‘She died May 28th, 1849’: Anne Brontë and the Ghost of Literary Tourism

by Matthew Gurteen 

Photograph of Anne Brontë's grave.

(Immanuel Giel (2006). Anne Brontes Grave in Scarborough [jpg]. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anne_Brontes_Grave_in_Scarborough_01.JPG)

‘One of my earliest recollections is of being lifted by a kindly pair of arms that I might peep over the low stone wall of the ancient Scarborough churchyard, nestling mid-way up the Castle rock, within sight and sound of the sea. There, on a very modest grey slab, half hidden by the long grass, I spelt out these words – Here Lie the Remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Rev. P. Brontë (Incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire). She died May 28th, 1849.’ (1) (2)

In this nineteenth-century article for Women’s Signal, Yorkshire-born suffragette Florence Balgarnie vividly describes her first visit to St. Mary’s Churchyard in Scarborough, where the infamous novelist Anne Brontë, author of Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), is buried. I also remember my first visit to the author’s graves in the family vault, following many trips to the seaside town in my youth. Every year visitors, or ‘literary tourists’, continue to journey to Scarborough to pay their respects to the author.

            Indeed, many critics have noted the ‘literary tourist’ aspect of Haworth, Anne’s birthplace and residence for most of her life (3). Enthusiasts of the sisters’ work often journey to the Yorkshire village to visit Charlotte and Emily’s grave. As Barbara Schaff notes, ‘the literary place in which the readers desire for worship, communion, and remembrance culminates is the grave of the author’ (4). Similarly, the place in which readers’ of the Brontës desire for worship, communion, and remembrance, culminates is their graves, whether in Haworth or Scarborough.

Charlotte Mathieson has also explored Brussels, where Charlotte and Emily studied in 1842, as a literary landscape, arguing that readers have also ‘gone in search of a ‘Brontë country’ to be traced in the city’s streets’ (5). Mathieson makes no mention of Scarborough, however, where a similar point could be argued. Recently, Edward Chitham has explored ‘from the lists published in Scarborough newspapers the names of many of her [Anne’s] neighbours’ when she visited to demonstrate her aristocratic acquaintances and highlight their likeness in her novels (6). He makes no mention of literary tourism, however.

Indeed, the lack of academic criticism on literary tourism in Scarborough is striking, given the prevalence of Brontë studies. If Anne Brontë’s grave is a site of worship, communion, and remembrance, then it is understudied. This post posits a possible explanation for this lack of critical attention and calls for further research into the literary tourist landscape of Scarborough.

            This lack of attention, critical or otherwise, concerning Anne is hardly new, however. Balgarnie’s article is the exception, not the rule. An article for the Yorkshire Gazette aims to highlight the grave, stating that ‘few persons are, perhaps, aware what interesting associations with those wonderful Bronte [sic] sisters are bound up with the Yorkshire coast from Scarborough to Bridlington’ (7) (8). Scarborough has arguably not received the same critical attention as Haworth as a ‘literary tourist’ site because Anne, as a Brontë sister, has also experienced the same disregard. Lucasta Miller, for example, in The Brontë Myth (2001), does not study Anne. She argues that ‘Anne […] has never taken on the mythic stature of her sisters in her own right’ (9). Because Anne has never taken on the mythic stature of her sisters, one may argue that her grave has not achieved its culmination as a place of worship, communion, and remembrance, in the nineteenth century and today.

            This explanation does not seem sufficient, however, Visitors to Scarborough, like Balgarnie, continue to pay their respects at the author’s grave. Michael Stewart, for example, in Walking the Invisible: Following in the Brontës’ Footsteps (2021), notes ‘a group of Japanese tourists coming down the hill’ from Anne’s grave (10). Anne’s grave has international tourist appeal, despite her lack of mythic stature. Critics are also beginning to pay more attention to Anne’s literary output (11). The question thus remains: why does Anne’s grave, as a site of literary tourism, remain understudied?

