RadioTimes: To Walk Invisible – Who were the real Brontë sisters?

To Walk Invisible: Who were the real Brontë sisters?


Tonight sees the airing of Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax creator Sally Wainwright’s latest project, a one-off two-hour period drama telling the story of famous authors (and sisters) Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë, as well as their wayward brother Branwell – and the author says it’s long been her ambition to bring that story to screen.

”I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who the Brontës were,” Wainwright says in the Christmas double issue of Radio Times. ”I grew up in Sowerby Bridge, about eight miles from Haworth, so they were part of our local history. I visited the Parsonage dozens and dozens of times and was very familiar with the story of the Brontë family.


”Later, I came to the books; I think I’ve read all of them now, but it was reading Wuthering Heights when I was about 14, possibly earlier, that really pulled me in. I was blown away by how it’s so unlike anything you think women would be writing at that time. It’s so down-to-earth, it talks about the coarseness of real life, and that’s something that appeals enormously to me as a writer.”

Read on to find out more from Wainwright about the Brontës, how they lived and what she thinks they were really like – as well as a little extra historical context.

Starting with…

General life for the Brontës

”I’ve now done a lot of research into how the Brontës lived,” Wainwright says. ”Life expectancy in [Yorkshire town] Haworth at that time was 19, mainly due to poor sanitation – the main street would have been running with sewage.

”It was a bleak place to grow up, but it was close to Halifax, which had concerts and a thriving Philosophical Society and a Literary Society, so in many ways life for the Brontës was more sophisticated than we realise.”

How they spoke

”Writing a period drama is very different from writing contemporary drama and it’s often harder, because you’ve got to respect that people spoke in certain ways,” Wainwright says.

”I recently watched the 1970s drama serial about the Brontës, and they all spoke extremely correctly, posh and stiff, as if they’d been to drama school. Certainly they would have known correct grammar, but they would most definitely have had a Yorkshire accent and used local phrases.

”We’ve got books that have dialect in them, but we don’t know how accurate they are, so I’ve had to be quite inventive with the use of language, because I desperately wanted to get away from making it sound like just another period piece.”

The life of Charlotte (1816-55)

Finn Atkins as Charlotte Brontë in To Walk Invisible

”Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre, Shirley and Villette) was ambitious and very pushy; she clearly wanted to put herself out there,” Wainwright says.

”She lived for seven years after Anne died, she got married and was immensely celebrated in her own life-time, almost like she was a rock star.

”So she had a very different life, in the end, to the life Anne and Emily had. I’ve dramatised the sisters as being quite antagonistic to each other – there’s a scene where Emily slaps Charlotte and pushes her around, which may surprise some – but I think it comes across, subtextually, in what we know about Emily and Charlotte that they had quite a difficult relationship.”

To Walk Invisible picks up Charlotte after her return from a school in Brussels, where she and Emily had travelled to learn and teach English and music respectively until their Aunt Elizabeth Branwell (played by Jill Baker in flashbacks) died, calling them back to England. In 1843 Charlotte went back to Brussells alone, having become deeply attached to the married man who ran the school, Constantin Héger. However her second stay was not a happy one, and she returned to Haworth in 1844, later using her time in Brussels as inspiration for parts of The Professor and Villette.

After the events of To Walk Invisible (which sees her and her sisters’ books published), Charlotte outlived all her siblings and was the only Brontë to really enjoy public approval for her work. After marrying her father’s curate Arthur Bell Nicholls (played by Rory Fleck Byrne in the drama) in 1854 Charlotte fell pregnant, but died the next year before the child was born due to complications (probably extreme dehydration caused by vomiting and morning sickness, though some think she may have caught Typhus).

The life of Emily (1818-48)

Chloe Pirrie as Emily Brontë in To Walk Invisible

”Emily was intensely private, and resented any attempt to push her around,” Wainwright says. ”You’ve got to remember that Emily is the person who wrote Wuthering Heights; she went walking on the moors every day, and I wanted her to come across as vibrant and robust, not some pretty little miss out of Jane Austen.”

Of the three sisters, Emily struggled the most to find work teaching (the others were teachers or governesses at various points), telling one class that she preferred the dogs she’d met to any of the pupils. In the end after leaving a couple of positions she became more of a stay-at-home daughter, doing most of the cooking, cleaning and ironing for the family at the Parsonage while her sisters went out to work.

