Thursday, 19 January 2017

Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis

 
published 2017


 
Anne Bronte 2


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.


 
Anne Bronte 3
 


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

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.




















16 comments:

  1. This sounds like a really interesting look at Anne Brontë's life, Moira. I really do enjoy those deeper explorations, if they're not too weighty. And this one sound as though it strikes the right balance there. Fascinating!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Margot, it's a great combination of serious research and excellent writing. I very much like Ellis's style.

      Delete
  2. I want to read this, too, but I'm going to wait for the paperback as I've resolved not to spend so much money on hardbacks this year. Agnes Grey is wonderful, it's quite short, too. About time Anne got a little attention!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! She is the connoisseurs' Bronte...I'm sure you'll enjoy the book when you get to it.

      Delete
  3. If she had been an only child, Anne would now be extremely famous in her own right. However, when your sisters have written JANE EYRE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS... Stick those two books with Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and you've pretty much got every romance novel and Chick-Flick since that time.

    The BBC film was good, but I couldn't get the Sky comedy show PSYCHOBITCHES out of my mind. I don't know if you saw it, but it was about a collection of famous women from history talking to Rebecca Front's therapist. The Bronte sisters were played by Katy Brand, Selina Griffiths and Sarah Solemani as squabbling, foul mouthed and sex-obsessed. Mind you, I can't get over the '40s biopic DEVOTION, with Olivia De Havilland as Charlotte and Sidney Greenstreet as William Thackeray.... Personally, I want a biopic that ends on an upbeat note with a time-traveller arriving from the future to whisk off the sisters to a Hollywood career. A film that ends with them cruising down Rodeo Drive in a big muscle car would be much more uplifting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a lovely thought that is. I didn't see Psychobitches - don't have Sky - but was very taken with the idea and the reports I heard. I guess I should look to see if it's available elsewhere.

      Delete
  4. Anne is the Best Bronte. Hands down. To be fair, I've only read Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but I just thought it was amazing, and easily the best Bronte book I'd ever read. I really need to read Agnes Grey, but I'm afeared it won't live up to Tenant.

    I had to study Jane Eyre for 4 years solid, first for GCSE and then for A Level, so while I appreciate it as a book, for the longest time, I was doing a "die in a fire, already" chant about Rochester, and wishing Jane had followed the excellent example of Helen Burns and carked it.

    I've also read Villette for my BA, but didn't really make much impression for it, as I was struggling for various reasons, and also, still had a deep loathing for Charlotte after those 4 years of unrelenting Jane.

    Don't even ask me what I think about Wuthering Heights, but if Emily's second book was remotely similar, then I'm not sorry Charlotte allegedly burnt the manuscript.



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Long story short, I LOATHE Wuthering Heights. The only redeeming feature about it is how brilliantly the characters are used in The Eyre Affair. (they're all undergoing anger management sessions)

      Delete
    2. My favorite thing about Wuthering Heights is the Kate Bush song!

      Delete
    3. I am very much enjoying these varying views on those various Brontes... I do like all the sisters' books (except have never actually read The Professor)in varying degrees, and I do also love the Kate Bush.
      Studying any book for four years would ruin it I should think!

      Delete
  5. I loved this book - read it not long after reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for the first time, (which I thought was extraordinary). Have since read and enjoyed Agnes Grey too, though it's fairly discursive, a bit like a 19th century version of The Nanny Diaries. While 'Take Courage' is enormously fresh and interesting, I did feel that poor Charlotte got it in the neck rather too often. Nobody would have published anything in that house, had it not been for Charlotte's drive and determination..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes she was quite hard on Charlotte. I do enjoy C's books, although I am always impressed at the way I feel embarrassed to read her. She's like the friend who's always telling you that she doesn't care about men AT ALL, but then dropping in a casual humblebrag remark about that time her boss really praised her. Villette is wonderful, but really! When she describes how Paul noseys around in her stuff and finds it all clean and tidy...

      Delete
    2. Ha! What stayed with me in Villette was that absolutely devastating ending: one of the most tragic in all literature. Brave of her to do it (albeit with a nod to readers who wanted to pretend that all was well - apparently her Dad had insisted he wanted a happy ending, but C always foresaw a watery end for Paul)

      Delete
    3. Yes, it is a great ending. Brave indeed. didn't Dickens want Great Expectations to have a sad ending and was persuaded out of it?

      Delete
  6. Sounds like a very good book. I have Agnes Grey on my list of classic books to read. Is Tenant of Wildfell Hall the only other book she wrote?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, so there's the excellent news that you can polish her off in two books! Agnes Grey is shorter, so a good one to start with, but Tenant is better...

      Delete