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Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life Hardcover – International Edition, February 28, 2017
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"I thought that everything had already been said about the Brontes. But Samantha Ellis has looked at the family from a new angle, and in doing so brought Anne out of the shadows and placed her front and centre amongst her splashier siblings. I was wowed and moved" -- Tracy Chevalier "A lively, intelligent tribute to the forgotten Bronte sister, Anne... Her indignation is salutary" -- Lucy Hughes-Hallet * Observer * "A fascinating and compelling read... what Ellis does extraordinarily well is to convey the emotion of her own deeply personal voyage of discovery about Anne and herself... [makes] you long to rush off and reread Anne's novels and poetry: what more could you ask for?" -- Juliet Barker * Mail on Sunday * "This is a very personal book about what the short life of Anne Bronte can tell us about wringing every drop out of existence... A great pleasure to read and a more fitting tribute to Anne than her gravestone in Scarborough." -- Daisy Goodwin * The Times * "A lovely and imaginative investigation into a serious and searching woman whose last words were "take courage". It's inspiring stuff" -- Eithne Farry * Sunday Express * "The Brontes have spawned innumerable spin-offs and imitations, and Ellis cites and analyses many of them, from Hollywood movies to graphic novels, from television adaptations to stand-up comedy and online magazines. She has obsessively pursued them into every cultural realm, and she has read all the biographies, both scholarly and popular... It takes some time for an ageing reader to settle into this startling frame of reference, but once adjusted, the rewards are considerable" -- Margaret Drabble * Times Literary Supplement * "Her personal approach is the source of both the book's immense charm and also its considerable power... ultimately the book is a deeply moving depiction of how reading and writing allows us to forge an emotional and intellectual connection with someone who died over a century before we were born... brilliant" * Irish Times * "Wonderful... Ellis lives and breathes Anne's life... the feeling of being a Bronte becomes movie-screen vivid... If the experience of reading Anne's poems feels for Ellis "like being let in on secrets", that feeling is mirrored for the reader of Ellis's illuminating book" -- Juliet Nicolson * Spectator * "Take Courage is as much an account of Ellis's own discovery of Anne's work as it is that of her subject's life, and herein lies the book's unique appeal. Ellis - who is, it should be noted, as intelligent and perceptive a reader as she is an evocative storyteller - truly writes from the heart, which isn't to say she hasn't done her research... a deeply sympathetic and interesting re-evaluation of a woman ahead of her time who has much to teach us all about living courageously" -- Lucy Scholes * Independent * "Anne is the Cinderella of the Bronte sisters... Anne was, in fact, the secret firebrand of the family... The dominance of the two elder sisters means that there remains a need to bring her out of the shadows. In Take Courage, Samantha Ellis has risen to the challenge... Take Courage is almost as much about Ellis's vicarious relationship with her subject as it as about Anne Bronte. If scholarly footnotes are your thing, it isn't for you. But if you want to share in a biographer's emotional journey, you will find insights aplenty. The account of Anne's death from TB at the age of 29 is truly moving" -- Lucasta Miller * Sunday Times * "It really feels as if Anne Bronte is finally having her moment in the sun... Often overlooked due to the higher profile of sisters Jane and Emily and even her wastrel brother, Branwell, in Take Courage, Samantha Ellis skilfully reclaims Anne as a truly modern, feminist writer whose work is just as relevant today" * Red * "Ellis is at her best when she is furious and direct about the tragedy of Anne's short life and the ways she has been dismissed as sweet, virtuous and dull... Most compellingly, she reflects on how Anne's pragmatic attitude to Branwell's abusive behaviour made Tenant more mature and realistic than any of her sisters' works... Take Courage is a timely reappraisal - and if Ellis sends readers back to Anne Bronte, she'll have performed a valuable service" -- Johannah Thomas-Carr * Evening Standard * "A spirited attempt to bring Anne Bronte out from under her sisters' shadow." * Sunday Times * "For Ellis, the general ignorance of Anne Bronte's works is a source not so much of regret as near fury ... Ellis turned to Anne's two novels. To her surprise she found them more brave and radical than anything her sisters ever wrote. Anne has been in her sisters' shadows for too long and the time has come to give 'the other Bronte' her proper due" -- James Walton * Daily Mail * "Ellis's bracing look at Anne forces a radical rethink of the younger sister... Inspired" * Psychologies * "Ellis [is] an engaging, perceptive and sympathetic writer [...] and her personal approach is the source of both the book's immense charm and also its considerable power." -- Anna Carey * Irish Times * "A robust, emotionally charged defence of the writer, whose death at 29 left us with a handful of poems and two novels ... a woman misunderstood by historians and obscured by her sisters, despite a mind blindingly sharp and progressive" * Irish Examiner * "This is a poignant and often surprising journey into the life and work of a woman who emerges as a strongly feminist writer well ahead of her time and who has much to teach us today about how to find our way in the world." * UK Press Syndication * "Take Courage is Samantha's personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. A brave, strongly feminist writer well ahead of her time - and her more celebrated siblings - and who has much to teach us today about how to find our way in the world... The Bronte's are a fascinating family and this is a really interesting book which really helps to bring light to Anne Bronte and her work... This book goes a great way to providing a more balanced view of Anne, what she thought, how she lived as well as gives great insight into her poems and novels. I can't wait to re-read her novels, and maybe even try some of her poems too" * Gingerbread House *
About the Author
Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist. Her first book How to be a Heroine was published in 2014. Her plays include Cling to me Like Ivy, Operation Magic Carpet and How to Date a Feminist. She has written for the Guardian, Observer, TLS, Spectator, Literary Review, The Pool, Exeunt and more. She lives in London.
