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.

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!

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.

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.