Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis – Book Review

Title: Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life

Author: Samantha Ellis

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Blurb from Goodreads

Anne Brontë is the forgotten Brontë sister, overshadowed by her older siblings — virtuous, successful Charlotte, free-spirited Emily and dissolute Branwell. Tragic, virginal, sweet, stoic, selfless, Anne. The less talented Brontë, the other Brontë.

Or that’s what Samantha Ellis, a life-long Emily and Wuthering Heights devotee, had always thought. Until, that is, she started questioning that devotion and, in looking more closely at Emily and Charlotte, found herself confronted by Anne instead.

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.

My Review

I’m here trying to think what to write for this review. I am utterly floored. I closed the book with tears streaming down my face, with my heart aching and yet with a sense of calm and acceptance…
Take Courage

The other Brontë sister.

I love reading the classics, be either those written for children or for adults. They have been my constant companions since I first started to read for myself. And yet, I have a peculiar relationship with the Brontë sisters. I have only ever read Charlotte and Emily. As with history, I too have left Anne to the sidelines. I started to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall some time ago, and somehow, sort of forgot I was reading it.

And now I think I know why… But more on that a little later.

Samantha Ellis in this journey into the life of the Brontë sisters has discovered Anne. In this book she chronicles a misunderstood existence and explores the themes of Anne’s writings in her poetry and her novels and questions why she is not more celebrated?

Why is she the forgotten sister?

Why has she so often been miscast as the virtuous, quiet one who patiently waited for her early death as some sort of martyr instead of the vivacious and determined human being that she actually was?

A woman ahead of her time who wrote bravely about feminist issues and gave her female characters stories that broke the mould of what was expected of women at the time of their writing.

This book explores the relationships between Anne and each of her sisters. It is an absolutely fascinating insight into the world of these brilliant writers who above anything were sisters. They were so inextricably linked and influencing each other in both positive and negative ways. There was undying love but there was also jealousy. There was caring but also callousness. There were shared outside influences but different interpretations. I was fascinated by the comparisons and conclusions that Samantha Ellis drew when writing about these sisters. And what made this book eminently readable were the authors own personal feelings. How she drew from her own life and her own influences to create such an interesting take on Anne Brontë and her sisters.

One of the greatest tips from this book that I will take is the recommendation to read the version of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall that is edited by Stevie Davies.

Unknown to many readers, myself included, is that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has been grossly edited over the years.

According to Ellis, in 1854 Anne’s novel was edited down by a publishing house called Thomas Hodgson in order that it would fit into a cheaper-to-publish, single volume.

And in later years it is this hacked text that has frequently been used to re-print The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Differences between the original work and the greatly-edited version include the absence of the opening of Gilbert’s letter at the start of the book which according to Ms Ellis sullies the theme and tone of the start of the book. There are also other important aspects edited out or watered down. But it is this missing opening letter that I think has had a huge impact on the reasons why I somehow forgot I was reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I found there was something missing in those opening pages that made me feel confused, I wasn’t grabbed… So I am very much looking forward to sourcing a copy of the book in its differently edited format and starting afresh with my journey into the writings of Anne Brontë.

Anne’s life ended tragically at just the age of 29. Disease was ever prevalent at the time and she succumbed to TB. Reading the end of this book when Samantha Ellis visited her grave was incredibly emotional. I was caught completely unawares by how much of an impact it would have on me. Even on her headstone her age is incorrect… It just seems to be yet another sad mark of how the world has gotten her so wrong over the years. She was hugely courageous with the themes of her writing and was not the quiet, unassuming wallflower that the world thinks.

This book is incredibly well researched and although I am sure there is a little fan-type bias with regard to some of the writing about the sisters; that’s not a fault or flaw, purely makes the book more human and emotional.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested to learn about their current favourite Brontë sister and to see why Anne has a right to stake her claim as to being the most forward thinking of the sisters.

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