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Like so many readers, I admit that I came to Anne’s novels after those of Charlotte and Emily’s and I loved them. Like Ellis, I felt outraged when, as she went about exploring the life of Anne, she found that many people did not know her work, or even who she was. She was cast as ‘the Other Sister.’ Less talented, less famous, younger, less important, and so I am delighted that this book puts her life firmly at the centre of her own, too short, story.
In this book, Samantha Ellis gives each chapter a theme and then uses it to explore Anne’s life. So, a chapter may look at her relationship with Charlotte, or Emily, Branwell, her aunt Elizabeth, Tabby, who helped keep house, her father, Patrick, and, obviously, her novels, “Agnes Grey,” and “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” Of course, this is a biography and so the story of Anne is told; the early loss of her mother, the imaginative, make believe world of Gondal that she shared with Emily, her love of nature and her attempt to use her writing to make important points about the lives of women.
In “Agnes Grey,” Anne used her powers of observation to portray the very real life that governesses faced, after being one herself. Overlooked and shy, she wrote (writing ‘crossways’ across the paper to save money) of being made to feel uncomfortable on walks, where she was talked ‘over’ or ignored. Where she was expected to be on call all the time and had no leisure of her own, while Branwell was allowed to lodge outside and had the ability to walk and write. Again and again, we see both Anne, and her sisters, finding their writing taking second place to their obligations – whether it is housework or earning a living, they had to try to find time for their own passions. Money was spent on Branwell’s attempts to make a career as an artist – his sisters published in secret and under pseudonyms.
Sadly, Anne never lived to see how her work has survived. “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” is a wonderful read and also has an extremely important message. Ellis tells of how Anne heard her own father tell a visitor that, against all the expectations of the day, she should leave her husband and this spurred her on to write a novel where her heroine, Helen, becomes her own woman and finds the courage to leave her unhappy marriage. In this work, the author puts both Anne’s life, and her work, in context. This is a moving read – it left me feeling angry and yet uplifted. Angry that women are still suffering inequality and abuse, and yet uplifted, because Anne, and her sisters, fought against the odds to create marvellous works of literature. Their poverty, their lack of opportunity, their limited opportunities, did not stop their imagination from soaring and their work from surviving.
If you love reading; if reading is important to you, then I urge you to read this book. It is one of the best biographies that I have read and I am sad I have finished it. I rarely feel such sorrow when I complete a book – but this will stay with me and I feel enriched by the experience of reading it. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
Anne has been championed in more modern times for her more realistic, less romantic, heroines, as the sister who more clearly reflected the way society was weighted against women, and, moreover who explored a journey towards independence for her heroines, a self-actualisation free from the lures of ‘the Byronic romantic hero’ which renders Emily’s and Charlotte’s books so very alluring to impressionable minds.
Anne might just be the writer for the woman wanting to make a journey out of myth. And Ellis is a perfectly placed writer to explore this territory.
I adored Ellis’ first book, How to be a Heroine, which engagingly, intelligently, passionately, thoughtfully and entertainingly explored the various ‘heroines’ of literature whom female readers might internalise as aspirational role models. This was, and is, a book a strongly recommend to all of my literary minded sisters, as a feisty book which provokes much enjoyable debate. And THIS book will be another, and is certainly heading me over to explore Anne’s two novels.