Emily caught a cold shortly after her brother Branwell’s death, which developed into an inflammation of the lungs and tuberculosis, leading to her death in 1848 after refusing to see ”poisoning doctors”.

The life of Anne (1820-49)

Charlie Murphy as Anne Brontë in To Walk Invisible

”I think Anne (Agnes Grey, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) was the one who calmed her sisters down and made the relationship workable,” says Wainwright.

”She’s often dramatised as just being there to make up the numbers, but the quality of her work was just as astonishing as her sisters’ and I wanted that strong personality to come across.”

Anne left Haworth to work as a governess from 1839, mostly for the Robinson family at Thorp Green, and secured a job as tutor for her brother Branwell there in 1843. She left in 1846 shortly before Branwell was fired, probably after learning of his affair with the wife of their employer. She made lifelong friends with the Robinson children, however, and as a teacher was the only one of the Brontës who can be said to have found real success with the profession.

After returning home Anne, with her sisters, published a book of poems under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, paid for by money left to them by their late Aunt Branwell. Unfortunately, despite favourable reviews, the book only sold two copies, though it was enough to spur Anne and her sisters to write and publish the novels that would truly make their names.

After the publication of Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in 1847 and 1848 (the latter of which became a best-selling sensation, described as shocking for its depiction of alcoholism and debauchery), the death of Emily in September of the latter year affected Anne deeply. The pair had been close as children (collaborating on stories about the fictional land of Gondal as Charlotte and Branwell did for their own made-up country of Angria), and soon Anne’s grief overwhelmed her physical health, with the youngest Brontë catching influenza and then tuberculosis. After lingering for a few months, she died in 1849.

After death, Anne’s legacy has faded the most of the Brontë sisters, which some attribute to the actions of the still-living Charlotte when she blocked the posthumous republication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall due to her disapproval of its content.

The life of their brother…

Adam Nagaitis as Branwell Brontë in To Walk Invisible

”Branwell (1817–48) is often just written off as “the wastrel brother”, but he was very talented, too,” Wainwright says.

”As a child he was the leader in a lot of their intellectual games and in their writing, but the sisters had the absolute gift of hard work, and I don’t think Branwell did. While there’s doubt, now, that he was an opium addict, Branwell certainly suffered from alcoholism, which, of course, is an illness. Nobody chooses to be an alcoholic and I wanted to show what living with this illness does to a family.”

To find out more about Branwell and his life, read our in-depth article here.

…and their father

Jonathan Pryce as Patrick Brontë in To Walk Invisible

”Much of what we think we know about the Brontës is coloured by [Elizabeth] Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte, which was by no means objective,” Wainwright says.

”She elaborated a lot to make a good tale and certainly she portrayed Patrick Brontë (1787– 1861) as a harshly authoritarian father. Juliet Barker, whose books I used a lot to research the film, has a very different version of Patrick. I think that, being Irish, he would have known the power of storytelling, and I’ve portrayed him as an enlightened man who very much believed in empowering women intellectually.”

Brontë outlived all of his children and his wife Maria Branwell Brontë (the latter by forty years), and after Charlotte’s death co-operated with Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of his daughter. He lived until he was 84, during which time Charlotte’s husband and his former curate Arthur Bell Nichols lived in the Parsonage with him.


”The BBC approached me about five years ago to do something for the bicentennial of Charlotte’s birth in 1816,” Wainwright (above with actor Jonathan Pryce) recalls in her Radio Times piece.

”They wanted a biopic, and it could have been a full series, but I wanted to focus on the Brontës as mature adults, so I chose the three-year period leading up to Branwell Brontë’s death in 1848. The tragic aspect of the Brontës – three of the siblings died within ten months of one another – has always been a draw, but in this film I really didn’t want them to be defined by their deaths.

”What fascinates me is the fact of three literary geniuses sitting in the same room, and the fact that they were all women. It’s an extraordinarily compelling story, and I hope I’ve done it justice.”

En tidig julklapp!

Ur tomma intet kom en julklapp!

