Article

Anne Brontë

Rebecca Styler

in Victorian Literature


Published online August 2015 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558.016.0027

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After a long period of marginalization within the Brontë family myth, as the quiet and less original one amid sibling geniuses, Anne Brontë (b. 1820–d. 1849) is now well established as a writer to be taken on her own terms. Her two novels and fifty-nine attributed poems show her bold engagement with social, religious, and aesthetic concerns of the early Victorian era. This revised reputation rests much upon reappraisals of her best-known work, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), which was an immediate success, but Brontë’s subsequent literary reputation was virtually nil until the late decades of the 20th century. The ubiquitous tendency for over a century to approach the Brontës as a cohesive group, fostered by a fascination with their biographical eccentricities, did no favors for Anne, whose preference for rational realism led many to think her works prosaic in comparison with the heroic, passionate tone of Emily’s and Charlotte’s writings. Reappraisals of Anne Brontë’s work, from the 1950s onward, locate her in a tradition of didactic rationalists, such as Samuel Johnson, Hannah More, and Maria Edgeworth, emphasizing her dissent from the values of Romanticism. Her fiction was appreciated for its satiric critique on morals, manners, religion, and education, although comparisons with her sisters continued to reaffirm Anne’s status as a “minor” writer, and a biographical approach to her writings often obscured her art. Feminist critics were slow to take up Anne Brontë, but since the 1990s the treatment of gender in her fiction has been a major focus of criticism, which has placed her in the Enlightenment feminist tradition alongside writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, and George Eliot. While the majority of recent criticism addresses The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, insightful considerations have also emerged of her first novel Agnes Grey (1847), of the poetry, and of her sparse personal writings and artwork. Recurrent themes in criticism of Brontë’s fiction, as well as realism and feminism, are masculinity, education, theological reflection, narrative experimentation, and representations of selfhood and of the female as professional. Attention has also been given to the woman as artist in The Tenant and to the significance of animals in Agnes Grey. Brontë’s poetry, often discussed comparatively with that of Emily Brontë, has been addressed in terms of masked emotion and conflicted subjectivity (comparable in places with Christina Rossetti) and for its critical engagement with the spiritual ideals of Romanticism and with aspects of Victorian Christianity. In the constant flow of publications on the Brontë group, including companions, biographies, essay collections, and the dedicated Brontë Studies journal, Anne Brontë’s literary works are now generally well represented.

Article.  10052 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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