It’s time to get out the balloons, pop the cork on a bottle of prosecco (or have a nice cup of tea), hang up the pinata, slice a cake, and sit back with your favourite book. It’s a moment of celebration, for today marks the 199th birthday of the woman without whom this blog would not be possible: Anne Brontë.
Anne was born on the 17th January 1820 in Thornton Parsonage near Bradford, where her father Patrick was the Church of England priest. Just three months later, baby Anne would be heading to a new home in Haworth with her five siblings: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell and Emily – the sister who would develop a twin like affection with her as they grew older. In many posts on this site, and in my book ‘In Search Of Anne Brontë‘, I’ve looked at the many reasons that make Anne Brontë special, and her work deserves to be regarded as equal to that of her sisters Charlotte and Emily, and indeed of any novel produced in the nineteenth century. In short, Anne’s prose is brilliant, it flows quickly and jumps from the page with not a word wasted; she was also unafraid to address the issues of her day, however controversial that made her with some people, and when we read her works now we often see that they remain issues of our day too.
Anne Brontë then is a major novelist, an increasingly important writer who is still being read and heard, and understood, and whose best days may yet be to come. It’s also important to remember that she was a sister, a daughter, a friend, maybe a lover (in the way that term was understood in the nineteenth century); she was a kind, considerate and brilliant woman who never put herself first, and for those who knew her it was a privilege to be in her company. Wherever we are today, whether laying flowers at the graveside in her beloved Scarborough, next to the magnificent St. Mary’s church, treading the streets and moorland so familiar to her in Haworth, or simply thinking of her wherever in the world we happen to be, we can take a moment to reflect and be thankful for all she was and all she did.
Let’s look now at one of the finest examples of her writing, when Helen, the eponymous tenant of Wildfell Hall, reveals her love for Gilbert, despite the trials, tribulations and worse of the abusive marriage to Huntingdon she has just survived:
”Without waiting for an answer, she turned away her glistening eye and crimson cheek, and threw up her window and looked out, whether to calm her own excited feelings or to relieve her embarrassment, or only to pluck that beautiful half-blown Christmas rose that grew upon the little shrub without, just peeping from the snow that had hitherto, no doubt, defended it from the frost, and was now melting away in the sun. Pluck it, however, she did, and having gently dashed the glittering powder from its leaves, approached it to her lips and said –
“This rose is not so fragrant as a summer flower, but it has stood through hardships none of them could bear: the cold rain of winter has sufficed to nourish it, and its faint sun to warm it; the bleak winds have not blanched it, or broken its stem, and the keen frost has not blighted it. Look, Gilbert, it is still fresh and blooming as a flower can be, with the cold snow even now on its petals – Will you have it?”’
Anne’s writing was her gift to us all, the Christmas flower that we’re all presented with; it has been neglected but we can appreciate it’s beauty and power even more because of that, so yes, we’ll have it, and we’ll join together and say ‘Happy 199th Birthday, Anne Brontë, we love you!’