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…

“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.

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!

Soul’s Impressions Linger at Haworth























One of the things I love best about reading blogs is the ability to click links. It is like going on an intellectual treasure hunt.  Usually, the links to news stories send you to something which has recently appeared in a periodical or website. The power of Google, however, gives us news stories going back into the 19th century! What fun! 

One of my dreams is to finally visit the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth someday.  Naturally, I fantasize about wandering around by myself, like the characters in the Justine Picardie novel “Daphne,” I realize this is a fantastic delusion, I know the reality will be that my visit, when it occurs, will take place in a group of fellow pilgrims, looking at the hallowed dining room table in a carefully controlled tourist environment. 


You can view Charlotte's wedding clothes and, according to Ms. Picardie, a lock of Emily's hair! OOOO - lovely!
You can view Charlotte's wedding clothes and, according to Ms. Picardie, a lock of Emily's hair! OOOO - lovely!


So, imagine my delight when I found this story  written for the Telegraph of London by Justine Picardie about a seance of sort which was conducted at the Parsonage in 2006! OOOO! This is a delicious article about the souls of the Bronte’s lingering in their beloved home. Two psychics were invited to wander the parsonage and see if they could pick up any vibes. One, the article relates, was Henrietta Llewelyn Davies, the granddaughter of one of the Llewelyn Davies brothers – one of, “the Lost Boys upon whom JM Barrie based Peter Pan.” Like the Emily Dickinson properties the possibility of a ghostly presence sends shivers up the spine.

I can’t dismiss the the cosmic link between the Brontes and the Lost Boys, as the name Llewelyn Davies continues to pop up in my readings….it is lovely to be shivery.

Last Night I Dreamt I Went to Manderly…


Daphne Du Maurier
Daphne Du Maurier

I recently finished reading Justine Picardie’s novel Daphne. I hesitated before ordering it with the gigantic Barnes and Noble gift certificate I get for Christmas from my work buddies each year ($500!!!!) because I hate it when I order a book that disappoints. That’s why I usually save my certificate for purchasing sure things like hard backs of books I have already read and want to add to my permanent library. How stupid is that?

Anyway – I took the plunge, entered my gift cert number and hit the button … I then foolishly began perusing Amazon reviews and started to doubt myself. So, when the book actually arrived, I didn’t dive in, I glanced at it out of the corner of my eye as it sat next to my bed for two weeks. Then, I moved it around with me wherever I went, leaving it on my mother’s writing desk where I read in the mornings for two days and the coffee table which is piled with books for another week.

I decided to read two warm up books, The Seance (good) and The Ghost Writer (creepy good) both by John Harwood. During all if this, I was still working away on biographies of Emily Dickinson, Emma Hamilton and Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire. I am almost finished with Emily, 3/4’s finished with Emma and 1/4 with Georgiana.

So, I finally started Daphne on a dark and rainy evening. I LOVED IT. I read it while stirring sauce, running bath water, letting the dog out. It was completely gift certificate worthy. It is basically a a fictionalized account based during the time Daphne DuMaurier was writing her biography about Branwell Bronte in the late 1950’s. The story shifts back and forth from Daphne, her correspondence with a disgraced former Bronte curator, Alex Symington and a fictional character who is contemporary.Therefore it qualifies as my favorite kind of book: a back-n-forth book. For informational purposes and clarity, both DuMaurier and Symington were actual people. The plot concerning the fictional modern character cleverly mimics Daphne’s greatest novel, Rebecca. This young woman is researching Daphne for a Phd thesis and comes across the correspondence between Daphne and Mr. Symington. She is slightly obsessed with Daphne, but you don’t feel as if she is round the bend. It really is atmospheric and well written and if you like a good literary mystery, while the mystery part is fairly low key, this is a good read. I read it during a rainy week, so that was even better.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Some caveats: I may have loved this so much because I knew a lot about Daphne. But don’t let that stop you. You can do some fun research. I understood the back story which is kind of alluded to in the novel but not really clarified to for purposes of brevity, I am sure. I have read almost all Daphne Du Maurier’s novels ( not the Branwell Bio – which I plan to add to my stack) and I have read the definitive Biography about her by Margaret Forster. This biography, if you like biographies, is excellent. Also, another very helpful thing to know is the gist of the story surrounding J.M.Barrie (Peter Pan)and the children who were his models for The Lost Boys. Actually, it is one of the saddest tales of family tragedy. As it happens, Peter Pan was Daphne DuMaurier’s first cousin. Being someone who has close cousinly relationships, I was very sympathetic to Daphne’s relationship with Peter. I was propelled into research about J.M. Barrie after watching Finding Never-land. This excellent website will give you heaps of background information and if you don’t feel incredibly sad after looking at all of the pictures, you aren’t well and I would suggest you stop taking your anti-depressants.

