11 Enlightening Facts About Anne Brontë

A drawing of Anne Brontë by her sister, Charlotte Brontë.
A drawing of Anne Brontë by her sister, Charlotte Brontë.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are an iconic literary trio—but of the three sisters, Anne has been the least read and, arguably, the least understood. The English critic George Saintsbury once deemed Anne a “pale reflection of her elders”; her own sister, Charlotte, dismissed her as a “gentle, retiring, inexperienced writer.” But such perceptions of Anne as bland and inferior are changing. She worked hard to earn a living, spun vivid tales of an imaginary kingdom, and wrote forcefully about the social oppression of women. To mark the 200th anniversary of her birth in 2020, here are 11 enlightening facts about this underappreciated Brontë sister.

1. Anne Brontë was the youngest of six children.

On January 17, 1820, Anne Brontë was born to Patrick Brontë and his wife Maria Branwell Brontë in the English village of Thornton. She was the couple’s sixth child, and shortly after her birth, the family relocated to the industrial town of Haworth, near the windswept Yorkshire moors so often associated with the Brontë sisters. When Anne was just 20 months old, her mother died, probably of uterine cancer. Maria’s sister, Elizabeth, stepped in to raise the children; Anne was said to be her favorite.

2. Anne and Emily Brontë created a mystical, imaginary realm called Gondal.

Around four years after the death of their mother, the two eldest Brontë sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, also died. The four surviving children immersed themselves in the creation of fictional kingdoms that became the basis for hundreds of prose and poetry works. Charlotte and her brother Branwell crafted tales about the world of Angria, while Emily and Anne—whom one contemporary described as being “inseparable companions”—collaborated on the saga of Gondal.

No prose stories of Gondal survive, but extant poems have allowed scholars to piece together numerous details about this imaginary world. The realm was situated on a large island in the north Pacific, dotted with moorlands, mountains, and woods. Its characters were often swept up in wars and love affairs. Augusta Geraldine Almeda, a beautiful and ruthless heroine who had many lovers, ruled as Gondal’s queen.

3. Anne Brontë worked as a governess—and hated it.

In 1839, hoping to contribute to her family’s strained finances, Anne took a position as a governess for the Ingham family at Blake Hall, a stately mansion in West Yorkshire. She was put in charge of the Inghams’ two eldest children, 6-year-old Cunliffe and 5-year-old Mary. Anne appears to have found the job difficult; summarizing one of Anne’s letters, Charlotte wrote to a friend that her sister’s pupils were “desperate little dunces” who were “excessively indulged and [Anne] is not empowered to inflict any punishment.”

Anne was ultimately dismissed from her job, and she moved on to a position at Thorp Green Hall, where she served as governess for the Robinsons, another wealthy family. Though she worked there for five years, Anne does not appear to have been entirely happy. “[D]uring my stay,” she wrote cryptically in 1845, “I have had some very unpleasant and undreamt-of experience of human nature."

4. Anne Brontë had a dog named Flossy.

In spite of her apparent dissatisfaction at Thorp Green, Anne had a friendly relationship with the three Robinson daughters—Lydia, Elizabeth, and Mary—placed under her instruction. The girls gave Anne a “silky-haired, black and white” dog named Flossy, who, by 1848, was “fatter than ever but still active enough to relish a sheep hunt,” Anne observed in a letter to Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey. Kindness to animals was important to Anne; the way her fictional characters treat animals is often a sign of their moral quality.

5. Anne Brontë published poems under the pseudonym Acton Bell.

Haworth Parsonage
The interior of Haworth Parsonage Museum

In 1846, the three Brontë sisters published their first work—a collection of poetry titled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Charlotte had pushed her sisters to make their writing public, and Emily and Anne agreed to do so only if their names remained secret. They deliberately chose androgynous pseudonyms (Charlotte was “Currer,” Emily was “Ellis,” and Anne was “Acton”) because, as Charlotte once noted, “we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” But the “Bells’” poetry book was still a flop; it sold only two copies.

6. Anne Brontë’s experiences as a governess inspired her first novel.

Though Agnes Grey, published in 1847, is not strictly autobiographical, it draws on Anne’s early career struggles. The novel’s protagonist, who is also a governess, faces degrading treatment from her employers and abuse from her unruly, violent young charges (one of her pupils enjoys torturing baby birds). With this narrative, Anne sought to highlight the plight of a growing class of governesses, many of whom had little choice but to accept demanding, poorly paid posts because few other professions were considered socially acceptable for middle-class women.