Ellis writes exactly the kind of literary non-fiction which I most enjoy. Forget dry, cerebral, academic theory, which pins its subject matter like a chloroformed butterfly, so that it will never fly again. Without losing any ability to analyse, or being any less intelligent in analysis, what Samantha Ellis brings is dynamism, a whole-hearted, gut-felt, lively intellect engagement with her material. Literature MATTERS to her, it is a living thing, and she observes the flying butterfly of a book, a life, a society on the wing, and observes herself observing it, rather than pretending a book, a life, a society are something outside our observation. The observer is always also having subjective responses.
Ellis takes (of course she does!) an interesting approach to her analysis of Anne, her life and her books. Rather than a linear approach, she looks at the seminal influences on Anne, with a chapter devoted to each influencing person. And also chapters devoted to the central characters of her two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – there must, surely, always be a kind of symbiotic relationship between a writer and their creations. The writer (well, the depth writer, anyway) will create characters from their own ‘stuff’, but what is also happening is that written character is also potential, offering an ability for writer (and reader) to have something fed back to them, by the imaginative invention.
And I was pleased to discover (so Ellis, so Anne!) that the positive influence of less obvious individuals were allowed to take their places in Anne’s formative sun – not only her missing mother, Maria, who died in Anne’s infancy, but Aunt Elizabeth Branwell, Maria’s older sister, who moved from her beloved Cornwall to be the motherly presence in the Haworth household. Tabby, who served the family all her life, also provided stability and love. The often harshly vilified father, Patrick, is also shown to be far more positively formative, with his commitment to education, and a strong sense of class inequality, and its unjustiice.
It must be said that the person Ellis is most censorious of is the best known, most successful sister – Charlotte, and her proper champions, Mrs Gaskell and Ellen Nussey. It was Charlotte who prevented, initially, the re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall after Anne’s death. In writing a realistic novel about alcoholism and about violence within marriage, Anne had written too modern, too truthful a book. And one, moreover, ‘unfeminine’ The book was considered by some, coarse, because it showed truth, and held a mirror up to society. Charlotte rather presented the sanitised image of the youngest sister, shy and sweet, and what the youngest actually wrote, conflicted with the docile image :
"Wildfell Hall it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve. The choice of subject in that work is a mistake, it was too little consonant with the character, tastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring inexperienced writer."
At this time of course Charlotte is a literary sensation. There is no doubt she loved her sister, but it seems she may have found it easier to love the idea of a weak, ineffectual angel (possibly an unhealed loss of her eldest sister, Maria, who it seems WAS that child), but found a more tough-minded, truth, rather than romantic illusion, facing sister, too tough a prospect. A more modern, psychologically driven analysis also has to wonder about any role played by sibling rivalry. Despite being seen by some as ‘coarse’, BECAUSE it did not romanticise, Wildfell Hall did sell well, on first publication.
Samantha Ellis, in offering us a wonderfully complex, interesting person, challenging-of-pre-conceptions writer, in her Anne Brontë biography, does the reader a service by clearly indicating where she is ‘imagining’ from her own perspective how Anne might have felt, or thought this and that, with also backing up some of her assumptions by textual evidence from the books, from social history documents of the times, as well as Bronte-and-friends letters and other documents
Woven into the book, in a way I find wonderful, is a kind of life-story, journey, of Ellis as artist and woman. This is a harking back to her first book ‘How to Be A Heroine’ as she uses Anne’s writing, Anne’s complex, struggling heroines, Agnes and Helen, to help her reflect on her own journey. Reminding me (who needs no such reminder) of the power of literature to shape lives. We learn and are inspired by a multiplicity of stories – our own, those of others we know personally, also figures in our own times on world stages, figures from other times – but, also, the inspiration of imagination itself, and that most ancient, and most potent of teachers – story.
I received this as a digital copy for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley
I really enjoyed time with Anne Bronte. It was as if she’d stepped out from behind the shadows and really had her voice heard. There was lots I learned and I’ve been to the Bronte parsonage more times than I can remember. I now want to go back however, with this book in hand, and reread The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and I imagine I will be able to hear Anne’s whispers on the Yorkshire Moors more loudly now.
All Bronte fans needs this on their bookshelves. And anyone interested in the sister, who up until now has been largely hidden from view.
The best Bronte places to visit are on thebooktrail.com. There's also an interview with the Bronte Parsonage on there which you have to go to after reading this book! The picture with this review is the Bronte Parsonage itself. A wonderful place for any literary wanderer!