8. Anne Brontë

Of the three sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne), only Anne makes this list. While Charlotte’s Jane Eyre rightly receives praise for its surprisingly strong-willed and independent female protagonist, Charlotte – like Jane – was happily married. The other two sisters remained unmarried until their early deaths, and Anne in particular made a somewhat revolutionary stand against the very image of marriage that Victorians so idealized.

Anne Brontë ‘s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shines a light on the extreme lack of control married women had over their own lives and the well being of their children. In Victorian England, women who fled from abusive husbands (women could rarely sue for divorce, so running away was sometimes her only option), could be charged with kidnapping her husband’s children or possibly even theft, since a married woman’s income was legally her husband’s, no matter who’s roof she lived under. The novel sold out within weeks of its first printing, and remained popular in Anne’s lifetime, due largely to the then-scandalous nature of the story. And while it may not have fared so well over time, it gave the English population an unflinching look at the miserable lives married women could be forced to endure.

Anne’s own life was a picture of the struggle unmarried women faced, thanks to a limited number of acceptable professions for women (Wildfell Hall was initially published under a male pseudonym). Like her sister Emily, Anne supported herself by working, mainly as a governess and as a writer. There are no records of courtship, marriage proposals, or even romances in Anne’s life.

Anne died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis. While her death was peaceful, she was disheartened that none of her other plans would come to fruition, and believing that she had accomplished very little with her time on earth.

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