The Blurb (from Goodreads):
Anne Brontë is the forgotten Brontë sister, overshadowed by her older siblings — virtuous, successful Charlotte, free-spirited Emily and dissolute Branwell. Tragic, virginal, sweet, stoic, selfless, Anne. The less talented Brontë, the other Brontë.
Or that’s what Samantha Ellis, a life-long Emily and Wuthering Heights devotee, had always thought. Until, that is, she started questioning that devotion and, in looking more closely at Emily and Charlotte, found herself confronted by Anne instead.
Take Courage is Samantha’s personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. A brave, strongly feminist writer well ahead of her time — and her more celebrated siblings — and who has much to teach us today about how to find our way in the world.
Every few months, I like to re-read an old classic that I haven’t read for a while. Last year I chose The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, a book I had not read since I was a teenager. I was completely blown away by it. In my review of it, I wrote:
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was an astonishingly brave novel for a young woman to write in the early part of the 19th century. It’s a story about marital abuse, and Helen’s courageous action in leaving her husband would have been thought utterly shocking at the time. One of the biographers of the Brontës, May Sinclair, wrote “the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated through Victorian England”… The Tenant of Wildfell Hall does not flinch away from depicting alcoholism, adultery, domestic violence, or attempted rape. It is clear-eyed and unflinching in its depiction of the realities of 19th century English life.
I’ve been a fervent fan of Anne Bronte’s ever since, and feel she has been unfairly dismissed by many readers & critics who prefer the wild romances of her sisters Charlotte and Emily.
I went to visit Haworth Vicarage while I was in the UK recently, and saw this for sale in the museum shop. I bought it, and began reading it while I was staying in the village where these three extraordinary women writers grew up. I spent the day visiting their cramped home and marvelling at the tiny books they made as children, then tramping on the moors in the fresh heather-scented wind, then snuggled down to read this in the evening. It was perfect.
I would describe Samantha Ellis’s book as a bibliomemoir, as it examines her own thoughts and feelings about Anne Bronte and her life and work in a very warm, intimate and natural way. It is like drinking good wine with a dear friend by the fire, talking excitedly about a book and why you love it and what it has taught you about life.
There is no high tone or literary theory here. Samantha Ellis compares the Bronte sisters to the Beatles, for example. (Charlotte is like Paul McCartney, ambitious, accessible and the driving force behind the group’s success; Emily is like John Lennon, a mercurial genius; and Anne is like George Harrison, unfairly overlooked and forgotten.)
Each chapter explores a different influence upon Anne’s work, such as her mother who died when she was very young, or her brother Patrick whose love affair with the married wife of their employer destroyed Anne’s career as a governess. It all, of course, examines her novels The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey (which I’m ashamed to admit I have not read).
I think this is a wonderful book – intelligent but accessible, intimate yet well-researched and thorough, witty yet extremely poignant, familiar in its content yet fresh and illuminating in its outlook. Read it, then go and discover Anne Bronte’s work for yourself (and yes, yes, I plan to read Agnes Grey very soon!)