Anyway – WONDERFUL BOOK. Have a go…

Charlotte Bronte’s Nurse – Nancy Wainwright


The Fate of Charlotte's Nurse?
The Fate of Charlotte's Nurse?

I was searching around through old news stories the other day. I find it very intriguing to read what was written about people like Jane Austen and the Brontes during the century they actually inhabited. It is interesting to compare the writing style to today’s columnists and jounalists. It also serves to track the evolution of the public persona of these literary giants.

Imagine my surprise to see the headline Charlotte Bronte’s Nurse in the New York Times December 24, 1884. Her name was Nancy Wainwright. Naturally, this sent me on a clicking spree. Oh, the story is tragic. I wonder how old she was when she was the Bronte nurse? They were born in the 18-teens. She must have been just a young girl. I had to know more about the workhouse and it is grim.  Poor Nancy Wainwright. Unfortunately, no one responded to the first article. She died there. I am still trying to figure out if she avoided the fate of a pauper’s grave.

Scrooge asked “Are there no workhouses?” Unfortunately, for Nancy Wainwright, the answer was yes, long after Scrooge had his epiphany…

Continue reading “Charlotte Bronte’s Nurse – Nancy Wainwright”

The Visual Bronte – Yes, I love them too

It may seem odd, but I had never actually read any of the Bronte’s novels before I was thirty one years old. For a Bronte devotee, this is rather late. Up to this point in my life, I felt as if all the movie and small screen adaptations had ruined the books for me. This is not to say I wasn’t in love with the storylines. Quite the contrary, I adored the early Hollywood attempts at Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I watched both of these movies over and over on a program broadcast Sunday afternoons in Chicago, Illinois called “Family Classics.” As a small girl, I fantasized about running through heather and all things English; I was born an American Anglophile.  

When I was an adolescent, sometime in the early 70’s, I saw another version of Wuthering Heights. It was more troubling, wilder and titillating than the 1939 version. If anything, it made my desire to actually read the book even more remote, because by this time I had seen Wuthering Heights at least once a year since I was five years old.

When I saw the 1983 BBC Jane Eyre production, I was enthralled but it seemed so thorough, I was convinced reading the book was completely unnecessary.

I came to my love for the actual novels of the Bronte’s rather late. I discovered them through the back door, so to speak. Being a great reader of biographies, I stumbled upon Rebecca Fraser’s book The Brontes, Charlotte Bronte and Her Family in 1990 and fell into the world of this remarkable family with a layman’s interest that has never abated. It was Rebecca Fraser’s biography which made me want to, no; need to read the books for myself.

Reading Jane Eyre at the ripe old age of 31 was amazing. In many ways, I was grateful none of my English teachers required the Bronte’s for any high school reading assignments. Reading Jane Eyre in the wake of the Fraser biography felt like one must feel when making an archeological discovery. For me, reading Jane Eyre for the first time felt like opening the tomb of King Tut. It seemed remarkable to read this novel and discover writing so present, so alive in spite of it having been published in 1847. I was amazed to hear Charlotte Bronte’s voice in my own head.

I went on a Charlotte Bronte spree, Shirley, Villette and when the Juliet Barker biography The Bronte’s was published, I devoured it even while I continued my self education by reading the novels of Emily and Anne.

When the 1996 film, Jane Eyre, was released, I was first in line at the movie theatre. I loved this version, and forgave its shortcomings. The look of Charlotte Gainsborough enchanted me and having a degree in costume design, I adored the costumes throughout.

This movie kindled a memory I had from Fraser’s biography. It was a picture of Charlotte Bronte’s wedding bonnet. For me, the visual aspect of the Bronte Myth had always played a powerful part in my measured self education of all things Bronte.

Perhaps this is what prompted me to make my very own adaptation of Jane Eyre. After finding some very old lace in an antique store, I felt compelled to create my own idea of Jane based on the bonnet pictured in Fraser’s book. I recreated Jane in doll form and in an attempt to interpret her inner purity, dressed her in white. Whatever the reasons; my Jane doll is an outgrowth of my early visual response to the Bronte mystique. My life long Bronte journey began by watching Hollywood’s visual re-creations of the novels. My Jane Eyre doll brings me full circle.