Visiting Anne

The old parish church of Scarborough, St Mary’s with Holy Apostles, sits just below the castle, on the hill above the old town. Just across the road from the church, slightly closer to the castle, there’s a graveyard. It’s an attractive, peaceful setting. Most of the “residents” died in the 18th and 19th centuries but one of them is better known than most – Anne Brontë, the youngest of the three famous literary sisters. Although associated with the small textile town of Haworth, tucked away in the moors over to the west of Yorkshire, and not so far from Lancashire, she had died in Scarborough which she was visiting in hope that the sea air would relieve the symptoms of TB, which she suffered. Alas, only a few days after she arrived, she died of the disease on the 28 May 1849, aged only 29.

She’s the lesser known of the 3 sisters, although she wrote two novels, Agnes Grey, (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, (1848). Like their author, they are overshadowed by her sisters works. However, in recent years her work, and importance, has begun to be re-evaluated as being more radical (in subject matter and style) compared to her sisters.

Anne “is now viewed as the most radical of the sisters, writing about tough subjects such as women’s need to maintain independence and how alcoholism can tear a family apart.”

Sally McDonald of the Brontë Society

always described as sweet and stoic, ….. I found (her) to be fierce and radical, with much to teach us about how to live.

Samantha Ellis

I have to own up to never having read anything by the Brontës, but have always been interested in the story of their lives and their achievement, as women during the Victorian era, to overcome prejeudice against their sex and become famous, well respected, literary authors.

In a book I read recently, Walking the Invisible, the author Michael Stewart writes about the lives of the sisters and describes his walks in their footsteps in a series of walking trails that he developed as part of his Brontë Stones Project. It was when reading the book that I discovered that Anne was buried in Scarborough and so while we were in the seaside town I decided to seek out her grave. It wasn’t difficult to locate in the little graveyard.

The headstone is weathered and the inscription badly damaged by the salty sea air. Commissioned by her elder sister, Charlotte it was meant to read

Here lie the remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Revd P. Brontë, Incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire. She died Aged 28 May 28th 1849.

Visiting the grave 3 years after Anne died, Charlotte found that there were a number of errors and had it refaced. But one error remained – it said she was 28 when she died, but in reality she was 29.

Given the poor condition of the inscription, the Brontë Society installed a new plaque next to the grave in 2011.

I enjoyed Michael Stewart’s book very much and it’s put me in mind to visit Howarth, follow some of the routes he describes and seek out the stones, which have inscriptions of poems by Carol Anne Duffy, Jackie Kay, Jeanette Winterson and Kate Bush. Perhaps I should find time to read some of the Brontës’ novels too. What do you think?

18 thoughts on “Visiting Anne

  1. The only Bronte novel I have ever read is Wuthering Heights, for my O-levels. You call the impact it had on me by the fact that I have never read another Bronte book in the fifty years that have passed since.

    • I suspect that would be my reaction!
      I was lucky at O level our set book was “To Kill a Mockingbird” and that certainly made an impact on me – part of the mix that led me to develop values and politics that remain today, many years later.

  2. I really enjoyed your post. I’ve read Wuthering Heights (too overblown for my tastes), but nothing by Anne. I thought the inscription was strangely cold. No mention of being loved or sorely missed.
    As a side note, my name is misspelt on my birth certificate and the date of birth on my christening cup is incorrect. I am the youngest of three sisters so perhaps it’s a thing.

    • Charlotte must have decided on the text of the inscription and she was also the one who prevented Anne’s “Tennant of Wodlfell Hall” being reprinted. So perhaps there was some sibling rivallry at play.
      I’m the eldest of 3 brothers (plus a sister). Hope I’m not like that!

      • I believe that the novel had been popular and had a second reprint soon after it was published. But Charlotte vetoed reprinting after Anne had died.

  3. I was unaware of the ‘Bronte Stones’ and their poetry. Thanks for bringing them to our attentions.
    I’d read Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) and visited the ruins. Also, Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) for O level English way back in the early 60’s. I remember a moody black and white film of the latter with Joan Fontaine? and Orson Welles. But nothing by Anne.
    A few years ago along with Sir Hugh we followed the Bronte Way A trans Pennine trail linking places associated with the Brontes. We enjoyed the walk and learnt a lot. In particular, we walked through the Spen Valley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. This was the scene and inspiration for a novel, unknown to either of us, SHIRLEY by Charlotte. The area is known to some as Shirley Country, and we came across many references to the novel. I soon ordered the book and became engrossed in a social and romantic tale from the turbulent industrial times of the mid 19th century. I would highly recommend it.

    • I recall reading your posts on the Bronte Way – interesting as always.
      Besides the book I mention you can purchase for a modest fee a of the 9 mile Bronte Stones Walk illustrated by Christopher Godhard who has produced some rather nice walking route guides in the “Wainwright style” of the areas around Hebden Bridge and also south west of Sheffield – i.e. the dark Peak (as is the map I mention) see
      Think I’ll have to dip into the Brontes!

  4. I read Emily’s Wuthering Heights, but not at school. I was older, and enjoyed it – if that’s the right word. Compelling is a better word. I’ve also read Anne’s Tennant of Wildfell Hall, which was also powerful stuff. I like their poetry too. Reading some books as kids can put us off for life, and maybe I would have been the same with the Brontes. I was like that with Dickens. Read him as a set text for O level, and haven’t touched another of his books since.

    There’s a BBC film called To Walk Invisible, which I thought was very good – it’s gone from iPlayer now, but you can get it on DVD.

  5. Like many I read Wuthering Heights at school. Too young to really appreciate that kind of novel so I’ve never read anything else by the sisters. I do remember my first introduction to Shakespeare was Macbeth, which opened my eyes to the fact his plays could be exciting and tightly plotted. Then for O-Level they gave us Merchant of Venice which was very dull!

    • I was lucky. We had a young Canadian English teacher at o level and she selected more appealing (for 15 and 16 year old kids) set texts. Our play was Macbeth.

  6. Like you, I have never read anything by the Brontes, but reading some of the comments on here, I think perhaps I should. I might start with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

    The Bronte Stones walk sounds fabulous. Thank you.

  7. I would love to see the Bronte Stones too. Sigh, so many walks yet to do….
    I too thought Anne’s gravestone inscription might have been a bit more personal. Very sad that it is so formal. But maybe that was just Charlotte and her father’s way. I have read both Anne’s novels. I enjoyed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall , more so than Agnes Grey. I loved loved Emily’s Wuthering Heights. You should try it! Jane Eyre is great too but I wasn’t struck with Villette. I haven’t read Shirley. I enjoyed To Walk Invisible when I saw it.

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