By Miriam Canfield
In celebration of the Bicentennial Birthday of Anne Brontë, The New York Public Library’s Jefferson Market branch will present a staged reading highlighting her life and writings on January 24 and 25.
Anne Bronte: A Woman of Courage, is sponsored by Frank Collerius, Library Manager of The Jefferson Market Library, in collaboration with Joy Goodwin, representative of the American Chapter of the Brontë Society; Alida Delaney, Founder of Kalidascope Media, and Miriam Canfield, Artistic Director of Vision Productions. The play merges scenes from Anne’s novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as well as excerpts from her poetry, diary entries and letters.
While somewhat overshadowed by the notoriety of her older sisters, Emily and Charlotte, Anne Bronte’s powerful writing reveals a bold, outspoken woman of courage. Anne’s work sparked considerable criticism in her day for the frank depiction of social issues revealed in her two novels, yet today her writing has increased in popularity because of the significance and relevance of her themes. In her own words Anne said it was better to reveal, “the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveler, than to cover them with branches and flowers.” Anne’s novels reveal her personal belief in the power of redemption for even her vilest characters.
Anne Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England in 1820, and was the sixth child born to Reverend Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë. When Anne was only one year of age her mother passed away. She was raised by her mother’s older sister, Elizabeth Branwell and her older siblings. Anne went to boarding school, yet most of her education was received from her older sister, Charlotte, as well as her father. As children, the Brontës loved storytelling and began to write about magical, fantasy worlds. Anne and her older sister Emily teamed up to create the world of “Angria.” Into adulthood they each wrote many poems centering around this fantasy world they had established together.
In her early twenties, Anne served as a governess for two different families. The experiences she had there served as the impetus for Agnes Grey, a story that chronicles the challenges and difficulties that a governess often faced. Anne would write one more novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which centers around characters embodying vice and virtue. Although her books are increasingly beloved in our day and age, Anne was met with critics who found her writing “coarse, even for men.” Despite what her critics thought, Anne was committed to revealing characters, “as they really appear.” Having witnessed the complexity of the human condition, Anne wrote boldly to warn her readers from making destructive life choices, arguing for the hope-filled alternative of seeking a virtuous life. Anne’s older sister, Charlotte, claimed her sister, “hated her work, but would pursue it. It was written as a warning.”
It wasn’t long after the publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, that tragedy struck the Brontë household. Anne’s older brother, Branwell died at the age of 31. Three months later, Emily died, and shortly thereafter Anne’s health deteriorated with tuberculosis. In May of 1849, as Anne was nearing her end, she ventured to Scarborough with Charlotte and their friend Ellen Nussey, to see the beautiful ocean one last time. The three women journeyed there together and witnessed a “most glorious sunset.” Anne passed away at age 29, while in Scarborough, where she is buried. Anne Brontë’s memory continues to live on through her beautiful writings, and the collaborative team presenting Anne Bronte: A Woman of Courage looks forward to celebrating her work, January 24 & 25, 2020.
Miriam Canfield has appeared in theatre and film productions in New York City, Chicago & Los Angeles and received her BFA from New York University’s Tisch Drama School.