Systrarna Brontës Värld har utsetts till en av årets bästa böcker av Skånska Dagbladets kultursida! Så här skriver man:

Systrarna Brontës värld av Ann Dinsdale:
För alla som gillar systrarna Brontë är den här boken ett måste. Deras tragiska livsöden levandegörs med hjälp av foton, målningar, teckningar, ägodelar och husinteriörer. Det blir som ett titthål in i en annan tid, och ett dokument över deras korta men för framtida läsare så viktiga liv.

Hela artikeln här


God Jul & Gott Nytt År & Julpyssel – vinn böcker

Vi på Bokförlaget Angria vill med den här vinterbilden från heden norr om Haworth önska er God Jul och Gott Nytt År! Bilden är förresten hämtad från vår bok Systrarna Brontës Värld.

Julpysslet är en liten anspråkslös tävling. Nedan finns tolv Charlotte Brontë-citat. Vilket tycker ni bäst om? Rösta genom att skicka ett mail till Får vi mer än tio röster lottar vi ut ett bokpris bland dem som röstat, vid mer än tjugo röster lottar vi ut två bokpriser och vid mer än trettio röster lottar vi ut tre bokpriser!


Anna-Karin & Per Ove


  1. Jag tycker att livet är för kort för att man ska ägna det åt att odla fiendskap och räkna oförrätter.
  2. Inför er är jag varken man eller kvinna. Jag står framför er endast som författare. Det är den enda måttstock ni har rätt att mäta mig efter – den enda grundval jag accepterar för er bedömning.
  3. Jag är ingen fågel och jag är inte fångad i något nät. Jag är en fri människa med en självständig vilja, och nu använder jag den till att gå ifrån er.
  4. Det är allmänt känt att fördomar är svårast att utrota ur det hjärta vars jordmån aldrig har berikats med kunskap; de växer där, ostörda som ogräs bland sten.
  5. Det är inte våldet som bäst besegrar hat, och hämnden kan inte sona en oförrätt
  6. Lycka som inte delas kan knappast kallas lycka – den saknar smak.
  7. Att gråta är inte ett tecken på att man är svag. Ända sedan födseln har det alltid varit ett tecken på att man är vid liv.
  8. Kärleken är äkta – det mest äkta, det mest bestående, det ljuvligaste och ändå det bittraste vi upplever.
  9. Vänskap är inte en blomma som kan drivas fram som i ett växthus – sann vänskap är inte en planta som står i full blomning efter en natt och vissnar dagen därpå.
  10. Mitt hjärta sökte mäta djupet av sin lycka. Det lodade och lodade och fann den bottenlös.
  11. Om du inte älskar en annan levande själ, så kommer du aldrig att bli besviken.
  12. ”Gråt inte, miss Jane”, sade Bessie när hon hade slutat. Lika gärna kunde hon ha sagt åt brasan att inte brinna …

Det sista Charlotte Brontë-citatet

Året då vi firat 200-årsjubileet av Charlotte Brontës födelse är snart slut och därför kommer här det sista citatet den här gången, nummer femtiotvå, som är hämtat ur Jane Eyre. Jane säger:

Läsare, jag gifte mig med honom.

Charlotte B kunde ha skrivit: ”Läsare, vi gifte oss” eller ”Läsare, han gifte sig med mig”. Men det gjorde hon inte, och det gjorde hon med mening.

Sista chansen att ge bort Systrarna Brontës Värld som julklapp!

Idag eller imorgon måste man beställa julklappsböckerna från Adlibris och Bokus för att få dem i tid, ta chansen och köp till kampanjpris!

Så här skriver man om Ann Dinsdales populärvetenskapliga biografi om de berömda systrarna:

Bernur:  Det är en praktfull bok … svindlande vackra foton  … en guldgruva för den intresserade …

Tidningen Kulturen:  … definitivt som någonting varje dedikerad Brontë-entusiast kommer att sätta högst upp på sin önskelista. En snygg blivande klassiker inom sin genre!

Kampanjpris året ut: Du kan köpa boken hos Bokus för 150:- (tidigare 201:-) eller hos Adlibris för 158:- (tidigare 199:-).

Veckans Charlotte Brontë-citat

Jane i Jane Eyre om mr Rochester:

Jag hade inte haft för avsikt att förälska mig i honom. Min läsare vet att jag hade kämpat hårt för att utrota ur min själ de frön till kärlek jag hade upptäckt där. Men nu, så snart jag fick se honom igen, växte de upp, friska och grönskande! Utan att se på mig fick han mig att älska honom.

