8. Anne Brontë
Writer, Social Critic, Lifelong Spinster
Of the three sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne), only Anne Brontë 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.
Critique of Marriage
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 could rarely sue for divorce, even in abusive situations. Further, a woman who fled from her husband could be charged with theft, since her income was legally her husband’s. If she fled with her children, she could even be charged with kidnapping. Wildfell Hall exposes these injustices as they occurred in real life.
The novel sold out within weeks of its first printing, and remained popular in Anne’s lifetime. This was due largely to the then-scandalous nature of the story. While it may not have fared well over time, it presented an unflinching look at the misery Victorian wives sometimes endured.
Personal Life and Spinsterhood
Anne’s own life was a picture of the struggle unmarried women faced. Thanks to a limited number of acceptable professions for women, she constantly struggled financially. Like her sister Emily, Anne supported herself by working, mainly as a governess and a writer. Wildfell Hall was initially published under a male pseudonym, which likely contributed to its success.
There are no records of courtship, marriage proposals, or even romances in Anne’s life. Her only dying regret was that she believed she had accomplished very little with her time on earth.
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