Anne Brontë : Physical Appearance
  The Five Faces of Anne Brontë (Pictures)

While there are no photographs of Anne known to exist, there are five painted/sketched portraits of her (see below); and these, along with the following descriptions, enable us to form a reasonably accurate impression of her appearance. She is generally regarded as being 'the pretty one of the Brontës'.

Ellen Nussey's 'Reminiscences'

The only detailed description being from Ellen Nussey's 'Reminiscences' of 1871; here, Ellen was recalling the year 1833, when Anne was thirteen:

'Anne, dear gentle Anne was quite different in appearance from the others, and she was her aunt's favourite. Her hair was a very pretty light brown, and fell on her neck in graceful curls. She had lovely violet-blue eyes, fine pencilled eyebrows and a clear almost transparent complexion.'

Anne's hair was fair as a baby: a lock, taken by one of the Brontës' servants, Sarah Garrs, in 1824 - when Anne was aged four, is now preserved in the Brontë Parsonage Museum; it is said to be a 'pale gold' colour. However, it seems that by 1833, Anne's hair was darker than Ellen recalled: another small lock, cut off and preserved by her father, Patrick, on 22 May of that year, also retained in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, suggests that it had deepened to a rich brown with a hint of auburn.22n  The painted portraits of her bear this out.

Below is a collection of all the other known, contemporary references to Anne's appearance; although most of these are not very descriptive, merely referring to her degree of 'prettiness', and range from 'very pretty' to 'by no means pretty, yet of a pleasing appearance':

Ellen Nussey

In her 1871 reminiscences, Ellen Nussey also recalled her visit to the Haworth Parsonage (Anne's home) in 1848 - at the time Anne's final illness was diagnosed, and declared that she looked 'sweetly pretty' and was 'in capital spirits for an invalid'.

Dr. William Hall Ryott

During the time Anne was governess at Thorp Green Hall, her employer, Edmund Robinson, was something of a chronic invalid; he would occasionally call in a medical consultant, Dr. Ryott, who would then stay overnight at the Hall. It is recorded that 'He often saw Anne and spoke of her as "sweet" and "very pretty"'.23

George Smith - Publisher

Many years after the entire Brontë family had died, Charlotte's publisher and friend, George Smith, wrote his impressions of her and Anne in the Cornhill Magazine.24  His description of Charlotte was rather unflattering:

'I must confess that my first impression of Charlotte Brontë's personal appearance was that it was interesting rather than attractive. She was very small, and had a quaint old-fashioned look. Her head seemed too large for her body. She had fine eyes, but her face was marred by the shape of the mouth and by the complexion. There was but little feminine charm about her . . . '. He then went on to give his impressions of Anne, though he had only met her on one occasion - when she and Charlotte had paid him a visit in London in July 1848: his description of her, while not over-complementary, was a little more favourable than that of Charlotte's. He declared that Anne was 'by no means pretty, yet of a pleasing appearance'.

John Elliot Cairnes

Some years after the entire Brontë family had died, John Cairnes visited Haworth to undertake some research on the three sisters: he later reported: 'When I asked the old woman in the book shop which of them was the best looking, she shook her head and said there was not much to choose amongst them in that respect - The Sexton thought Anne the best looking, but indeed he could not say much for her looks.' 25

Mrs. Tabitha Ratcliffe (nee. Brown)

Mrs. Ratcliffe was the sister of the Brontës' servant, Martha Brown. In the Brontës' time, she 'used often to spend the evening with her sister at the Parsonage . . . as well as in the Sunday school, where she was taught by both Charlotte and Anne Brontë'. In the early 1900s, she was interviewed by one C. Holmes Cautley who wished her to recall all she could of the Brontë family. In the interview, she told Cautley 'I used to think Miss Anne looked the nicest and most serious like'. 26

Mary Robinson - Biographer (not Thorp Green related!)

In her early-1900s biography of Emily, Mary Robinson declared '[Emily was] no prim trim little body like pretty Anne'.27


Although Anne's height is not recorded, she is known to have been rather small in stature - possibly around five-feet-two inches tall: however, she was certainly not as small as Charlotte who was very self-conscious of her diminutive size - estimated at around four feet-ten inches. Emily was the tallest of the three at about five-feet-six inches.28n


The only reference to any verbal accent the Brontës exhibited was by Mary Taylor, another one of Charlotte's life-long friends, who declared that, when they first met at Roe Head School in 1831, Charlotte 'spoke with a strong Irish accent'.29  This accent was obviously acquired from her father, Patrick, who was of Irish descent. It seems logical to assume that Charlotte's accent would be echoed in Anne, and indeed her other siblings. However, as there are no other references whatever to their accent, it may not have been as 'strong', or 'obvious', as Mary Taylor suggests; alternatively, the Brontë children may have lost most of this accent during their youth. This is quite possible as Patrick is noted to have lost all his by 1853.30n  Given that the siblings spent much of their childhood and youth under the care of Aunt Branwell, who was from Cornwall, it seems certain that they would have acquired some of her Cornish accent, not to mention the inevitability of adopting some of the local Yorkshire dialect from their servants and local acquaintances. In conclusion, their accent was probably a blend of all three - and one can only wonder what this sounded like. Ellen Nussey once remarked on Anne's singing voice, declaring it to be 'weak, but very sweet in tone'.31n

N.B:  The background in the gallery has been dimmed to enhance picture radiance.


  The Five Faces of Anne Brontë  (6 pics - total 106K)


Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage
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21827 Mick Armitage (e-mail)