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Anne Brontë and the Trials of Life

Robert Butterworth

The trials Anne Brontë experienced in her lifetime left her with a deep interest in the psychology of suffering. This study, which considers both her novels and her poetry, focuses on the exploration of suffering in her work by examining her anatomisation of the trials her characters face and the strategies they deploy to cope with them. The novel Agnes Grey is read as a study of a woman working in circumstances in which her professionalism is unacknowledged and denied, while The Tenant of Wildfell Hall depicts an individual who is trapped in a deeply alien and uncongenial environment. Equally, struggles to face adversity, achieve happiness and find and retain religious faith form the subjects of her poetry. The book concludes by considering the common ground between Brontë’s heroines and their experiences and her overall views about how to confront life and its trials.

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Chapter 1: Introduction: Anne Brontë and Her Trials


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Introduction: Anne Brontë and Her Trials

One thing which the works of Anne Brontë, at first sight quite diverse for such a small oeuvre, have in common is an interest in the trials of life and the psychology of those facing such trials. In her two novels and much of her poetry, Brontë presents protagonists who, from work to work, have to endure a variety of different trials. What is consistent is her interest in the psychology and psychological development of those going through these trials. She anatomises the trials and explores the strategies the protagonists use to cope with them, and the attitudes and qualities of character they need. She thus has much to say about facing life and its difficulties.

Concern with such matters is hardly surprising given Brontë’s own life, in which she faced many trials. She grew up motherless, Maria Brontë dying when her youngest child was a mere twenty months old. Anne later had no memories of her mother.1 Her eldest sister, also called Maria, took on the role of mother to her sisters and brother during their mother’s final illness, a family nurse told Elizabeth Gaskell;2 but she herself died in May 1825, aged eleven, when Anne was five. Just over a month later, the second eldest sister, Elizabeth, also died. Juliet Barker argues that these deaths had a traumatic effect on the other children, though perhaps less so on Anne.3...

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