In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anne Brontë

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Juvenilia
  • Editions of the Poetry (Including Juvenilia)
  • Poetry Criticism
  • Agnes Grey Criticism
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Criticism
  • Narrative Structure
  • Education
  • Visual Art and Music
  • Religion
  • Afterlives

British and Irish Literature Anne Brontë
Christine Alexander, Roslyn Jolly, Mandy Swann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0127


Until well into the 20th century, the reputation of Anne Brontë (b. 1820–d. 1849) as a writer rested largely on the fame of her elder sisters Charlotte and Emily. She was “the other one”: treated as a peripheral player in the Brontë story and mythologized as “dear, gentle Anne”—the words of the Brontës’ schoolfriend Ellen Nussey, in her reminiscences of 1871. We now know that, although shy, reserved, and delicate (she suffered from asthma), Anne was also pragmatic, keenly observant, quietly determined, and courageous. Only five of her letters survive, but we know from contemporary records, including her diary papers and family correspondence, of her Yorkshire childhood and schooling, her difficult experiences as a governess, and her strong Christian faith and talent for music. Like her sisters, she began writing in childhood, creating the imaginary world of Gondal with Emily, to whom she was particularly close. She wrote poetry and two novels. Her first novel, Agnes Grey (1847), published as part of a “three-decker” with Emily’s Wuthering Heights, was inevitably compared unfavorably with her sister’s novel because it was less sensational and “less powerful”; yet it is now increasingly celebrated as one of the first novels to educate readers in the economic and psychological hardship of the governess. Her longer second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), also attracted comparison with Wuthering Heights and the same accusations of coarseness (Sharps London Magazine was horrified by The Tenant’s “disgustingly truthful mimesis”). The unfavorable reception and subsequent lack of interest in the novel was fueled by Charlotte’s reluctance to allow republication: she thought the subject matter (designed to warn against misuse of talents and the abuse of male privilege in society) a “mistake.” She felt that Anne’s dedication to representing the truth of such appalling subject matter had harmed her sensitive sister personally and publicly. It took some eighty years before the effects of this opinion were reversed: biographers and critics—led by W. T. Hale, followed by A. Harrison and D. Stanford, A. Craig Bell, and E. Chitham—now acknowledge Anne as a serious novelist and poet. Increasing critical interest in female authors gave further impetus to critics like Elizabeth Langland to examine Anne as a literary figure in her own right, an artist whose aesthetics lie more in the realm of realism, especially in the relationships between professionalism, art, and morality, than in the familiar world of Brontë romance. Her Gondal and autobiographical poems, twenty-one of which were first published by the Brontë sisters under pseudonyms, in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, display a close observation of the world, an often-melancholy tone, and a disarming sincerity. Driven by a sense of Christian duty to teach, she believed that “the end of Religion is not to teach us how to die, but how to live.” Anne Brontë is now seen as a bravely original and resolutely moral writer, whose works increasingly yield fresh insights from new critical approaches.

General Overviews

The alphabetically organized Oxford Companion to the Brontës (Alexander and Smith 2003) and the essays in The Brontës in Context (Thormählen 2012) provide the most comprehensive overview and reliable reference to all things Brontë, including Anne’s life, writings, and their associated context. The recent Blackwell Companion (Hoeveler and Morse 2016) is an equally important new source similar to Thormählen 2012. Barker 1994 has led the way with a comprehensive biographical overview of the Brontë family and Anne’s relations with her siblings. Chitham 1991 (cited under Biographies) and other critics mentioned in the Introduction pioneered the establishment of Anne’s reputation as an independent personality and significant writer (see Biographies). Anne’s writing in relation to that of her sisters is addressed in two essays in The Cambridge Companion (Glen 2002). Gaskell 1996 remains perennially fascinating as a work written by a contemporary; and Ingham 2006 provides a more general overview.

  • Alexander, Christine, and Margaret Smith. The Oxford Companion to the Brontës. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1093/acref/9780198662181.001.0001

    Updated and reissued in 2018 as The Oxford Companion to the Brontës: Anniversary Edition, with preface by Claire Harman. A comprehensive, authoritative compendium on the lives, works, and afterlives of the Brontë sisters, including their father and brother Branwell. In-depth essays on Anne’s life and works are supplemented by entries on her friends, employees, pets, real and imaginary heroes and heroines, drawings, and paintings. There is also extensive coverage of Anne’s poetry, books she read, the social, political, and religious context of her writing, and the afterlives of her novels.

  • Barker, Juliet. The Brontës. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994.

    Meticulously detailed and well-researched study of all the family, focusing on dispelling the negative myths associated with the father, Patrick, and brother, Branwell, often at the expense of Charlotte. Presents “gentle Anne” as actually having a core of steel and as being a more daring and revolutionary author than Charlotte. Revised 2010 in response to new scholarship.

  • Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. Edited by Angus Easson. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    Written in 1857, The Life presents Anne as a shy younger sister who lives in Charlotte’s shadow but is keen to win approval by emulation. Although marred by occasional bias, incompleteness, and inaccuracy, the biography is valuable for its research into early records, extracts from letters and interviews with people known to Anne, and especially contemporary descriptions of Roe Head School.

  • Glen, Heather, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Essay collection by distinguished literary critics discussing central issues in the Brontës’ life and works. In several, Anne’s works are compared with those of her sisters: Agnes Grey with Wuthering Heights and The Professor (Davies); and The Tenant with Jane Eyre (Matus). Anne’s poetry is examined (Leighton) and there is a mention of Anne’s juvenilia (Bock). Other chapters relevant to Anne include that of ideology and character (Rylance) and religion (Maynard).

  • Hoeveler, Diane Long, and Deborah Denenholz Morse, eds. A Companion to the Brontës. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

    An impressive collection of individual scholarly articles canvassing critical and historical contexts, textual history, reception, and afterlives. Key chapters on Anne and her work include critical assessments of Agnes Grey (Judith E. Pike) and The Tenant (Kari Lokke), along with the Brontës in popular culture (Abigail Burnham Bloom).

  • Ingham, Patricia. The Brontës. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    As part of an “Authors in Context” series, this provides a comprehensive overview of the Brontës’ lives and writing as embedded in their historical and social situation. Chapters deal with related issues of class, gender, race, religion, and mental disorders; and the afterlife of their works.

  • Thormählen, Marianne. “Standing Alone: Anne Brontë out of the Shadow.” Brontë Studies 39.4 (November 2014): 330–340.

    DOI: 10.1179/1474893214Z.000000000128

    An excellent survey of Anne Brontë’s growing reputation, suggesting reasons for previous neglect of her work, and a justification and blueprint for new research on her novels.

  • Thormählen, Marianne, ed. The Brontës in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    Excellent introduction to all things Brontë, written by a group of experts. Especially strong in historical and social context (there are short essays on agriculture, transport, marriage, dress, sexuality, and health, for example) and the way the Brontës’ fiction interacts with the spirit of early-19th-century Britain. A succinct biographical essay by Maria Frawley constructs Anne’s life as one of tension between “home” and the “eternal beyond” (pp. 75–82).

  • Wootton, Sarah. “Brontë, Anne, 1820–1849.” In Literature Online Biography. Cambridge, UK: Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections, 2000.

    Brief but excellent online survey of Anne Brontë, stressing her strength of character and independence that is reflected even in her solitary burial at Scarborough.

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