There has been a trend over the past fifteen years for what we might call ‘bibliomemoir’, a niche genre that mixes intimate confession with biography and literary criticism. The idea is that the narrator, a bookish type who has always felt a bit of an outsider, maps his or her off-kilter emotional career onto the literary texts that have helped him or her feel less, well, odd. Men have led the way in pulling off this hybrid form, but women have had some success too, most recently Rebecca Mead with The Road to Middlemarch. And now comes Samantha Ellis, whose Take Courage is a self-help book carved out of the slight writings and even more skeletal biography of Anne Brontë.
Ellis, who is almost forty, explains that, growing up, she had no interest in Anne, who always struck her – and a great many other people besides – as the least interesting of the Brontë siblings. While Charlotte and Emily were clearly the stars of the family business,