On May 28, 1849, Anne Brontë passed away but her legacy never took its last breath. A victim of tuberculosis, she was just 29.
Anne is often overlooked when placed alongside her two sisters, Charlotte and Emily, the former of which is most widely known, due to her immensely successful and remarkable novel, Jane Eyre. The feminist community, however, has surely not forgotten her, for in the words of Lucy Mangan, Anne is “the forgotten genius - a feminist and social firebrand whose ideas were way over Charlotte’s head and years before their time.”
So what is it about Anne that makes her so special and how is it so relevant to us today? Well, a great deal of the answer to this question stems from her inconspicuous determination. It’s something that made her not a proto-feminist but a feminist, full stop. She saw injustice and attacked it headlong. For instance, the oppressive rulings towards divorce and property ownership towards women, in her time, took full form in her contentious and forever provoking novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
She neither glorified nor extrapolated, but spoke with such rare truth. For instance, one of the primary male characters of her novel was an unremarkable aristocrat. Anne threw down the blazing match when he plummets into alcoholism and takes full shape to another plague Anne lit fire to with her words: domestic abuse.
The critics of the time were evidently horrified to see such a similarly brought up individual as themselves, so challenged and so portrayed. This coupled with the trailblazing advocation for the rights of women, Anne created an uproar. Charlotte herself censored the wildly successful and controversial book after Anne’s death, as she thought the intensity and fierceness of truth sped the death of one who she perceived to be much too fragile to brave it in mortal form.
Sound familiar? It is all too common, even centuries later, for the challenging ideologies of feminism, stemming much from Anne’s legacy, to be brushed off, disbanded, and claimed inconsequential. Further still, why is it that this is the feminist opposition’s strongest argument? And why is it that feminism sometimes trips, frazzled by the sheerly dogmatic attack? Let us return to Anne.
None but her own sharpness of mind and quick resolution fuelled Anne. She spoke through her novels more than what many of the people in her time were ready to hear. She audaciously jotted down much of these revolutionary words after hurrying back upstairs, condescended governess and brilliant writer as she was, she heeded not the opinions of others, but followed her heart.
This is the greatest refute to every manner of attack on feminism being without standing. The plaguing attack of declared irrelevance and to be ignored so wholeheartedly can leave one without spirit. But spirit can be found in Anne’s words and in her legacy upon our shoulders.
Feminism is to remember Anne in her spirit, and to remember Anne in her final words, striving to do just what she said before leaving our world, “take courage.”
- Noor Zohdy is a Grade 11 student at College Heights Secondary.