A Vision of Anne Brontë
by
Maria Torres

 
Maria Torres (New York)
Maria Torres

Anne Brontë has been horribly underrated, and still is - even the Brontë Transactions publish very, very few articles about her. For me, her personality and writing are characterized by sincerity and a quiet, dry sense of satire. One of the themes of her life is quiet courage and over-coming of obstacles: She is the only Brontë sister who succeeded in earning a living and in making a positive impression on her charges. Two of her former Robinson students came all the way to Haworth to visit her in 1848. They wrote to her on a regular basis before that, asking advice. To this degree, she was more of a success than Charlotte. Her innate shyness gave way to an ability to communicate her thoughts in a brisk, charming, direct manner. Where Charlotte seemed, at times, to relish her in-drawn aspect in public, Anne struggled to conquer hers. And when, like Charlotte and Branwell, she found a love (in William Weightman) that proved inaccessible (through death), she didn't allow the fact to poison her life, as Charlotte allowed hers to for a long time, or to destroy her sanity, as Branwell tragically did. If, as seems to be the consensus, she was the most sickly of the Brontës through most of their lives, she didn't let that get in the way of hiking the moors with Emily, wrestling recalcitrant students like the Inghams, or throwing herself into her creative work. Her possible initial tentativeness in publishing blossomed from the small, compact effort of Agnes Grey to the amazing Tenant of Wildfell Hall; her religious fears and questions were conquered so that she was able to face death in the eye. Her last words were "Take courage, Charlotte."

She was the closest thing to a confidante that Emily ever had, and even after life experience had drawn them apart, there were still points of understanding between them. If Muriel Spark is correct about Anne's Poem "The Three Guides", in which it is postulated that the spirit of Pride represents Emily, then Anne was not afraid to criticize Emily up front; Charlotte couldn't say the same. Both younger sisters had several traits in common: They both treasured their personal privacy; they both wrote what they felt and knew was right, in the teeth of accepted boundaries; they both loved animals to a degree above even Charlotte. Anne, in fact, seemed to be especially fond of cats, as Emily seemed drawn to dogs. Agnes Grey has a kitten of which she is very fond; Nancy Brown has a cat which acts as a barometer. In one of her diary notes, kept in conjunction with Emily, Anne makes special mention of a "sweet little cat" who died; and in the introductory scene of the Rivers sisters in Jane Eyre, which strikes me a thumb-nail picture of Emily and Anne, Charlotte writes that a large dog was resting its head on Diana's lap while Mary had a cat on hers. Anne also seemed to identify herself with the dove, as indicated in her poem, "The Captive Dove", as Emily seemed to see herself in the hawk.

There are some books that focus on Anne: Winifred Gerin has a biography on each sibling; Edward Chitham remembers her importance to Emily in his biography of Emily and also has a biography on Anne that acts as a companion piece. He also has collection of her poetry, together with a wonderful introduction. Muriel Spark, in her long essay on Emily, also has a refreshing view on Anne. Elizabeth Langland, in Anne Brontë, the Other One, takes an unmilitant feminist point of view on Anne and her work that goes down very well. After going crazy looking for Frawley's book on Anne, I do not recommend it very much. I find little perception and much repetition.

Maria
elena@pipeline.com

 
Maria Elena Torres (1999)

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