Poor Anne. Not even rated by her sister (Charlotte presented her as a bit of a wet lettuce in her introduction to the re-issue of her sisters’ novels; Agnes Grey didn’t even get a mention), she’s been relegated to being the forgotten sister. Her novels don’t have the astonishing power of Wuthering Heights, or the gutsiness of Jane Eyre, but they do have a special pull all of their own.
Of all the sisters, I think you ‘see’ more of Anne as she was in her everyday life in her writing. The only one of the Bronte children to successfully hold down a long-term job, this is demonstrated through the realism of her work. Agnes Grey tells the story of a long-suffering governess and bears remarkable similarities to what we know about Anne’s own work as a governess. She may have gone down in history as the quietest Bronte, but I’d argue she was the Bronte with the sharpest observational skills.
Agnes herself is quietly devout (much like her creator) and is a very likeable protagonist. A bit like Jane Eyre, she’s a bit plain and surrounded by people who are not her equal in character, but unlike Jane she falls in love with a man who is actually a DECENT HUMAN BEING.
The Bronte romantic heroes can be problematic: I’ve made my views on Rochester fairly clear (I have since been told by many people that they disagree with me. Eh.) Heathcliff is clearly a damaged man, which is sort of understandable , considering he had a really crap childhood- although we’ll talk about that when I review Wuthering Heights. But Edward Weston is overlooked. He’s a decent man, a curate who is kind to parishoners and goes out of his way to get to know Agnes. He tracks her down after she moves away, yet does not force his presence on her. He is essentially a good, kind man- he reminds me a lot of my impression of Mr Bronte. But he is never spoken of in the same breath as his more famous counterparts, probably because nice men don’t make exciting heroes. But who would choose a bigamist who chucks his wife in the attic, or someone who decides to go on a murderous rampage of revenge over the man who rescues your dog from the evil local ratcatcher? Apparently most people. Yeah, OK.
ANYWAY. This is a short book and one that kept me company in a week in which I was full of cold and the weather was weirdly autumnal, despite being the start of summer, which felt strangely apt (I always think the Brontes are best enjoyed in the shorter days of the year for some reason.) I think everyone should have a go at reading Anne’s work, if only to appreciate the realism of her work. Although not as striking as the later Tenant of Wildfell Hall, it’s a good book if you want to understand the plight of lower middle class women in Victorian England.