Översättning: Gun-Britt Sundström

Mia Wasikowska och Michael Fassbender i 2011 års filmatisering av Jane Eyre



Röster om vår översättning av Villette:

C-G Karlsson, Go’kväll, SVT: En fantastisk bok. 

Ulrika Knutson, GP: Om Jane Eyres popularitet bygger på all härlig skräckromantisk rekvisita, med den demoniske Mr Rochester och hans galna kvinna på vinden, så ligger Lucy Snows storhet i hennes levande psyke. Till det inre är hon förbluffande modern, vår samtida under bahytt och krinolin. Modern också som romangestalt, komplex, kapabel till starka motstridiga eller kluvna känslor. 

Köp den hos Bokus (193:-) eller Adlibris  (195:-)

Systrarna Brontës Värld

Så här skriver man om Ann Dinsdales populärvetenskapliga biografi om de berömda systrarna:

Bernur:  Det är en praktfull bok … svindlande vackra foton  … en guldgruva för den intresserade …

Tidningen Kulturen:  … definitivt som någonting varje dedikerad Brontë-entusiast kommer att sätta högst upp på sin önskelista. En snygg blivande klassiker inom sin genre!

Kampanjpris året ut: Du kan köpa boken hos Bokus för 150:- (tidigare 201:-) eller hos Adlibris för 158:- (tidigare 199:-).


BTJ-häftet: Brontës oefterhärmliga tonfall är skickligt klätt i svensk språkdräkt, för första gången på två sekel. Professorn är fängslande och skriven med skarp psykologisk blick.

Beas Bokhylla: Språket är noggrannt genomtänkt och utsökt, något att njuta av om man, likt jag, tycker om stilen i Brontës författarskap. På grund av hoppfullheten, den något lättare stilen och historien som helhet seglar Professorn upp på en andraplats bakom Jane Eyre för mig bland Charlotte Brontës böcker, trots avsaknaden av hemligheter gömda i vindsrum.

Bokus (189:-) och Adlibris (180:-) säljer boken.

Veckans Charlotte Brontë-citat

Lucy Snowe, i Villette, är lika kylig som sitt efternamn:

Under några minuter kände jag att hon plågades. I det ögonblicket av sitt unga liv hade hon känslor som somliga aldrig upplever. Det var en del av hennes natur. Hon skulle uppleva fler sådana ögonblick, om hon fick leva. Ingen talade. Mrs Bretton, som var mor, fällde en tår eller två. Graham, som satt och skrev, höjde blicken och stirrade på henne. Jag, Lucy Snowe, var lugn.

Ur vår översättning av Villette


Målning av Cecilia Beaux (1855-1943), Fanny Travis: A little girl

Charlotte Brontës brev till Constantin Héger den 18 november 1844

Utdrag ur en artikel från BBC:

It’s not the words alone that speak to us. “Some of the physical items have a story to tell on their own,” Clarke tells BBC Culture. “There’s an item that was torn up and then sewn together, or just the addition of a doodle, or you can see that some documents have been through the wars.” One of the most fragile letters in the collection was ripped up and thrown away by its recipient. While studying languages at a boarding school in Brussels run by Professor Constantin Héger and his wife, Charlotte Brontë became infatuated with her teacher. After returning to England, she wrote several letters to him – but he discarded them all. “Incredibly four of her letters have survived,” writes Clarke. “Curiously, it is thanks to his wife – who retrieved them from the waste paper basket and sewed them back together – that we are privy to their content today.”

As Clarke points out, Brontë’s stitched-together missives offer us a glimpse into the mind of the novelist. “The letters are deeply poignant and reveal the extent of Charlotte’s passionate feelings for the professor, her desire to see him, her despair at his silence and ultimately her resigned desolation and sense of rejection – emotions that she would later pour into Jane Eyre and Villette.”


“I wish I would write to you more cheerful letters, for when I read this over, I find it to be somewhat gloomy – but forgive me my dear master – do not be irritated at my sadness – according to the words of the Bible: ‘Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaketh’ and truly I find it difficult to be cheerful so long as I think I shall never see you more.”