Her apparent mildness hid a fury for justice

Anne was the youngest of the six Brontë children, and only 20 months old when her mother died in September 1821. Her mother's elder sister Elizabeth Branwell took over management of the family, and the baby Anne was was put to sleep in Aunt Branwell’s room, where she remained sleeping for much of her childhood. She was to become Aunt Branwell’s favourite Brontë child...


Anne’s father The Reverend Patrick Brontë was a minister on the Evangelical wing of the Church of England, but Aunt Branwell was a Wesleyan Methodist. As a result Anne's religious conscience was torn all her life between the competing orthodoxies of universal salvation, and salvation for the elect. It was an anxiety that on at least one occasion, in 1837, made her physically ill. Poor health left her physically frail for much of her life, and she suffered from asthma.

Seeing little prospect of 'good' marriages for his daughters, Patrick Brontë planned a broad education for them so that they might secure independence as governesses. Anne only had two years of formal schooling, from 1835-37, at Roe Head School near Dewsbury, where one of the teachers was her own sister Charlotte. The rest of her education she received at home from her Aunt Elizabeth, her sister Charlotte, and from the very wide reading that her father introduced her to.

She worked as a governess in two households: the Ingham family of Blake Hall, near Mirfield (1839-40), and the Robinson family of Thorp Green, near York (1840-45). She found the work lonely and demoralising, alleviated only by her annual holiday with the Robinson family.

As did her sisters and her brother, Anne wrote stories and poetry from an early age. She collaborated with Emily into the 1840s on developing the fantasy world of Gondal, with its own history, topography and cast of characters. She was also, of course, one of the contributors to Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846), and had two novels published: Agnes Grey (1847), which deals with the plight of the family governess, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), which examines the consequences of married women's lack of legal rights.

In September 1848 Anne's brother Branwell died of tuberculosis aged 31; three months later her sister Emily died from the same disease, aged 30. A fortnight after Emily’s death Anne was also diagnosed as suffering tuberculosis. She wanted above all to see the sea again at Scarborough, and in May 1849, accompanied by Charlotte and their friend Ellen Nussey, Anne arrived there on May 25, 1849, and died there three days later. She was buried at St. Mary's, Scarborough, the only Brontë not buried in the family vault beneath St. Michael and All Angels church, Haworth.

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