Anne Bronte: Woman of Mystery

Anne Bronte could have been a literary force

Janeites beware. The Brontes are coming to town. After a solid decade of all things Jane, it seems Hollywood and the publishing industry are running out of ways to hook themselves to Jane’s genius and they are going to attempt to launch the same sort of love affair with the Bronte sisters.

Apparently, according to Flavorwire and California Chronicle – several movies are in the works. And just yesterday while strolling the aisles at Barnes and Nobel – I noticed several Bronte knock off offerings on the paperback table. One, By Jude Morgan , is a fictional account of the Bronte’s lives. I have read Juliet Barker’s huge and absorbing biography The Brontes and don’t feel the need to read a fictional account. Although, I may have to read it to see where the general path seems to be leading.

Yet, all this ramping up to all things Bronte leaves me cold just as all the Jane knock-offs did. As a life long lover of both Jane Austen and the Brontes, I have mixed emotions about this. I appreciate the fact that these attempts to blend Jane into the 21st century might expose her to a wider audience and for that reason alone, I say well, hurrah. But, I was not one who of those who enjoyed the immensely popular Lost in Austen series. I thought it was, to put it simply, stupid. So, I stopped watching. As for the Jane Austen sequels, while I admire the authors who can carefully mimic the writing style of Jane Austen ( it obviously can’t be done by a dummy) I have never been able to finish even one.

My interest in Jane lies more in the area of her letters,the  biographies written about her  (I have read at least five and made a list) and the investigative scholarship which abounds concerning her novels. (My favorite Jane bio is Claire Tomalin’s.) The movies and BBC series have all been equally delightful. As an ex-costumer I was entranced. Again, hurrah.

So, it won’t seem odd if I say I like all the same sorts of things about the Brontes, the movies and the biographies etc. As for the novels themselves, I prefer Charlotte and Anne’s fiction to Wuthering Heights. Emily’s poetry is glorious, wrenching and lovely.

Over the years, I have come to love Anne Bronte perhaps the best of the three. She is the most mysterious of the three sisters. Only five of her letters remain extant – why? And trust me, they are really nothing letters. More like finding a thank you note from my wedding. What was contained in the ‘gone forever’ letters of this innocent, obedient sister and daughter that required they all be destroyed?

The Branwell Bronte factor is not to be over looked either, he was a force to be reckoned with in their lives. I try to put myself in their shoes and realize how enervating he must have been, the toll HIS presence in their life took on all of them. Anne was closely aligned with Branwell’s fortunes, working in the same household as the Robinson children’s governess while Branwell was a tutor. Goodness, where did The Tenant of Wildfell Hall COME FROM? I am one of those readers who thinks large swaths of Agnes Grey is semi-autobiographical.

Anne at 13

Of the three sisters, Anne was the most self sacrificing and the most responsible. Had she lived, she would have been a Bronte force. Charlotte was, as it happened, the last one standing and yes, Jane Eyre is eminently readable and wonderful and goodness knows, I love it as much as the next girl. Charlotte, however,  crafted Anne’s image and down played her success as a writer. Survival of the fittest. What was wrong? Was it subconscious jealousy? Now, that would make a great mystery book, a great knock off. The missing letters. Maybe I will write it.

And so, while Hollywood and the publishing industry will blandly focus on the ubiquitous Jane Eyre (don’t get me wrong, I love it, but really, enough is enough) and the never done quite right Wuthering Heights, I think they are all missing the boat.

Anne is the jewel in the rough, the uncharted waters, the hook…

5 thoughts on “Anne Bronte: Woman of Mystery

  1. Yes, do write that book. Your observations are intriguing. I really like your last sentence. Hidden depths…

    Thanks also for the information on Jane biographies.

    I also agree with your comments about the 21st-centurisation of these great authors. They stand proud on their own. I can’t help but feel these attempts – whether tv programmes or ‘knock-offs’/continuations – are a kind of dumbing down, and playing to an audience which is assumed to not have the stamina for the real thing. That’s simply not true. Or is it an effort of others to ride on the coat-tails of great writers, rather than creating in their own right? Or am I just being grumpy? (It’s late here!)

    1. There is a new novel about Emily Dickinson’s love life! Yikes! The problem I have with these fictional accounts is the fact that there are many who will read it and think it is gospel. I prefer the treatment A.S. Byatt applied to victorian literature in ‘Possession’… she created characters and mimicked the literature of the time (which was brilliant!) You are so correct when you mention coat-tails! There is also going to be a new biography about Emily Dickinson – I can hardly wait!

  2. I read Agnes Grey two years ago and preferred her style of writing over that of her more prominent sister Charlotte (I’ve not read any of Emily’s work). There is a hint of Austen-esque style but it’s still distinctively Anne’s. It is very intriguing that none of her letters were kept!

    I agree with your viewpoint regarding the Lost in Austen production as well as the gothic spin-offs with monsters and all sorts of abnormal nonsense. 😉 But some of the sequels are enjoyable! Have you read any of Monica Fairview’s? She has a nice talent for weaving plots and writing dialogue.

    1. Thank you for the recommendation. I will look for one of Monica Fairview’s books. The zombie ridiculousness is what baffles me. I find it hard to believe Janeites are driving demand for these. I did read the reviews on Amazon and I suppose they poke fun and are lighthearted. People who are drawn to zombies and werewolves etc are probably able to enjoy them. And that is great! I am more of a ghost story kind of gal and could never get into the vampire, zombie genre.

      As to Anne’s letters… most likely they were full of information that would prove embarrassing concerning Branwell, since she was right there to witness what was actually transpiring. But, it does leave a hole. Just like Jane’s burned letters make one wonder what was going on in her life that was so different from the letters that were carefully chosen to survive by Cassandra. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

      1. The Darcy Cousins is my favorite of Monica Fairview’s work. Austenesque Reviews has a comprehensive list of the sequels and she’s written many book reviews as well.

        It really is shocking how Charlotte, as you mentioned, downplayed Anne’s talent. I can’t help but wonder if that was part of her motive for burning her letters- to give her distance between the writer and readers, but Branwell also seems a logical reason.

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