing – he was the man who wrote the lyrics to Edward Elgars ‘Land Of Hope And Glory.’ His brother Edward also found fame, as author of the Mapp and Lucia novels.

A. C. Benson
A. C. Benson who reported on Charlotte’s time at Stone Gappe

Charlotte was governess at Stone Gappe for a few short weeks, but the repercussions are still being felt by readers across the globe today. It is said that the Stone Gappe building is the model for Gateshead Hall where young Jane Eyre is raised. Jane has a book thrown at her by her cousin, just as Charlotte had a book thrown at her during her time there. And in Charlotte’s depiction of John Benson Sidgwick we get an early glimpse of a Rochester-like character.

Charlotte used her time as a governess to great effect in her writing – and Anne Brontë did exactly the same, which is why her novel Agnes Grey is so autobiographical in many places – this is exactly the topic I will be discussing at the Bradford Literature Festival on Sunday 7th July at 1 pm. You can buy tickets at this link, and it would be great to see you there!

It would also be great to see you right here next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post – may the week ahead be a sunnier one for you.

Charlotte Bronte, Alone In Filey

June is here (if only someone would tell the weather!), so it may be that your thoughts are turning to summer holidays! Perhaps you’re thinking about sneaking away early and beating the crowds! That’s just what Charlotte Brontë did in 1852, as we can see in today’s new Brontë blog post as we look at Charlotte Brontë in Filey.

Filey beach
Filey beach

It’s the perfect day to examine this subject as it was on this day in 1852 that Charlotte Brontë wrote to her father Patrick Brontë in Haworth. Her letter was written from Cliff House, Filey and as we shall see later the building is still standing, and still remembering Charlotte. First, let’s take a look at her letter:

Even in 1852 Filey became busy in the hustle and bustle of mid-summer, as the east coast resorts of Yorkshire were becoming central to a new concept in English society, a concept made possible by the advent of railway travel: the seaside holiday. At this early point in June however Charlotte is free to enjoy the beach and panoramas on her own, which was much more to this very private woman’s taste.

The sea always had a powerful effect on Charlotte Brontë. On this occasion we hear that the sea is ‘very grand’ and Charlotte had stood for an hour simply watching them. Ellen Nussey gave us of an account of the first time Charlotte ever saw the sea, on an 1839 trip the two great friends had made to Burlington (now called Bridlington):

“‘The day but one after their capture they walked to the sea, and as soon as they were near enough for Charlotte to see it in its expanse, she was quite over-powered, she could not speak till she had shed some tears she signed to her friend to leave her and walk on; this she did for a few steps, knowing full well what Charlotte was passing through, and the stern efforts she was making to subdue her emotions her friend turned to her as soon as she thought she might without inflicting pain; her eyes were red and swollen, she was still trembling, but submitted to be led onwards where the view was less impressive; for the remainder of the day she was very quiet, subdued, and exhausted. Distant glimpses of the German Ocean had been visible as the two friends neared the coast on the day of their arrival, but Charlotte being without her glasses, could not see them, and when they were described to her, she said, “Don’t tell me any more. Let me wait.”’

13 years later and Charlotte was at the Yorkshire coast for a much more sombre reason. She had returned to Scarborough, 8 miles north of Filey, to visit the grave of her beloved sister Anne Brontë for the first time since her death in 1849. Charlotte was horrified to see a succession of errors on Anne’s headstone, and paid to have them corrected but one still remains: the stone still declares that Anne was 28 at the time of her death, when she was actually 29.

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

Retreating from Scarborough to Filey, Charlotte was alone with the sea, with the seagulls, with the crashing waves, with her memories of those awful days exactly three years earlier. The days when she had travelled from Haworth to Scarborough with Anne (joined by Ellen Nussey en route) but returned to Haworth alone and broken-hearted. Nevertheless, it is telling that there is something, or someone, who has lifted her spirits.

After encountering a farcical little church where congregation, singers and ministers turned their backs on one another (it seems likely to me that this was the tiny Speeton church between Filey and Flamborough) she wishes that Arthur Bell Nicholls could have seen it – and how he would laugh! This is perhaps the only time that we hear of Arthur being humorous and fond of laughing, and the first time we get a glimpse of a growing affection between Charlotte and Arthur. Perhaps it was this that led to Arthur proposing to Charlotte at the close of that year? He was soundly rejected, but in 1854 they were married.

Speeton church
St. Leonard’s church, Speeton

The east coast resorts made a huge impact on Charlotte’s life, and we can see the impact the sea had on her in her brilliant final novel Villette. The sea is almost a character in itself – it is wild, it is life-affirming, it is powerful, it is deadly. Charlotte Brontë would not forget Filey and Filey has not forgotten her. Cliff House, the place where Charlotte stayed in 1852 and from where she wrote the above letter to her father, is now called “Charlotte’s”.

