Anne Bronte Grave
Many people are aware that Anne Bronte’s grave is situated in Scarborough – at the northern end of St. Mary’s churchyard, beneath Scarborough Castle walls; but few know anything of how Anne Bronte came to be interred there, or what her connections with the resort were.
Anne Bronte (born on the 17th of January 1820 and died on the 28th of May 1849) was a British novelist and poet, the youngest member of the Bronte literary family.
The daughter of a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, Anne Bronte lived most of her life with her family at the parish of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors.
After leaving her teaching position, she fulfilled her literary ambitions. She wrote a volume of poetry with her sisters (Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, 1846) and two novels. Agnes Grey, based upon her experiences as a governess, was published in 1847. Her second and last novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is considered to be one of the first sustained feminist novels, appeared in 1848.
Anne’s life was cut short when she died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 29.
Education of Anne Bronte
Anne’s studies at home included music and drawing. Anne, Emily and Branwell had piano lessons from the Keighley church organist. They had art lessons from John Bradley of Keighley and all drew with some skill. Their aunt tried to teach the girls how to run a household, but their minds were more inclined to literature.
Their father’s well-stocked library was a source of knowledge. They read the Bible, Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Scott, and many others, they examined articles from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Fraser’s Magazine, and The Edinburgh Review and read history, geography and biographies. Reading fed the children’s imagination.
Their creativity soared after their father presented Branwell with a set of toy soldiers in June 1826. They gave the soldiers names and developed their characters, which they called the “Twelves”. This led to the creation of an imaginary world: the African kingdom of “Angria” which was illustrated with maps and watercolour renderings. The children devised plots about the inhabitants of Angria and its capital city, “Glass Town”, later called Verreopolis or Verdopolis. The fantasy worlds and kingdoms gradually acquired the characteristics of real world—sovereigns, armies, heroes, outlaws, fugitives, inns, schools and publishers. The characters and lands created by the children had newspapers, magazines and chronicles which were written in extremely tiny books, with writing so small it was difficult to read without a magnifying glass. These creations and writings were an apprenticeship for their later, literary talents.
In 1839, a year after leaving the school and aged 19, she was seeking a teaching position. As the daughter of a poor clergyman, she needed to earn a living. Her father had no private income and the parsonage would revert to the church on his death. Teaching or working as governess for a family were among the few options available to poor but educated women.
In April, 1839, Anne started work as a governess for the Ingham family at Blake Hall, near Mirfield, 10 miles west of Wakefield. The children in her charge were spoilt and wild, persistently disobedient and tormented her. She had great difficulty controlling them, and little success in instilling any education. She was not empowered to inflict punishment, and when she complained about their behaviour received no support, but was criticised for not being capable. The Inghams, dissatisfied with their children’s progress, dismissed Anne. She returned home at Christmas, 1839, joining Charlotte and Emily, who had left their positions, and Branwell.
The episode at Blake Hall was so traumatic that she reproduced it in almost perfect detail in her novel, Agnes Grey.
Anne obtained a second post as governess to the children of the Reverend Edmund Robinson and his wife Lydia, at Thorp Green, a wealthy country house near York. Thorp Green appeared as Horton Lodge in her novel Agnes Grey.
Anne had four pupils: Lydia, age 15, Elizabeth, age 13, Mary, age 12, and Edmund, age 8.
Initially, she encountered similar problems as she had experienced at Blake Hall. Anne missed her home and family, commenting in a diary paper in 1841 that she did not like her situation and wished to leave it. Her quiet, gentle disposition did not help. However, despite her outwardly placid appearance, Anne was determined, and with experience, made a success of her position, becoming well liked by her employers. Her charges, the Robinson girls, became lifelong friends. For the next five years, Anne spent no more than five or six weeks a year with her family, during holidays at Christmas and in June. The rest of her time was spent with the Robinsons at Thorp Green.
She was obliged to accompany them on annual holidays to Scarborough. Between 1840 and 1844, Anne spent around five weeks each summer at the resort, and loved the place.
A number of locations in Scarborough were the setting for Agnes Grey ‘s final scenes and for Linden-Car village in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall..
Whilst working for the Robinsons, Anne and her sisters considered the possibility of setting up a school. Various locations, including the parsonage, were considered. The project never materialised and Anne chose to return to Thorp Green.
She came home on the death of her aunt in early November 1842, while her sisters were in Brussels. Elizabeth Branwell left a £350 legacy for each of her nieces.
Anne returned to Thorp Green in January 1843 where she secured a position for Branwell. He was to take over as tutor to the Robinsons’ son, Edmund who was growing too old to be in Anne’s care. Branwell did not live in the house as Anne did. Anne’s vaunted calm appears to have been the result of hard-fought battles, balancing deeply felt emotions with careful thought, a sense of responsibility, and resolute determination.
All three Bronte sisters worked as governesses or teachers, and all experienced problems controlling their charges, gaining support from their employers, and coping with homesickness—but Anne was the only one who persevered and made a success of her work.
Book of Poems
In summer 1845, the Brontes were at home with their father. None had any immediate prospect of employment. Charlotte came across Emily’s poems which had been shared only with Anne, her partner in the world of Gondal. Charlotte proposed that they be published. Anne revealed her own poems but Charlotte’s reaction was characteristically patronising: “I thought that these verses too had a sweet sincere pathos of their own”.
Eventually the sisters reached an agreement. They told neither Branwell, nor their father, nor their friends about what they were doing.
