The Brontë Diaries: Anne’s Anxieties

Anne Bronte, from a drawing by Charlotte Bronte, in Charlotte Bronte and Her Circle (reproduced under Project Gutenberg licence).
Anne Bronte, from a drawing by Charlotte Bronte, in Charlotte Bronte and Her Circle (reproduced under Project Gutenberg licence).

The diaries of Emily Brontë focus on domestic life in Haworth, whereas Anne’s occasional entries are less concerned with immediate events and more speculative about the future. In this final post in a series of three unveiling the diaries of Emily and Anne Brontë, Sophie Franklin explores her anxieties.

Unlike Emily’s entries, Anne’s diary papers are punctuated and more formal than her sister’s. There is a pathos to her entries, a longing for something beyond her immediate existence. In contrast to Emily, who, as we have seen, committed herself to worry less about the future, Anne is always looking forward to the unknown as well as backwards to the past, in a constant comparison between ‘then’ and ‘now’:

30 July 1841

[…] I wonder what will be our condition and how or where we shall all be on this day four years hence; at which time, if all be well, I shall be 25 years and 6 months old, Emily will be 27 years old, Branwell 28 years and 1 month, and Charlotte 29 years and a quarter. We are now all separate and not likely to meet again for many a weary week, but we are none of us ill that I know of and all are doing something for our own livelihood except Emily, who, however, is as busy as any of us, and in reality earns her food and raiment as much as we do.

How little know we what we are

How less what we may be!

[…] What will the next four years bring forth? Providence only knows. But we ourselves have sustained very little alteration since that time. I have the same faults that I had then, only I have more wisdom and experience, and a little more self-possession than I then enjoyed. How will it be when we open this paper and the one Emily has written? I wonder whether the Gondalian will still be flourishing, and what will be their condition. I am now engaged in writing the fourth volume of Solala Vernon’s Life.

The lines in the middle of her paper come from Don Juan by one of the Brontës’ favourite poets, Lord Byron: “Between two worlds life hovers like a star, / ‘Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge. / How little do we know that which we are! / How less what we may be!” Anne’s is placing herself between two worlds, the past and the future, without focusing on the present moment. She is taking stock of her life at this point in time, but she is also looking towards 1845 when she and Emily will open this 1841 entry. Like any twenty-one-year-old, Anne is quietly hopeful of what lies ahead of her.

A young woman sitting on a fallen log in a forest
Like any twenty-one-year-old, Anne is quietly hopeful of what lies ahead of her.

Anne’s final diary paper is less grammatical – it flows from one thought to another more naturally than her previous entry. But it is again punctuated with numerous questions regarding the future, introducing an uncertain note:

Charlotte is thinking about getting another situation–she wishes to go to Paris–Will she go? […] This afternoon I began to set about making my grey figured silk frock that was dyed at Keigthley–What sort of a hand shall I make of it? E. and I have a great deal of work to do–when shall we sensibly diminish it? I want to get a habit of early rising shall I succeed? We have not yet finished our Gondal chronicles that we began three years and a half ago when will they be done? […] The Gondals in general are not yet in first rate playing condition–will they improve? I wonder how we shall all be and where and how situated on the thirtyeth of July 1848 when if we are all alive Emily will be just ’30’ I shall be in my 29th year Charlotte in her 33rd and Branwell in his 32rd and what changes shall we have seen and known and shall we be much changed ourselves? I hope not–for the worse at least–I for my part cannot well be flatter or older in mind than I am now–Hoping the best I conclude Anne Brontë

Although Anne wonders where and how they will all be “situated” on 30 July 1848, it is perhaps more likely that she and Emily planned to open this paper in the following year, four years after this paper was written. This is in keeping with the time-frame of the previous entries, which were written every four years: in 1837; 1841; and 1845. Such a chronology also accounts for the absence of an 1848 diary paper. By 30 July 1849, Anne, Emily, and Branwell were dead, leaving only Charlotte and their father, Patrick. With this knowledge, any reading of Anne and Emily’s intermittent diaries becomes tinged with sadness.

Yet the universality of Anne and Emily’s worries and fears, their preoccupation with the future balanced with their fixation on the world of fantasy through Gondal, still resonate today. After all, there cannot be many who have not asked themselves: “What will the next four years bring forth?”

Read Sophie’s other posts in this series on The Brontë diaries. You might also like to listen to this podcast celebrating the Brontës.


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