Anne Brontë is the third literary Brontë sister, and she’s the least known. She only published three books before she died at 29 years old due to tuberculosis, but her novels were enjoyed and talked about during her life — though not so much after. Nonetheless, she deserves as much recognition as her sisters. Read on to learn more!
This book of poems was published by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë in 1846. They published the book under masculine pen names due to prejudice toward women writers at this time. Only a few copies of the first edition were sold, and it was a commercial failure. The second edition, which included more poems and was published after Emily and Anne’s deaths and the release of Jane Eyre, did better.
The first edition had 61 poems in total. Charlotte wrote 19, and Emily and Anne each wrote 21. They decided to publish their poems after Charlotte found Emily’s poems, which she enjoyed and insisted should be published. This doubled when Anne produced her poems, and Charlotte said that her verses “had a sweet, sincere pathos of their own.” So they combined a selection of each of their poems to publish under pen names. Their true names were not revealed until much later after Emily and Anne had passed and Charlotte was tired of pretending.
Agnes Grey’s family is in debt, and she only has a few choices for employment. She is eager to prove herself to her family and the world as a responsible woman, so she becomes a governess to a rich family. As she works as a governess, she learns how challenging it is to teach young and spoiled children and that wealth corrupts, while struggling with insecurities about whether she will ever find love and happiness.
This was published in 1847, which is the same year that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were published. The novel was likely based on Anne’s own experiences as a governess, which were very similar to Agnes’s. It’s a serious novel that deals with themes such as isolation and oppression, which Anne likely felt, both as a woman and as a governess.
Gilbert Markham is enamored by Helen Graham, a gorgeous yet mysterious woman who moves into Wildfell Hall. He quickly befriends her, refusing to listen to gossip regarding her character and behavior. But he begins to regret his desire for Helen as doubts start swirling in his mind. He discovers the truth when Helen tells him to read her diary, which is when he finds out about her past.
This book was shocking when it came out, particularly for challenging Victorian-era morals, such as the upper class’s exclusion of people from the lower class and the treatment of women. It may be for these reasons that Charlotte prevented the novel from being republished after Anne died. (And she called the content a “mistake.”) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was immensely popular at the time it was published, but Charlotte’s decision caused people to forget about the book.
Anne Brontë doesn’t get the recognition she deserves for her wonderful writing that was far ahead of its time. While there isn’t much of it available, perhaps we can still change that.
For an article on Anne Brontë, click here.