7. Critics were shocked by Anne Brontë’s following book, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Anne’s second novel, published in 1848, tells the story of a woman’s calamitous marriage to an alcoholic husband and her efforts to escape with her son—a daring plotline for a time when women had no legal status independent of their husbands. The book sold well, and a second edition was published just six weeks after the first. But reviewers were appalled by the novel’s frank depictions of debauchery and marital strife. Wildfell Hall was deemed “coarse,” “revolting” and “brutal.” In her preface to the second edition, Anne pushed back against these criticisms, which she claimed was “more bitter than just.” Her purpose in writing the novel, she explained, was simply “to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.”

8. Anne Brontë shut down speculation about Acton Bell’s gender.

Concluding her preface to Wildfell Hall, Anne noted that some of her critics “profess[ed] to have discovered” that the author of the novel was a woman. She would not confirm or deny the rumors because, she explained, the subject was irrelevant. “I am satisfied that if a book is a good one,” Anne wrote, “it is so whatever the sex of the author may be.”

9. One of Anne Brontë’s last acts was defending a donkey.

In 1849, Anne was diagnosed with tuberculosis—the same illness that had recently killed both Emily and Branwell. Anne, Charlotte, and Ellen Nussey subsequently set off for Scarborough, a seaside town that Anne had visited and grown to love while accompanying the Robinsons on their holidays there. Upon their arrival, Anne took a ride across the sands in a donkey carriage. “[L]est the poor donkey should be urged by its driver to a greater speed than her tender heart thought right, she took the reins and drove herself,” writes the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, a 19th-century biographer of Charlotte Brontë. Two days later, Anne died at the age of 29.

10. Charlotte Brontë prevented the republication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

When Charlotte’s publisher proposed reprinting some of the Brontës’ work in 1850, the last surviving sister agreed to the republication of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. But Wildfell Hall, she opined, was “hardly ... desirable to preserve.” The book’s “choice of subject is a mistake,” Charlotte argued, one that was not consistent with Anne’s “gentle” nature. A publisher nevertheless opted to proceed with the reprint in 1854, shortly before Charlotte died, but Anne’s narrative was extensively edited and rearranged.

The so-called “mutilated texts” of Wildfell Hall underwent a major restoration in 1992, when a complete scholarly edition of the novel was published. Rather than frown upon the unpalatable elements of Anne’s narrative, critics today praise Wildfell Hall’s unflinching depiction of vice and violence—a depiction that contrasts with her sisters’ more romantic portrayals of stormy male characters.

11. It took 164 years to correct an error on Anne Brontë’s grave.

Anne was buried in Scarborough, the only Brontë not to be interred at the family’s vault in Haworth. Charlotte, in spite of her often-patronizing opinions of Anne, was devastated by her sister’s death—and was upset to discover that there were five errors on Anne’s gravestone inscription. Charlotte ordered the stone to be refaced and relettered, but one mistake remained: Anne’s age of death was listed as 28, not 29. In 2013, the Brontë Society corrected the error with a new plaque, which was installed alongside the original and unveiled during a dedication service.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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Google Teams Up With The Conscious Kid on a Book List to Promote Racial Equity in Classrooms

Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone is on the list, and for good reason.
Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone is on the list, and for good reason.
Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Glamour

Google has teamed up with The Conscious Kid—an organization that promotes racial equity in education—to curate a list of books and other resources aimed at helping teachers establish more inclusive classrooms and foster conversations about racism and acceptance.

The reading list groups works by grade level, and many of them have corresponding teaching guides with discussion questions, writing prompts, and other activities [PDF]. For Lupita Nyong’o’s Sulwe, which tells the story of a young girl bullied because of her dark skin, students in preschool through second grade are presented questions like “Why do you think Sulwe believes she must have lighter skin in order to make friends? What advice would you give to Sulwe?” For Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, high-schoolers are asked to create a travel brochure for the fictional country of Orïsha, “emphasizing its positive aspects and great variety.”

The online packet also contains a number of guidelines for teachers to consider when choosing their own reading material. One helpful tip, for example, is to re-evaluate the “classics” before assigning them to make sure they don’t reinforce racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, or other harmful messages. Another is to foster healthy racial identity by avoiding books “where characters of color can only succeed when conforming to white values or norms.”

It’s part of Google’s broader campaign to amplify diversity in public education by providing educators with the resources needed to do it. Last year, the company donated $5 million to DonorsChoose—a platform that teachers can use to crowdsource funds for classroom projects—for the launch of #ISeeMe, an initiative that highlights projects submitted by Black and Latinx teachers, as well as those that focus on diversity and inclusion. This year, Google pledged an additional $1 million to matching donations made to #ISeeMe projects.

You can see The Conscious Kid’s full reading list here [PDF], and learn more about contributing to #ISeeMe projects here.