Anne "Agnes Grey" Brontë (1820-1849)

Anne was born 17 January 1820, youngest child of Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë. Her mother died when she was only a year old, and when the two oldest siblings died of consumption in 1825, Anne was really too young to remember1. She and Emily were especially close, writing together on their imaginary world of Gondal, a kingdom mostly separate from Angria, which Charlotte and brother Branwell wrote about. Like all the Brontë sisters, Anne was rather too dependent on these imaginary writings, but she had a strong sense of family duty2. So she went away to school, where there was no time for such flights of fancy, and trained as a governess. Her health was not terribly good, but she perservered. In May of 1840, she went as governess to the home of the Reverend Edmund Robinson, where she would work for some years3.

In 1843, Branwell went with Anne to the Robinsons' to act as tutor to the older boys of the family. When Branwell was dismissed in disgrace about two years later, Anne resigned her post, feeling that was the only proper thing to do4. Though she was apparently glad to leave the post, she was depressed over the uncertainty of her future. The publication of the sisters' Poems in May 1846 was quite a bright spot for her, even though they didn't sell very well. Still, this publication encouraged all of them to write novels for publication, Anne's contribution being Agnes Grey. This novel, like Emily's Wuthering Heights, was published right after Jane Eyre in hopes of cashing in on that novel's success5. Anne was at least optimistic enough to write a second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall6.

When Branwell died in September of 1848, it was Anne who took over many of the necessary arrangements, as Charlotte had taken ill. When Emily died of consumption three months later, Charlotte was the pillar of strength, as Anne herself was beginning to feel the first symptoms of her own fatal illness. The only thing that cheered her was the quiet but noticeable success of her poems in various literary magazines. When she was told that she, too, had consumption, in January of 1849, she nearly broke down completely under the weight of illness and her own religious doubts, but hid her panic from her family, still reeling from the two previous losses7. Using a legacy from Anne's recently-desceased godmother, Charlotte took her to the seaside (which she loved) in hopes of a cure8. She died at Scarborough on 28 May 1849; her last words being, "Take courage, Charlotte, take courage."

Barker, Juliet. The Brontës. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

  1. So she escaped a lot of the psychological trauma that Charlotte and Emily went through.

  2. She was also, rather strangely, the only really religious child in the family. Her religious lyrics rank with those of Cowper, according to the biographical note in Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Penguin Classics Edition). I know, you probably haven't heard of Cowper, but trust me, he's a very respected religious lyric poet. If you'd like to drop his name sometime, it's pronounced 'Cooper'.

  3. Six years or so later, Anne would write about her experiences as a governess in her first novel, Agnes Grey. Though obviously not so well known as Charlotte's Jane Eyre, it's generally considered a much better picture of the really awful life most governesses led.

  4. I can see where staying would have been awkward, seeing as how Branwell had probably had an affair with Mrs. Robinson and all.

  5. You've probably heard of the pen names the sisters used: Acton, Ellis, and Currer Bell. At the time, there were strong rumors that all three Bells were actually one person. Whether that person was male or female, well, there wasn't much agreement on that point.

  6. If you're really into the Brontës, try reading this one. It was based on things that actually happened to a friend of the family's, and the male lead is pretty heavily modelled after Branwell--naturally enough, as Anne, like all unmarried Victorian females, wasn't really allowed to get to know any men.

  7. From a letter from Charlotte to her publisher and friend, William Smith Williams: "Anne cannot study now, she can scarcely read; she occupies Emily's chair - she does not get well." Thats about as down of a downer as you can get.

  8. I can't figure out why no one ever seemed to notice that these rest cures for consumption NEVER worked.

Selected Works

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