Anne looked at Charlotte trying to turn Heger into the Duke of Zamorna, Branwell imagining he was Northangerland seducing Mrs Robinson, and even at Byron believing the only true love was impossible, taboo and antisocial, and she realised that bad love was a story people got stuck in…
Anne realized the stories she’d been told would make her miserable, if she let them. So she chose to write a different story about love, a story that would help her get past the unhappiness of Thorp Green, and fall back in love with life.
commentary: I loved Samantha Ellis’s previous book, How to be a Heroine, as you can tell from my fan letter blogpost. I said then
Samantha Ellis likes the same heroines, and books, that Clothes in Books does.--- which says it all really, doesn’t it? I must have given away half a dozen copies of the book, it was my goto birthday present that year, and all the recipients loved it too.
I also went to see her play, How to Date a Feminist, in London last year – it was a joy: funny and clever and an amazing 2-person production.
So I was delighted to get a review copy of this book, which is about Anne Bronte, the youngest and least-known of the sisters. I was sure I would love it (and I was right) but I realized I was putting off reading it: the reason was that I KNEW I would end up wanting to read Anne Bronte’s books, and probably other works by and about the sisters, and I don’t have time. Well, I’ll just have to find time.
Once I started on Take Courage I finished it in 24 hours, loving every minute. I then watched a recent BBC TV film about the Brontes, To Walk Invisible, which rather split audiences, but which I loved too. (That’s a still from it below.)
Anne Bronte is the least famous and often seen as the least talented of the Brontes. But anyone who takes her seriously and looks clearly at the family story can’t but be impressed and grabbed by her. Like many people, I loved Emily and Wuthering Heights first, then took up Charlotte and her (excellent) novels, and then later realized just how interesting Anne was too.
Although people talked of her as poor dear Anne, she was a lot braver and more grounded than her sisters. And her books have been unfairly overshadowed – they are more raw and (as Ellis argues) more feminist than her sisters’ works. And always, once you start looking at the facts of their lives, you find out more, and question your assumptions, and start thinking about them again.
Ellis is definitely a character in her book – she tells the story of her interest in Anne and her researches, and tells a little about her own life as she does so. As with How to be a Heroine, she makes the book readable and entertaining, but also serious and properly researched and footnoted.
She does a great job of looking at the decline and disaster that was Branwell Bronte’s life. And her final description of Anne’s death at the age of 29 had me in floods of tears.
My conclusion is simple: Anyone with any interest in the Brontes should read this book.
Jane Eyre (and her wedding outfit) provided an early entry on the blog. Daphne du Maurier’s The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is a great read. And Antonia Forest’s YA novel Peter’s Room – about some young people who copy the Bronte’s fantasy play – is a wonderful book, and a great favourite here on the blog.