Anne Brontë at 200

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Anne Brontë at 200

This year marks Anne Brontë's 200th birthday. While frequently overshadowed by her two older sisters Charlotte and Emily, Anne (under the pen name Acton Bell) contributed to the book of poetry that was their first published work. She also wrote and published two novels before her death at age 29 in 1849.

Below are a selection of titles written by or featuring Anne Brontë and her two older sisters. Copies are available to check out and download from the library.

Everyman's Library Agnes Grey; The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
I've selected and linked to the Everyman's Library edition since it has both of Anne's novels. In Agnes Grey, a young woman becomes a governess to support her family. Agnes discovers the challenges of being a governess and her role in the households of the families for whom she works. The novel is based on Anne's experiences as a governess and was her debut novel in 1847. In The Tenant of Wildfell Fall, Gilbert Markham and his family are curious about a young widow who leases an empty home called Wildfell Hall. He becomes acquainted with Helen and learns she escaped her abusive, alcoholic husband. Because of the themes in the novel, it was shocking when it was published in 1848. Contextual notes and chronology are included.

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
In this historical mystery novel, set in Yorkshire in 1845, a local young wife and mother disappears under mysterious circumstances. Branwell Brontë, son of the local parson, informs his three sisters of the news. Curious and wanting to help, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë become amateur lady detectors. Despite disapproval from their father, Branwell, and the locals, the Brontë sisters are determined to discover what led to the young woman's disappearance. It's a fascinating imagined look at who the Brontë sisters were before they became novelists.

The Brontës by Juliet Barker
The definitive biography about the Brontë family! The book opens with a young Irishman arriving at St. John's College in Cambridge, Britain. Because of the young man's accent, he was registered as Patrick Branty. Later, Patrick changed the spelling to Brontë, marking the beginning of the Brontë family story. The book chronicles the Brontë family over the course of the 19th century and ends with the death of Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte Brontë's husband, in 1906. The author extensively researched the Brontë family and included previously overlooked archive materials and manuscripts. I learned a lot about the family reading this book! Maps, archival photos and illustrations are included.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
This novel's protagonist, American graduate student Samantha Whipple, is used to people wondering about her since she is a descendant of the Brontë family. There are rumors and speculation of a hidden trove of the Brontës' personal documents and manuscripts. Samantha has never seen this legacy and thinks it doesn't exist. When Samantha's father dies, she goes to read (British meaning study) English literature at Oxford University. Objects related to the Brontë family begin to appear in her room. As Samantha uses the clues to solve the mystery of the Brontë legacy, she learns about herself and her family. I liked that Anne Brontë is recognized an accomplished writer!

The Secret History of Jane Eyre by John Pfordresher
In August 1846, as Reverend Patrick Brontë was resting from eye surgery, his daughter Charlotte began writing her novel Jane Eyre. The family's finances were a concern. Branwell was unable to hold a job because of his alcoholism and drug abuse. His youngest sister Anne had to leave to her post as governess because of Branwell's unprofessional conduct. The author examines the events in Charlotte's life that influenced her debut novel and the lengths that Charlotte took to cover up that she was the author. The secrecy held for a time until Charlotte and Anne had to go to London regarding their novels. This book can be an insight into Anne's experience writing her debut novel Agnes Grey also about a governess. Also, Anne's novel was viewed as the most realistic depiction of the lives of governesses.

Bonus viewing recommendation: To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters (2016)
In 1845, Charlotte Brontë is concerned about the future. Her only brother Branwell has had to leave his job as a tutor, and Reverend Patrick Brontë has poor eyesight. What will she and her sisters do to support themselves? One day, Charlotte discovers her sister Emily's poetry. Over the following months, the three sisters work on their manuscripts and submit them for publication under pen names of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Charlie Murphy plays Anne Bronte. I appreciated the show was filmed in the Brontë family's hometown Haworth. The show first broadcasted in the UK in 2016 and then on PBS's "Masterpiece" in 2017. The bonus feature provides a look behind the making of the show.