Last reviewed: June 2018
January 17, 1820
May 28, 1849
Anne Brontë was the sixth and last child of the Reverend Patrick Brontë and his wife, Maria Branwell. Not yet two years old when her mother died of cancer, Anne was raised by her aunt Elizabeth, with whom she enjoyed a special relationship for twenty years. With her four sisters and brother, Branwell, Brontë grew up at Haworth parsonage on the harsh Yorkshire moors. The parsonage provided the Brontë children ample space to engage in a variety of fantasies. For more than twenty years Brontë and her older sister Emily wrote about the adventures of the inhabitants of Gondal, a fictitious romantic kingdom that shared the real-life landscape of the Brontës’ home and Yorkshire countryside. Brontë Sisters
Brontë left home to attend school briefly in 1824 and 1825 but returned when her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis there; they both died in 1825. A decade later, she attended Roe Head School, where her sister Charlotte was teaching; there she spent time consulting the Moravian minister James de la Trobe, who helped her formulate her ideas about religion and salvation.
Like her sister Emily, Anne wrote poetry regularly from the time she was a young adult, keeping her productions secret from the family. Most of her work has a decidedly religious note, but even in her earliest writings there are suggestions of romantic relationships inspired either by her reading or by her feelings for William Weightman, who came to Haworth as the Reverend Brontë’s curate in 1839. Because she was working as a governess away from Haworth, Anne saw Weightman infrequently during the following three years, but it is clear from her writing and that of family members that his premature death in 1842 affected her greatly.
Brontë secured a position as governess at Blake Hall in 1839 but stayed only six months, finding it impossible to discipline her employer’s children. A year later she was again employed as a governess with the Robinson family at Thorp Green; she remained with them until 1845. In that year, she and her sisters Charlotte and Emily agreed to collaborate on a collection that was issued pseudonymously in 1846 as Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.
Her experiences as a governess furnished Brontë material for her first novel. Agnes Grey was issued as the third volume of a set that included her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Before her first novel was in print, Anne began work on a more ambitious piece that some believe was intended as a counterfoil to the high Romanticism of Wuthering Heights. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in 1848, deals with the plight of abused women forced to leave their children in the care of their husbands because English law favored men in domestic disputes.
Unfortunately, although she enjoyed some modest fame when her novels were published, Brontë did not live to see her reputation established among the British reading public. Suffering from consumption, she left home in May 1849 to visit Scarborough on the English coast; there she died and was buried within a month of departing Haworth. After her death, her sister Charlotte published an introduction to her novels that deprecated Anne’s talents. For more than a century Anne was considered a lesser luminary beside Charlotte and Emily, but during the second half of the twentieth century critics began a revaluation of her work, using the tools of modern psychology and feminist criticism to discover in her novels and poetry the work of a strong writer with deep insight into domestic and social issues.