I would argue that this lack of academic criticism is a broader symptom of the buried – and simultaneously ghostly – female body. Elizabeth K. Helsinger has explored national representation in rural scenes, in particular regarding Emily Brontë’s work, arguing that

‘the linkage of female bodies to rural sites is particularly powerful: woman, more strongly marked as a biological body than man, can represent a physical human presence that seems unmarked by political and class boundaries. Buried in a rural place, she helps erase its local histories, supporting a fantasy of the local and rural as premodern and prepolitical—archaic, other, strange.’ (12)

Portrait of Anne Brontë

(Patrick Branwell Brontë (1834). The Brontë Sisters (Anne Brontë; Emily Brontë; Charlotte Brontë) [jpg]. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anne_Bront%C3%AB_by_Patrick_Branwell_Bront%C3%AB_restored.jpg)

Anne’s – one may add female – dead body helps erase Scarborough’s local history. Although the same point is correct regarding Charlotte and Emily (and Maria and Elizabeth, the Brontës’ other sisters), it is particularly relevant regarding Anne, who has suffered a similar cultural erasure regarding her literary output. As a literary tourist site, her grave is Other, archaic, and strange, especially compared to Charlotte and Emily’s. Her grave is arguably a ghost of ‘literary tourism’. It is also fitting that Anne’s grave is by the sea, a site of constant erasure through erosion (13). As Wendy Pratt states regarding Anne’s grave, ‘history in seaside towns is transient’ (14). Indeed, this point is why academic attention concerning Anne’s grave is necessary. By studying Anne’s buried body, critics can gain a deeper understanding of rural and regional identity before it is erased.

(1). Balgarnie, F. (1895). Forty Years After.: At the Grave of Charlotte Brontë. Women’s Signal. 216. Stable URL: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0002232/18950404/032/0008 

(2). It is worth noting that the actual grave reads, ‘She died, Aged 28 May 28th, 1849’. This is a further inaccuracy, however, as Anne was 29 when she died.

(3). See, for example, Schaff, B. (2011). »In the Footsteps of …«: The Semiotics of Literary Tourism. KulturPoetik. 11(2), 166-180. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41305930

(4). Schaff, B. (2011). »In the Footsteps of …«: The Semiotics of Literary Tourism. KulturPoetik. 11(2), p. 175. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41305930#

(5). Mathieson, in Regis, A. K., & Wynne, D. (Eds.). (2017). Charlotte Brontë: Legacies and afterlives. Manchester: Manchester University Press

(6). Chitham, E. (2022). Anne Brontë and Scarborough. Brontë Studies. 47(1), 9-17. DOI: 10.1080/14748932.2021.1989799. p. 9 

(7). The Brontes and Bridlington. (1895). Yorkshire Gazette. 10. Stable URL: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000266/18950112/080/0010

(8). This article also appears in several other local newspapers, such as the Leeds Mercury and the York Herald, as was the fashion of newspapers in the nineteenth century.

(9). Miller, L. (2020). The Brontë Myth. London: Vintage. p. xix

(10). Stewart, M. (2021). Walking the Invisible: Following in the Brontës’ Footsteps. London: HQ. p. 174

(11). See, for example, Suess, B. A. (2001). New Approaches to the Literary Art of Anne Brontë. London: Taylor & Francis Group.

(12). Helsinger, E. K. (1997). Rural Scenes and National Representation: Britain, 1815-1850. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 176

(13). See, for example, Lambert, C. E., Holley, J. R., McComas, K. A., Snider, N. P., & Tucker, G. K. (2021). Eroding Land and Erasing Place: A Qualitative Study of Place Attachment, Risk Perception, and Coastal Land Loss in Southern Louisiana. Sustainability. 13, 1-16. DOI: ttps://doi.org/10.3390/su13116269

(14). Wendy Pratt, in Stewart, M. (2021). Walking the Invisible: Following in the Brontës’ Footsteps. London: HQ. p. 178

Matthew Gurteen is in the second year of his PhD at the University of Huddersfield. He studies true and fictional murders in the nineteenth century, and he is particularly concerned with how authors negotiate regional identity across adaptations of these crimes and their perpetrators in journalism and fiction. He has presented at several conferences, including the recent International Crime Fiction Association’s conference in Bangkok, and has been published online in blogs such as the Journal of Victorian Culture. Follow him on @megurteen for more.

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