During Anne Bronte‘s time, the expectations of woman’s life was simple: marry upon reaching adulthood, bring children (boys preferably) into the world, support her husband and live a quiet, appropriately feminine life. But Anne Bronte was not just any woman and she did not come just any family.
With her elder sisters Charlotte and Emily, Anne has become one of a handful of 19th century women writers whose influence has lasted long after her brief time on Earth. Her two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, speak to a woman’s condition and what she must endure because she is a woman.
Agnes Grey is about a young woman who works as a governess for wealthy families. Her charges are spoiled and wild, their parents do nothing to curb their bad behavior. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is about spousal abuse, alcoholism and the choices that some women must make to remove themselves and their children from that environment.
The thing that I love about her books is that they are grounded in the real world, as a pose to the fantasy-ish world of her sister’s novels. An example of this is the romanticizing of Heathcliff in Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Upon the first read, Heathcliff is the romantic hero pining for Catherine Earnshaw. But Heathcliff reveals himself to be a brute and have serious anger issues.
In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne reveals the harsh truth of what it is to live with an abusive spouse. In her era, divorce was hard to come by and marriage was for life. Women were told to look the other way when their husbands acted less than honorably.
If there is one takeaway I have from both books, it is that the issues that she wrote about are still front and center today. Which is why Anne Bronte and her books are still being read today.
Wherever she is, I wish her a very happy birthday.
While she is often not given the respect and name recognition that goes to her elder sisters, Charlotte and Emily, her writing is on par with her sisters. Writing about every day life in Victorian England, her writing stands out because she spoke of the truth of what it was to be a woman in the period. In Agnes Grey, she wrote about a woman whose respectable career choices were severely limited and must work as a governess to support herself and her family. Agnes’s charges are spoiled and their parents are apathetic to their children’s behavior. In Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, a woman arrives in a small rural town, presenting herself as a widow with a young son. The truth about her identity made a small, but important dent in the worldwide women’s movement that is still being felt today.
As a writer and a proto-feminist, Anne Bronte, along with her sisters, helped to pave the way for women and women writers that continues to be felt a century and a half after her untimely passing.
The key elements of a successful biopic, especially one where the subjects are legendary in their own right, are as follows: a compelling narrative and adherence to the facts of the subject’s life to engage both the novice viewer and the viewer who is well versed on the subject’s life.
On Sunday night, PBS aired To Walk Invisible, a biopic of the Brontes. The Reverend Patrick Bronte (Jonathan Pryce) is a widower living with his surviving children, who are all grown and seem to be flailing emotionally. The eldest daughter, Charlotte (Finn Atkins) is passionate and ambitious. Branwell, the only boy (Adam Nagaitis) is the ne’er-do-well dreamer with the growing alcohol addiction. Emily (Chloe Pirrie) is as fiery as she is private. The baby of the family, Anne (Charlie Murphy) is the peace maker.
As the sisters work towards their dream of becoming published authors, Branwell descends rapidly into a haze of grief and addiction that will overtake the entire family.
Anyone who knows me (or has read this blog), knows that I worship the literary ground that the Brontes walk on. Their books are nothing short of genius. Unfortunately, I cannot say that same about this television movie. Granted, it is one shot, 2 hour television movie, so for timing reasons, cannot contain every moment of their lives. That’s not my issue.
My issue is that it went a little too fast and the ending felt very abrupt. Certain facts (which I will not mention here due to the fact that they are a little spoiler-y for novice Bronte fans) were not mentioned. Not only that, but the narrative spent too much time on Branwell and not enough time on his sisters, who are the main characters.
Do I recommend it? As much as I would love to say an enthusiastic yes, I can’t. I have to give a mere maybe.
Among the many anecdotes and suggestions about writing, one of the most common is “write what you know”.
In the case of Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, they knew a world of fantasy and drama that was far from the dreary, isolated Yorkshire town they called home. Raised by their widower parson father who some might have referred to during their lifetimes as eccentric, the young Miss Bronte’s and their brother Branwell developed a keen imagination and a heightened reality narrative style that the would become the backbone of the novels that the girls would write as adults.
Lena Coakley’s new book, Worlds of Ink and Shadow: A Novel of the Brontës, takes the reader back into the teenage years and the juvenalia that would later become the classic novels Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. Wrapped in the fantasy worlds that the Brontes created as children, their characters within these worlds come to life and interact with their creators.
As a reader and a writer, to know where other writers have started is always fascinating, especially when it comes to the writers like the Brontes, who have become giants in the world of literature.
But, this book is not all peaches and cream. The beginning is a little slow for my taste. While Ms. Coakley has certainly done her research, a reader who is not familiar with the Brontes might not finish the book. A little too steep in Bronte mythology and juvenalia, the book is strictly for Bronte fans.
Do I recommend it? I would say yes, but I adore their books. Otherwise, I would stay away.
Agnes is the youngest daughter of a country parson. When her father gets sick, she has no choice, but to find some of sort of job. The only respectable profession open to middle class, educated, proper young women was that of a governess. The role of the governess was a precarious one in Victorian society. While she was still a paid household servant and not a member of the family, her education allowed her more opportunities to be on a more equal footing with the family than the other female servants.
Agnes finds her first set of charges to be unruly and disrespectful. Their parents expect her to take complete care of their children, but refuse to step in when the children become uncontrollable. Her second set of charges are more amiable. While working for the second family, Agnes falls for Mr. Weston, a local curate.
What I have always liked about Anne’s writing is that her characters are grounded in the reality of life in Victorian England. While elements of the supernatural or using the weather to predict a character’s fate work in her sister’s novels, Anne does not need to employ these story telling techniques. Her writing is story telling at it’s best and it’s simplest. The journey of the main character from point A at the beginning of the novel to point B at the end of the novel.