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

Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life


Goodreads: Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Official Summary

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.

Star Divider


In Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life, Samantha Ellis explores the people, landscapes, and experiences that shaped Anne’s convictions and found expression in her work. From Anne’s social concerns to her religious doubts, the book covers the parts of Anne’s personality that make her stand out from her sisters. Too long forgotten by history, the book argues, Anne is ready to take her place as the most revolutionary and progressive of the Brontës–an author truly for our time. Intertwined with Anne’s story is that of Ellis, who reflects on Anne’s life and work and how they resonate in her own life. The result is a wonderfully witty and personal celebration of an author whose literary legacy needs to be reclaimed.

The lack of personal papers left by Anne has lead in part to her erasure from history; it also means that Ellis is left to piece together what she can of Anne’s biography from the people she knew. The book is organized into chapters based on people like Anne’s mother, her father, her aunt, her brother, with each one discussing what Anne might have learned from them. Concern for the oppressed from her father. An understanding of the effects of addiction from her brother. Ellis’s account carefully delineates what we know for certain, and what can only be speculated. Anne’s secret love for a local curate? Yes, it happened, Ellis thinks–but she does acknowledge that no written record can confirm it.

Perhaps the most amusing part of Ellis’s work is how poorly Charlotte comes off. Charlotte tends to be a focal point for literature lovers, both because she wrote Jane Eyre and because she left a large number of letters behind her when she died. But Ellis paints a portrait of a woman who tended to follow her own inclinations, despite her sister’s wishes. Anne, for instance, wanted to open their school at Scarborough; Charlotte decreed it would be at Haworth. Anne wanted to visit Scarborough when she was dying from tuberculosis, thinking the sea air might do her good. Charlotte refused to go with her, and instructed her friend Ellen to refuse to go with Anne, as well. Did Charlotte also destroy Anne’s personal papers when she died? Or did Anne do it herself? The world may never know. But we do know that Charlotte’s refusal to republish The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and her attempts to control Anne’s reputation after her death, were no doubt factors in Anne’s disappearance from literary history.

Readers should be advised that Ellis’s work is not strict biography. Her account of Anne’s life intertwines with her own; Ellis seems to find herself in Anne. She considers her romantic relationship in light of Anne’s life. She considers Anne’s guiding philosophies. She finds strength and inspiration in Anne. And, ultimately, her story ends up becoming a part of Anne’s story–because it shows that Anne is still alive, that her life and her works still speak to us, that she does not deserve to be forgotten.

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life is a lively introduction to Anne’s life and legacy, an easy-to-read biography that will appeal even to those who are intimidated by nonfiction. Ellis’s personable writing style reads like the confessions of a friend, drawing readers in to the forgotten world of Anne Brontë .

4 stars

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