Charlotte's of Filey

I hope you can join me next week for another new Brontë blog post.

Remembering Anne Brontë On Her 175th Anniversary

Today is a sad anniversary for Brontë lovers, as it marks the 175th anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë. The youngest of the six Brontë siblings was just 29 years old. Ellen Nussey recalled Anne’s final moments:

“She [Anne] still occupied her easy chair, looking so serene, so reliant: there was no opening for grief as yet, though all knew the separation was at hand. She clasped her hands, and reverently invoked a blessing from on high ; first upon her sister, then upon her friend, to whom she said, ‘Be a sister in my stead. Give Charlotte as much of your company as you can.’ She then thanked each for her kindness and attention. Ere long the restlessness of approaching death appeared, and she was borne to the sofa ; on being asked if she were easier, she looked gratefully at her questioner, and said, ‘It is not you who can give me ease, but soon all will be well through the merits of our Redeemer.’ Shortly after this, seeing that her sister could hardly restrain her grief, she said, ‘Take courage, Charlotte; take courage.’ Her faith never failed, and her eye never dimmed till about two o’clock, when she calmly and without a sigh passed from the temporal to the eternal. So still, and so hallowed were her last hours and moments. There was no thought of assistance or of dread. The doctor came and went two or three times. The hostess knew that death was near, yet so little was the house disturbed by the presence of the dying, and the sorrow of those so nearly bereaved, that dinner was announced as ready, through the half-opened door, as the living sister was closing the eyes of the dead one.”

Sunrise Over Sea
Sunrise Over Sea by Anne Bronte

Anne Brontë died on 28th May 1849 on the site of what is now the Grand Hotel, Scarborough. It was a location she loved, and she rests eternally in the churchyard of St. Mary’s church, in the shadow of Scarborough Castle. She will be remembered today in a memorial service at the self same church, and by literature lovers across the globe. Anne could never have imagined that her name would live on 175 years after her passing, but she was always a modest woman more concerned with the message she was imparting than in any fame or reward for herself.

I’m often asked just why Anne Brontë is my favourite Brontë sister. I love Charlotte and Emily too, of course, but for me it will always be Anne that holds a special place in my heart. Perhaps it is because she is the underdog, with her work unfairly neglected when compared to her more famous older sisters? I was once asked in a pub quiz ‘Who is the least famous Brontë sister?’ and, because I wanted to win, I had to give the answer I knew they would be looking for: Anne. Of course, the correct answer would be Maria or Elizabeth. The good news is that I think Anne is finally starting to get the reputation she deserves. More and more people are acknowledging that Anne Brontë deserves to be counted amongst the very top tier of British writers.

I also love Anne because her work manages to be both serious and humorous. Anne herself put it perfectly in her preface to the second edition of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall:

“I love to give innocent pleasure. Yet, be it understood, I shall not limit my ambition to this or even to producing a perfect work of art: time and talents so spent, I should consider wasted and misapplied. Such humble talents as God has given me I will endeavour to put to their greatest use; if I am able to amuse, I will try to benefit too; and when I feel it my duty to speak an unpalatable truth, with the help of God, I will speak it, though it be to the prejudice of my name and to the detriment of my reader’s immediate pleasure as well as my own.”

Anne Bronte 200
Anne Bronte drawn by Charlotte

Anne succeeded admirably in creating important works of literature that convey important messages. The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall was perhaps the first novel to set before readers the horrors of abusive marriages, the terror of addiction, the inequality between sexes and social classes, and the hypocrisy of organised religion and society at the time. This was an incredibly brave thing for Anne to do, and her incredible novel is as powerful and relevant today as it was in 1848. And yet, it still manages to entertain, to provide innocent pleasure – just as her wonderful debut novel Agnes Grey does.

Above all, it’s clear when we look at Anne’s life, as I have been privileged to do in two biographies and within this blog, that she was a kind, loving and compassionate woman. She adored animals, loved nature, and was religious without ever being judgmental. Anne was incredibly shy, yet she overcame this and made her way in life: she did, after all, hold down a job for more than five years, which was a far greater period than any of her siblings managed. She was a genius writer and a first class human being who had all the tools she needed to succeed in life – except one. She didn’t have time.

The grave of Anne Bronte

Anne died far too young, and her passing has surely left us without what would have been a succession of wonderful books. We can and should, therefore, treasure the novels and poetry Anne has loved us.We should also look at Anne’s life, and her passing, and remember that life is short, we never know what is waiting for us, so we must do all we can to use the talents we have to their fullest.

I leave you with Charlotte Brontë’s tribute to her youngest sister Anne, written during her time of mourning. Anne Brontë left this world 175 years ago today, but in a way she will never leave us whilst her books are still being read and enjoyed. Thank God for Anne Brontë.

“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 belovèd 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.”


What You Please, by Anne Bronte
What You Please, by Anne Bronte