Needs more dickbags, Anne
March 29, 2015 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Anne Bronte: the last, but not least, of the Bronte sisters Thirty years before Nora Helmer famously slammed the door in her husband's face, Helen Huntingdon did the same. And, as an added bonus, Helen - by earning her own living as a painter - became an outlaw as well as a rebel.

Anne Bronte has been called a pioneering feminist novelist, yet, until recently, she has been merely the forgotten Bronte sister, the mousy family Cinderella, whose works are not read or taught alongside Charlotte and Emily's better-known novels. It did not help that Charlotte Bronte disparaged her sister's work, and propagated an image of Anne as meek, sickly, and spiritless.

Today's feminist literary audience - less appalled than Charlotte and Victorian society by frank, unromanticized portrayals of alcoholism and domestic violence - has rediscovered Anne and given her her due. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has achieved that mark of distinction - a miniseries, starring Tara "Selyse Baratheon" Fitzgerald, and is appreciated by modern readers for its "refusal to wear rose-tinted glasses when dealing with male alcoholism and brutality."

Obligatory Dude Watching With The Brontes
posted by Rosie M. Banks (18 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
ooh thank you! I am a huge Bronte fan (including Anne!) and Tara "burn them all and let R'hollor [sic] sort them out" Fitzgerald is great. I will look forward to the miniseries.
posted by supermedusa at 4:48 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The miniseries dates from 1996 - I am sorry this wasn't clear in my post. I am sure it is findable somehow, though! There was also an earlier miniseries from 1968.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:56 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I read Agnes Grey a while back and was surprised that it read more like an Austen novel than a Bronte novel. Enjoyed it!
posted by selfnoise at 5:02 PM on March 29, 2015

Both Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are available as free ebooks via Project Gutenberg.
posted by needled at 5:20 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I got the urge to re-read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall lately and was disappointed to find I didn't own a copy as I thought I did. Must rectify that soon. I think I've read Agnes Grey too but don't remember it at all, so I should look that one up too. Meanwhile I'll watch the 1996 miniseries now that I've been made aware of its existence.
posted by orange swan at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2015

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1996 TV version.
posted by gudrun at 6:55 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hooray! I've been researching the Brontës for what, six years now? and they ALL continue to fascinate. I especially loved learning about Anne's religious development and how a religious crisis led her to embrace the idea of universal salvation. She's such an interesting person, and you have to wonder what she would have produced if she hadn't died so young.
posted by mynameisluka at 7:53 PM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is great, thanks. I've been rereading all the Brontë novels in a 2015 marathon, and I'm still working my way through Charlotte (just on Shirley right now). Makes me look forward to Anne.
posted by frumiousb at 8:15 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

A couple of years ago, when I had both a television and free time, I'd planned on watching the miniseries, but everything Rupert Graves-related had been stolen from the video store. The book is not as compulsively readable as Jane Eyre, possibly because terrible behavior is less romanticized, but it is really good.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:11 PM on March 29, 2015

I knew I knew Selyse from somewhere but I did not realize she was Tara Fitzgerald of "The Man Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain" and "I Capture the Castle"! How did I miss that?

Downloading Anne Bronte's book now.
posted by rednikki at 9:40 PM on March 29, 2015

Ooh, thank you for this. I haven't read Wildfell Hall for a while, and it's time I did. Also surprised I wasn't familiar with the 1996 series (I must have been at college) and have ordered it.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:41 AM on March 30, 2015


She was so uncompromising and clear-eyed, and clearly exasperated by everyone else of her era who kept pretending that not noticing horrible things made them go away, and I love her I love her I love her. I get VERY offended on her behalf when people discount her, including Charlotte.

Also, her books are so, so cutting and smart. Helen Huntingdon/Graham and Agnes Grey spend their novels being DISGUSTED by the disgusting people around them, and it is so satisfying to read about it.

One of the greatest things in Tenant of Wildfell Hall is that Helen's husband is a bag of dicks, and she keeps meeting men who are like "oh, your husband is a brute, you deserve so much better", but those dudes always end up being less obvious bags of dicks (who are usually pretending to sympathize with her to get her into bed or feel morally superior), and every time they prove it Helen is like "NOPE GET GONE" and it is excellent.