Anne and Emily contributed 21 poems and Charlotte 19 and with Aunt Branwell’s money, they paid to have the collection published.
Afraid their work would be judged differently if they revealed they were women, the book appeared using three pseudonyms—or pen-names, the initials of which were the same as their own. Charlotte became Currer Bell, Emily, Ellis Bell and Anne, Acton Bell. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell was available for sale in May 1846.
The cost of publication was about three-quarters of Anne’s salary at Thorp Green. On 7 May 1846, the first three copies were delivered to Haworth Parsonage. It achieved three somewhat favourable reviews, but was a dismal failure, with only two copies being sold in the first year.
Anne, however, found a market for her more recent poetry. The Leeds Intelligencer and Fraser’s Magazine published her poem “The Narrow Way” under her pseudonym, Acton Bell in December 1848. Four months earlier, in August, Fraser’s Magazine had published her poem “The Three Guides”.
The Blue Bell Poem
The Blue Bell
A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.
Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life S
o many leagues away;
That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.
Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.
Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.
But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.
Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?
O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,
Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.
I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.
‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.
By Anne Bronte
Even before the fate of the book of poems became apparent, the sisters began work on their first novels.
Charlotte wrote The Professor, Emily Wuthering Heights, and Anne Agnes Grey.
By July 1846, a package with the three manuscripts was making the rounds of London publishers. After a number of rejections, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey were accepted by a publisher, but Charlotte’s novel was rejected by every publisher to whom it was sent.
Charlotte was not long in completing her second novel, Jane Eyre, and it was immediately accepted by Smith, Elder & Co. and was the first to appear in print. While Anne and Emily’s novels ‘lingered in the press’, Charlotte’s second novel was an immediate and resounding success.
Anne and Emily were obliged to pay fifty pounds to help meet their publishing costs. Their publisher, urged on by the success of Jane Eyre, published Anne and Emily’s novels in December 1847. They sold well, but Agnes Grey was outshone by Emily’s more dramatic Wuthering Heights.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was published in the last week of June 1848. It was an instant, phenomenal success; within six weeks it was sold out. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is perhaps the most shocking of the Brontes’ novels. In seeking to present the truth in literature, Anne’s depiction of alcoholism and debauchery was profoundly disturbing to 19th-century sensibilities. Helen Graham, the tenant of the title, intrigues Gilbert Markham and gradually she reveals her past as an artist and wife of the dissipated Arthur Huntingdon.
The book’s brilliance lies in its revelation of the position of women at the time, and its multi-layered plot. It is easy today to underestimate the extent to which the novel challenged existing social and legal structures. May Sinclair, in 1913, said that the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England. Anne’s heroine eventually left her husband to protect their young son from his influence. She supported herself and her son by painting, while living in hiding, fearful of discovery. In doing so, she violated not only social conventions, but English law. At the time, a married woman had no independent legal existence apart from her husband; could not own property, sue for divorce, or control custody of her children. If she attempted to live apart, her husband had the right to reclaim her. If she took their child, she was liable for kidnapping. In living off her own earnings, she was held to be stealing her husband’s property, since any income she made was legally his.
Only in their late twenties, a highly successful literary career appeared a certainty for Anne and her sisters. However, an impending tragedy was to engulf the family. Within the next ten months, three of the siblings, including Anne, would be dead.
Branwell’s health had deteriorated over two years, but its seriousness was disguised by his persistent drunkenness. He died on the morning of 24 September 1848. His sudden death came as a shock to the family. He was aged 31. The cause was recorded as chronic bronchitis – marasmus; though it is now believed he was suffering from tuberculosis.
The family had suffered from coughs and colds during the winter of 1848 and Emily next became severely ill. She deteriorated rapidly over two months, persistently refusing all medical aid until the morning of 19 December, when, being so weak, she declared: “if you will send for a doctor, I will see him now”. It was far too late. At about two o’clock that afternoon, after a hard, short conflict in which she struggled desperately to hang on to life, she died, aged 30.
On Sunday, 27 May, Anne asked Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining at Scarborough.
A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was close. Anne received the news quietly. She expressed her love and concern for Ellen and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte’s distress, whispered to her to “take courage”.
Conscious and calm, Anne died at about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monday, 28 May 1849.
Over the following days, Charlotte made the decision to “lay the flower where it had fallen”. Anne was buried, not in Haworth with the rest of her family, but in Scarborough.
The funeral was held on Wednesday, 30 May, which did not allow time for Patrick Brontë to make the 70-mile journey, had he wished to do so.
The former schoolmistress at Roe Head, Miss Wooler, was in Scarborough and she was the only other mourner at Anne’s funeral.
She was buried in St. Mary’s churchyard, beneath the castle walls, overlooking the bay.
Charlotte commissioned a stone to be placed over her grave, with the simple inscription “Here lie the remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Revd. P. Brontë, Incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire. She died, Aged 28, 28 May 1849”.
Anne was 29 at the time of her death.
A year after Anne’s death, further editions of her novels were reprinted but Charlotte prevented re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
In 1850, Charlotte wrote “Wildfell Hall it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve. The choice of subject in that work is a mistake, it was too little consonant with the character, tastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring inexperienced writer.”
Subsequent critics paid less attention to Anne’s work, although in recent years, with increasing critical interest in female authors, her life is being re-examined and her work re-evaluated leading to her acceptance, not as a minor Bronte, but as a major literary figure in her own right.