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Yesterday, January 17th, was the birthday of Anne Brontë. Born in 1820, Anne was the youngest of the famous Brontë siblings–and like her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, Anne wrote poetry and prose, including two novels: Agnes Gray and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The latter is a particularly powerful indictment of patriarchal systems, but it is also a tremendous testament to Christian love and forbearance. If Anne had been the member of any other family, she’d undoubtedly be better known today. Unfortunately, literary history long had room for two Brontës at the most, and Anne was relegated to being known as “the other Brontë” until very recently, when she has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance.

Of the three sisters, Anne was the one who worked the longest (and in the most dire circumstances) as a governess. Unlike her sisters, she did not get to go abroad for further education, but continued plugging away at work to support the family. She was deeply thoughtful about theology and engaged with questions of theodicy, appropriate in a life of almost constant struggle and loss, begun with the death of the Brontës’ mother when Anne was only a toddler and followed only a few years later by the deaths of the two oldest Brontë sisters, Elizabeth and Maria. More challenges filled Anne’s life until her own early death at 29 of tuberculosis (probably contracted from her brother Branwell and her sister Emily, who both died in the year immediately before her own passing).

When the sisters decided to publish their poems in 1846, Anne included her portion in the collection. In honor of her birthday, I share this wonderfully honest poem that articulates something still very current: chronicling lament and love, despair and disappointment, struggle and service–but a service not for some time when all is calm and bright, but in the very difficult now. At the end of her life, Anne Brontë acknowledged the cost of her calling as she whispered to Charlotte, who would now have to go on alone sibling-less, “take courage, Charlotte, take courage.” A good and necessary word then and for a new year, too.

"I hoped, that with the brave and strong..."

I hoped, that with the brave and strong,
My portioned task might lie;
To toil amid the busy throng,
With purpose pure and high.

But God has fixed another part,
And He has fixed it well;
I said so with my bleeding heart,
When first the anguish fell.

Thou, God, hast taken our delight,
Our treasured hope away:
Thou bid'st us now weep through the night
And sorrow through the day.

These weary hours will not be lost,
These days of misery,
These nights of darkness, anguish-tost,
Can I but turn to Thee.

With secret labour to sustain
In humble patience every blow;
To gather fortitude from pain,
And hope and holiness from woe.

Thus let me serve Thee from my heart,
Whate'er may be my written fate:
Whether thus early to depart,
Or yet a while to wait.

If Thou shouldst bring me back to life,
More humbled I should be;
More wise—more strengthened for the strife—
More apt to lean on Thee.

Should death be standing at the gate,
Thus should I keep my vow:
But, Lord! whatever be my fate,
Oh, let me serve Thee now!

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.


  • Daniel Miller says:

    Thanks for this posting. I had never heard of Anne Bronte before.

  • Gretchen Munroe says:

    Like the Other Bolyn Girl, Anne is significant. Thank you, Jennifer.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Its poignant beauty is the truthful rendering of the heart and soul’s painful clinging to faith in the midst of so much anguish.

  • Kristy Manion says:

    Thank you, Jennifer, for encouraging my heart today through our sister Anne.

  • Norm Steen says:

    Thank you Jennifer, for launching first my wife and now me in reading “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” I’ve always wondered about this other Brontë sister. And the poem! Oh! Thank you also for that.

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