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The Other Other Brontë: The Forgotten Legacy Of Anne Brontë

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KCL chapter.

The National Theatre’s new play Underdog: The Other Other Brontë tells the story of the lesser known third Brontë sister, Anne. The play’s use of satire, contemporary songs and a mesmerising set design creates a hypnotic environment for the audience to learn about the three sisters’ lives and their differing levels of fame. 

Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are the three most famous works by the Brontë sisters. Which have you heard of? The first two of these literary texts appear on many schools’ English Literature syllabuses, leaving Anne’s Tenant to hang in the background. Considering the talent of all three sisters, why, when we think of the Brontë’s, do only the names Charlotte and Emily spring to mind? 

All three sisters were radical and controversial for their time. The Brontë’s works have been studied for centuries for their progressive and strong female protagonists and due to the sisters’ pioneering success as female writers in the Victorian Era. Each of their books were commended upon publication before becoming subject to controversy once people started to suspect that the authors, who wrote under the male pseudonyms of the ‘Bell Brothers’, were in fact women. The themes tackled in the sisters’ works were said to be “unseemly” for women. Jane Eyre’s desire for independence and freedom challenged expectations of female behaviour in the 19th century, and the immoral, vengeful love between Heathcliff and Cathy (Wuthering Heights) was similarly criticised. But it was Anne’s novel, with its focus on domestic abuse and marital violence, that caused the greatest stir amongst Victorian readerships. Critics deemed Tenant coarse and vulgar, with Charlotte Brontë calling her sister’s novel “an entire mistake”[1]. Tensions between the eldest and youngest sister were explored within the National Theatre’s play, explaining how Anne’s works were regularly undermined by her sister, leading to Charlotte taking Anne’s work out of publication after her death. Attitudes towards Anne’s work and the diminishment of her talent explains why her novels are less well-known than those of her sisters.

Despite the criticism, Anne remained steadfast, reflecting her headstrong character. In the preface of Tenant, she wrote ‘I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be […] I am at a loss to conceive […] why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.’. Anne’s clearly evident strength and fight for respect contradict persisting depictions of her as the quiet, passive, and ladylike sister. Modern day feminists have recognised the power of the youngest sister’s writing in its exposition of the misogyny and abuse which women were subject to at the time. Her novels are being studied more today, finally receiving the recognition that they deserve as perhaps the most radical works of the Brontë sisters. If you too want to discover more about the lesser known Brontë, head to the National Theatre before the 25th of May to witness a breathtaking depiction of the sisters’ lives. Or even better, give Anne’s novels a read and decide for yourself: what do you think of the Other Other Brontë’s works?

[1]- An Entire Mistake: The Suppression Of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë (annebronte.org)

Grace writes for the Careers section of the King's College London (KCL) chapter of Her Campus. She is a 2nd year student studying English Literature and French. In summer 2023, Grace travelled to Yangshuo in China to teach English at a Language College and is currently studying for her TEFL qualification. As well as teaching, she had many exciting adventures such as white water rafting, hiking to the top of Guilin Provence’s TV tower to watch the sunrise and a personal highlight was winning the school’s talent show with a rendition of the Pitch Perfect finale. Before joining Her Campus, Grace was Deputy Editor of her high school magazine in Lancaster. Her responsibilities included commissioning, writing and editing articles. Grace enjoys creative writing, and is currently working on a screen play comedy about teenagers coming of age. She also loves the creative arts, and has a passion for musical theatre, singing and acting. When not writing for Her Campus, Grace enjoys playing netball for the GKT team. Otherwise, you can find her either curled up with a good book listening to Taylor Swift or hanging out with friends at the local salsa bar.