Speaking of bags of dicks, Branwell constantly talked about Anne like she was mentally deficient. In "not a coincidence at all" news, he was a horrible alcoholic nightmare who kept squandering his family's money and multiple attempts for people to help them*, and so were many of Anne's gross dude characters. Emily was all "oh poor Branwell" and Anne was like "YOU ARE A GARBAGE PERSON".

*Example: since he was a dude, everyone thought his poetry was GENIUS and he was going to MAKE IT so while the sisters were working 83 jobs and writing in their spare time, someone set up a meeting for Branwell to go meet with a famous publisher in London and get discovered and employed. He proceeded to go to London on his family's dime, SKIP THE MEETING, wander around getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself for not being discovered (BECAUSE HE SKIPPED THE MEETING), and then he eventually went home to talk about how unfair life was and drink himself to death. HE HAD A MEETING ARRANGED WHERE ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS SHOW UP AND GET DISCOVERED. AND HE SKIPPED THE MEETING. And Anne was getting berated and abused by horrible spoiled children all day and she still wrote amazing literature and Branwell called her stupid. Anne 4-EVER.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:25 AM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]

Anne is my favourite Bronte. Agnes Grey is a neat, small, well-executed novel, reminiscent of Austen, as noted above. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is big and ambitious and brave, a real artistic arrival - its first edition sold out in six weeks. Anne's preface to the second edition absolutely deserves to be read. Regarding the identity of "Acton Bell" (her penname) and the rumours that "he" was actually a woman, Anne writes this:

...though I am bound to attribute much of the severity of my censors to this suspicion, I make no effort to refute it, because, in my own mind, I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are, or should be, written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman , or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.

Bam! Take that, 1848 English society!

Charlotte (sole surviving sister) forbade Wildfell Hall to be republished after Anne's death in 1849, just a year after the novel emerged - lots of debate is possible as to the true reasons why. Then the narrative that Anne was "a Bronte without genius" took hold and very few people cared to tend to her legacy for several generations. Wildfell Hall survived in bootleg form, often "mutilated" (not my term) - so if you do read it today, make sure it's a recent edition that has all the bits (the first part of the 'frame' narrative is often missing from these incomplete versions) - a scholarly edition is probably safest.

I love Anne, her compassionate nature, her social realism, her sense of humour (only Bronte who gets a few chuckles from me), her unflinching and unromantic view of things. She clearly had a core of steel - she was the only sister to actually make a success of being a governess (she was with one family for five years, and remained friends with her former charges when they were grown). She was so young when she died (29), and in her last months she wrote about how she had plans to accomplish much more in her life.
posted by erlking at 6:31 AM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've taught The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a few times, usually as part of a dialogue with Jane Eyre. Anne is shredding the old "reformed rake" plot canonized by Samuel Richardson (and then shredded by Richardson himself, for that matter), but Tenant directs a lot of sharp sideways glances at both JE in general and Mr. Rochester in particular.

Reviewers occasionally got confused by the pseudonyms, so some came to the conclusion that the various Bells were really one or perhaps two people. Here's an example that assumes that Charlotte B wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall ("Mr. Bell's New Novel," in case the link fails to work).
posted by thomas j wise at 6:31 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

^ I love how Charlotte and Anne actually took the train down to London in order to walk in on unscrupulous publishing types who were making bank on deliberately confusing and conflating the Bell 'brothers' and their novels. I just imagine them showing up all "surprise, bitches" (or the 1840s equivalent).
posted by erlking at 6:38 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love the ToWH but while all the Brontes were fans to some extent of phrenology/physiognomy, Anne really seemed to wind it into the very heart of her novels in ways that I find I always struggle with a little. The moment just after the marriage in ToWH when Helen discovers how dangerously low the middle of Arthur's head is (betokening a sadly undeveloped "organ of veneration"), for example, always feels a bit like bad Sci-Fi ("on the planet Urth you can tell how trustworthy someone is by the color of their mnorpal-valve!").
posted by yoink at 11:15 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall turns up in this Monty Python skit.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:21 AM on March 30, 2015

Thank you -- it's been so long since I read any of the Brontës' work and I'm definitely overdue for a revisit.

This reminded me of one of my favorite MeFi posts (and YouTube videos) of all time (of all time): Super X-Treme Mega History Heroes: Brontë Sisters. It packs a lot in one minute and 30 seconds. (I am so glad the video still works!)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:48 PM on March 30, 2015

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