A Review of Edward Chitham's 'A Life of Anne Brontë'
 By Tim Whittome

I remember once Edward Chitham saying to a conference of Brontë enthusiasts 'I am an Anne person' and his resultant biography, 'A Life of Anne Brontë', shows both great sensitivity and a just awareness of Anne's considerable literary skills as a writer. He also shows us that Anne was interesting in her own right both as a writer distinct from Emily and Charlotte and as a person with a life of unfulfilled dreams. Far from being the weak sibling with the nun-like veil as Charlotte preferred to view her youngest sister, Chitham views Anne as the sister who stuck it out longest at being a governess in the outside world and as the sister with the strongest courage and sense of duty.

Chitham doesn't sensationalize his material but sifts it for truth and light. He is very aware that original source material on Anne's younger days, her time at, and reason for leaving, school, her two governess positions, her possibly strong feelings for her father's curate, William Weightman, and her fluctuating relationship with her sister, Emily, are scant and too reliant on Charlotte's screening. Nevertheless, Chitham tries to piece together what he can from Anne's five surviving letters, her poetry, her two great novels and other circumstantial material surrounding the Robinson family with whom she stayed with as a governess. However, as with most other Brontë scholars, he cannot finally prove that Anne loved Weightman or that Branwell left the above same Robinson family as a result of indiscretions towards the Lady of the House (Lydia Robinson) or towards the 12-year-old pupil in his charge, Edmund Robinson.

Edward Chitham is also cautionary about the use of Anne's novels as biographical material. Far from quoting parts of Agnes Grey verbatim, he shows us more where such sources are unreliable. However, in areas and tone where Agnes Grey and the life of its heroine, squares with Anne's poetry and life, Chitham is happy to show the ways in which the likely facts of Anne's life unfold to the diligent researcher of the truth. All in all, this is a great biography, and until more letters become dusted down from hidden, and as yet unknown, lofts or boxes, it is likely to be fairly definitive in its balance and appreciation of Anne Brontë. Chitham knows where the sources are weak and he also knows what future researchers will want to look at if any more sources unearth themselves. Should we be lucky enough to find more of Anne's letters to or from Emily, Charlotte or the Robinson girls she once taught and kept in touch with, then would be the time to write another and fuller biography of Anne's life. Sadly for both writer and reader, Chitham can only but leave us with an incomplete picture, many broken jigsaw pieces and an overwhelming desire for more.


 Copyright © 1999 Tim Whittome
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