Sunday, April 24, 2011

Those Zany Brontes

I've been trying to read Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey, but keep getting caught up in learning more about the Bronte family, plus a lengthy introduction so I haven't yet waded into the text. Wow, for some women who were unmarried and mostly stayed at home, there was quite a lot of drama. (Which may explain the tone and content of their novels.)

Here are some recently learned tidbits:

During their lifetimes, there were quite a few more women in England than there were men. Something like 350,000 more women, plus an additional 150,000 men who were counted as English were living abroad. So that explains why in so many novels of the time period there are always all these "old maids" and gentlewomen of no fortune who live in fear of never marrying. Apparently, unless you had the cash to buy a husband, it was pretty slim pickins.

There were two older sisters who died of neglect that turned into tuberculous while they attended a boarding school. Apparently, Charlotte also attended the school and her her descriptions of the horrible school in Jane Eyre are actually autobiographical.

Branwell, the only son, was a complete waste, but still pampered by the family. He was sent to study portrait painting in London, but returned home a few months later, penniless. He'd never applied to the school and spent the large amount of money he'd been given for tuition on drink. Later, when his sister Anne got him a place as a tutor in a home where she was the governess, he started a relationship with the mistress of the household, Mrs. Robinson, an older and still married woman. There is some belief the characters in The Graduate were based on this affair. After being discharged and getting his sister discharged, Bramwell sunk into a funk and was pampered some more. He died at 24 of tuberculosis complicated by alcoholism and an addiction to laudanum. I remember reading someplace that he died leaning against a fireplace mantle having bet a friend that it was possible to die standing up.

Anne is the least known of the Bronte sisters, but that turns out to be because after her death at 29 of tuberculosis, Charlotte suppressed the reprinting of her novels. There was a demand for them and the publisher offered to reprint them, but Charlotte said they weren't worth bothering over. Nice.


  1. I have to admit that, while I find the Brontes themselves interesting, I'm not a big fan of their writing. In their defence, once you get past the melodrama, they really were femisists of their day.

  2. Okay, I take it back. I was just deciding that I wasn't going to finish the book when I found myself reading more and more of it. It's more of a diary of Anne's time as a governess and gives an interesting window to that time period and that profession. I would recommend it to fans of the regency period.

  3. Did you read Villette? I am considering but afraid it is too depressing. what did you think of the Jane Eyre movie?

    Check out/follow my blog, which has YA book reviews in 100 words or less:

  4. I missed out on the Jane Eyre movie but will catch it on cable. I've read JE, but it's definitely not a favorite. I guess her description of the abusive girls school was based on her own experience at the school where her two eldest sisters died. Wow.

    What a great idea for a review siet. I will certainly check it out.