Rating: 3 out of 5 stars | Read: 5 March – 7 March, 2018.
Anne Brontë is an enigma. Not much of her personal writing has survived, so it’s hard to paint a true and accurate picture of her. I was hoping Samantha Ellis’ Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life would shed some light on Anne that I’m not personally aware of (I’ve read Barker’s 850 page biography, so there wasn’t much room for Ellis to explore). Unfortunately, this didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. It didn’t even work like an ordinary biography. Instead of telling us about Anne, Ellis told us about how she perceives Anne. It was full of useless information, and was more opinions than facts. As a biography, it failed. As a show of appreciation, it was lovely. On the whole, it was a very hit-and-miss read.
In this book, Ellis tries to bring Anne out of her sisters’ shadows. Anne is often the overlooked Brontë, which Ellis suggests is because she was the most truthful. Anne’s novel are embedded with realism – the hard truth of the nineteenth century, in all its glory – which most readers shy away from. When exploring these types of readings, the ones that focus specifically on Anne and her work, I found myself agreeing with Ellis on a lot of things. She provided rational and justifiable explanations as to why Anne is forgotten about, despite being the most “relatable” sister (a term I hate, but an appropriate one nonetheless). However, for the majority of this book, Ellis spoke about Anne in relation to her sisters, which was little contradictory, right?
Considering this book wanted to distance Anne from her sisters, Ellis framed her chapters so that Anne was talked about in relation to Emily and Charlotte, in addition to her father, brother and her characters. How can this book achieve its aim if it perpetuates the myth that Anne should be read in relation to her family, specifically her sisters? It made no sense, and ultimately failed. There were so many ways Ellis could have gone about writing this biography, especially if resurrecting Anne was her main aim, so why did she do this? Is Anne destined to be compared to her sisters? Can she never be her own single person? Not only that, but considering it’s a biography dedicated to Anne, Ellis spend far too much time detailing her family’s lives. I kept saying angrily to myself: just focus on Anne, please. This was my main issue with the text as it furthered the myth, whilst being completely contradictory in nature.
Another main issue was the writing style. It was too personal for a biography. I like my biographers to be distant from what they’re saying. I don’t want their opinions embedded in their writing; I want the cold, hard truths. Ellis, unfortunately, did not deliver. Don’t get me wrong: I liked seeing how much the sisters meant to Ellis, but at times it was a little too much. It blurred the lines. Was this a biography or a diary? Ellis talked about her husband far too much, described her journeys to this place or that, and included such useless information. I wanted Anne. Not Anne with a side of Ellis. It didn’t educate me on Anne because it was mainly assumptions. Additionally, it was too informal for a didactic text. Biographies should sound professional and sophisticated; they need to convince me that what I’m reading is the truth. However, I questioned the validity. Without my prior knowledge, I wouldn’t have believed a single word Ellis wrote. She blurred the line between real and fake.
Despite this, there were some positives. As I’ve already mentioned, I loved reading how much the sisters meant to Ellis. Through the tone, the author highlighted how much she admired these women, which only furthered my love for them. I felt like I wasn’t alone, and I wanted to preserve some of the words forever. My favourite chapter was definitely the final one, “Anne, or how to take courage”, as it was dedicated solely to Anne. For some reason, reading her death always makes me so emotional. She was such a lovely woman, who died too young and had so much left to give, and reading Ellis’ exact feelings overwhelmed me. I wish Anne was paid more attention to. Another good thing was Ellis’ extensive research into the pastiches of their work. I now know which books and films to avoid, and which to give a try.
In the end, it wasn’t the best biography I’ve read on the Brontës. Ellis used Charlotte and Emily to build a picture of Anne and, therefore, only perpetuated the notion that Anne lives in her sisters’ shadows. Ellis had such potential to resurrect Anne, to portray her as a brilliant feminist and passionate writer, but completely missed the opportunity. I’m glad that I read this, but it was a very disappointing read.
Have you read this? What did you think?
Thanks for reading, Lauren X