Note scribbled in back of Anne's Prayer Book
In January 1843, Branwell joined Anne at Thorp Green Hall, taking over from her as tutor to the Robinson's son, Edmund (jnr.). Branwell soon became infatuated with his employer's wife, Lydia Robinson, who, it seems, greatly encouraged him to engage in a secret affair with her. The affair continued over the following two and a half years, and it was not until early in 1845 that Anne became aware of their proceedings. With her religious and moral upbringing she was utterly disgusted at what was going on. Her wounded feelings are clearly evident in a note which she scribbled in the back of her Prayer Book: 173  in the minutest 'Brontë script' she declares: 'Sick of mankind and their disgusting ways'. The writing is so tiny it is difficult to read without the aid of a magnifying-glass. Winifred Gerin remarks: 'It was meant for no eyes but hers, to ease her swelling heart . . .'.174  The picture below shows the original note against a 48 mm.-long match (N.B: on a 15" screen, in 800 x 600 resolution mode this appears 'actual size' 175n ): beneath it is the note greatly magnified.

Size of Anne's note compared to a match

Note scribbled in back of Anne's Prayer Book (Magnified)

Shortly after resigning her post with the Robinsons in June 1845, Anne made a brief comment, in her diary paper, on the cause of her revolt at Thorp Green:

'. . . During my stay [at Thorp Green] I have had some very unpleasant and undreamt-of experiences of human nature . . .'

Within a month of Anne's resignation, her former employer, Edmund Robinson (snr.), discovered the affair. It seems Mrs. Robinson laid all the blame on Branwell for instigating, and taking the leading role in all stages of the relationship, though the evidence suggests otherwise. In the event, Mr. Robinson stood by his wife: he immediately dismissed Branwell and sternly warned him to 'break off instantly and forever all communication with every member of his family': Branwell was devastated: he had become besotted with Lydia Robinson, foolishly believing she would one day marry him. This episode proved to be the principle cause of his decline - which ultimately led to his death. Anne reproduced some of the incidents connected with this occurrence in her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; and it was, no doubt, partly this situation that Charlotte referred to when she wrote the 'Biographical Notice' of her sisters following their deaths. In the section concerning Anne, she writes:

'. . . She had, in the course of her life been called on to contemplate, near at hand, and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents misused and faculties abused; hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved, and dejected nature; what she saw sank very deeply into her mind; it did her harm. She brooded over it till she believed it to be a duty to reproduce every detail (of course with fictitious characters, incidents, and situations) as a warning to others. . . .'

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage
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