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…

Out for a Walk


Bronte Country
Bronte Country

“As early as 1850, Charlotte had observed that “various folks are beginning to come boring to Haworth, on the wise errand of seeing the scenery described in Jane Eyre and Shirley”. 

Something to add to your Bronte file, directions for walking in Bronte Country. This comes from Juliet Barker, Bronte biographer extraordinaire.

“It is work however that I cannot do in the evening for if I did, I should have no sleep at night…”


A new online, digital archive of original manuscripts will soon be available for viewing. The scribblings, crossouts and letters of many literary giants from Charlotte Bronte to Oscar Wilde wil be accesssible to all the scholars and novices (like me) who would die to see source material we would never previously have had a chance of seeing. The collection includes”handwritten versions of Blake’s The Four Zoas, Emily Brontë’s Gondal poems, and complete drafts of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.”

Also available the “heartbreaking correspondence by Charlotte Brontë as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her sister, Emily, and the poor health of her younger sister, Anne.”

And Emily’s Gondal poems – thrilling.

Literary Mystery: Why No 19th Century Blockbuster American Women?


Young Girl Ironing - Boston Museum Fine Arts
Young Girl Ironing - Boston Museum Fine Arts

From the Guardian:

“Did housework really prevent a George Eliot or Emily Brontë emerging in 19th-century America?”


A very interesting question. Where were the great American women novelists in the 19th century? They can’t say they were busy ironing because Charlotte Bronte ironed AND dashed off Jane Eyre –  


“Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the Brontës. In 1839 Charlotte wrote wearily to an old schoolfriend, “I manage the ironing, and keep the rooms clean; Emily does the baking, and attends to the kitchen.” True, there was an elderly female servant, Tabby Ackroyd, who had been at the parsonage for years, but her increasing frailty made her more of a hindrance than a help.”

I think American women were more devoted to writing poetry. Much of the published poetry was of the Helen Hunt Jackson variety :






What freeman knoweth freedom? Never he 

Whose father’s father through long lives have reigned 

O’er kingdoms which mere heritage attained. 

Though from his youth to age he roam as free 

As winds, he dreams not freedom’s ecstacy. 

But he whose birth was in a nation chained 

For centuries; where every breath was drained 

From breasts of slaves which knew not there could be 

Such thing as freedom,–he beholds the light 

Burst, dazzling; though the glory blind his sight 

He knows the joy. Fools laugh because he reels 

And weilds confusedly his infant will; 

The wise man watching with a heart that feels 

Says: “Cure for freedom’s harms is freedom still.” 


(HMMMMMMM….well – not my cup of tea)



Helen also wrote books – so American women were writing, just not writing the 19th century equivalent of the blockbuster. Helen wrote “Ramona” a book about Native American rights – pretty ground breaking, but not nearly as famous as the Brontes or Eliot or Helen’s contemporary – Emily Dickinson who like Helen, came from Amherst, Massachusetts. She was, however, well received during her time by the likes of Thomas Wentworth Higgins who chose to publish her poetry in The Atlantic over Emily’s. At the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson considered Helen the greatest American woman poet. 


I suppose Ramona just doesn’t have the staying power of the Brontes or Middlemarch. It is free on line, try it and see what you think…

Pins and Needles and Aching for a Good Book…



This is a window in Venice, but it has a Shadow of the Wind feel to it ... I haven't been to Barcelona... yet.
This is a window in Venice, but it has a Shadow of the Wind feel to it ... I haven't been to Barcelona, so I don't have any pictures ... yet.


About three or four years ago I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The book had a very inviting cover and I remember the sensation of losing myself in Barcelona while  sitting on my front porch in early summer.  I read it for three days practically non-stop. It had all the qualities of a great story: mystery, old secrets, lost love. I sighed heavily as I closed the book and was filled with regret I had read it so voraciously. On the other hand, it was unavoidable. Since finishing the book all those summers ago, I have been religiously checking Amazon to see if Mr. Zafon (who has the BEST name) has written another book.

Today, I was taking a brief break from whatever I was doing and I aimlessly brought up Amazon and typed Mr. Zafon’s name in the search box and wonder of wonders – he has written another book! I can hardly wait for June to get here, because that is when the book will be released.

Later, I found Mr. Zafon’s website and clicked around until I found the page where he lists his favorite things. I loved this list in particular:

  1. Indelible proof women are smarter than men:


JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte

THE FALLS by Joyce Carol Oates




BURNING YOUR BOATS, complete short fiction of Angela Carter

I have read every book on this list except The Falls – I will probably rush out with my very special, humungous Christmas Barnes and Noble gift certificate and purchase The Falls this weekend…

The Shadow of the Wind does have a very Bronte feel to it. All Bronte lovers should read it. 

Be sure to watch his atmospheric video about his new book The Angels Game. OH! I love waiting on pins and needles for a good book!

Reader, I blogged him…


One of my favorite current events blogs is ALTHOUSE. Ann Althouse is a Law Professor and champion blogger. I like her because she is honest and it seems to me she is real in the sense that no issue is ever completely black and white.  Plus, her live blogs are very fun and her commenters are articulate and smart.

Apparently, Ann and her commenter, Meade, have fallen in love and will marry soon. Cyber love. It’s not just for E-Harmony anymore! The New York Times has picked up on this 21st century love story and for all of Ann’s faithful, this is just flat out fun. The NYT’s cleverly makes the comparison to Gothic Romance and one of MY favorite novels, Jane Eyre. 

So, I have Photoshopped Ann into a Fashion Plate! Yes, it’s time for a Fashion Plate!!! 

Ann Althouse as Jane Eyre
Ann Althouse as Jane Eyre



I give you Jane Althouse Eyre… Reader, I married him…

(Thanks for clicking the link, Althouse readers!!)

Molly thinks Jane is too flouncy, probably. But I was thinking more along the lines of the Charlotte Gainsborough movie version (Jane Eyre, 1996’ish) and the dress she wore. Anyway – Molly has a really nice blog – check it out!