While I may have read her sisters, I’d never so much as touched anything by Anne Bronte and so, on seeing a freebie for my e-reader, I figured it was time to take the plunge. But while Agnes Grey definitely has its own merits, I can also see now why Charlotte and Emily are the more well-known Brontes. I don’t know if this is due to them being better writers – Agnes Grey wasn’t rubbish by any stretch of the imagination – but I did feel as though their works made more of a connection with me, pulsing with life and passion (even if, in some cases, that passion was repressed) whilst Agnes Grey cast more of a detached and measured eye over proceedings.
The daughter of a clergyman fallen on hard times, Agnes Grey decides to become a governess and is given the care of some of the worst children imaginable. Expected to educate and somehow discipline the children without being able to chastise them as per the stipulations laid down by the children’s parents, Agnes gets to deal with a potential future serial killer whose favourite pastime is to pull the heads off baby birds and a shrieking goblin of the female persuasion, and somehow manages to not murder them. Moving on to a different family, her situation is only marginally better as, once again, she’s denied the ability to discipline another clutch of brats who may be less violent but are no more disposed to pleasantness or receiving an education. Relegated to being a bystander to the lives of the self-absorbed daughters of the family, Agnes’ life is a dull one with only occasional visits to the less fortunate of the neighbouring village and chance encounters with the new curate to liven up her days.
Showing what life may be have been like for the young women that took up the position of governess – one which society never quite knew how to view (were they to be objects of pity or were they dangerous vipers being invited into the family?), I still couldn’t help but wonder if Agnes’ problems actually stemmed from the fact that she just wasn’t cut out for the job – a lovable child that’s eager to learn is few and far between, and my teachers (in a school whose children could be more than a little unruly) managed to educate me and my peers without resorting to giving us a whipping whenever we stepped out of line. But Agnes’ competence (or incompetence) isn’t really the point.
With Agnes being a very passive character, whose main role was to be an observer to the lives going on around her, I felt that this contributed somewhat to my sense of detachment to the book. I couldn’t even really find myself being that bothered for her as romance finally entered her life, or remotely perturbed by the obstacles thrown in the way of True Love. Instead, it all felt a little like Diet Jane Austen – with all of the words but much lighter on the wit.
I’ve since seen that Agnes Grey is the least rated of her two books, so I’ll definitely give Anne Bronte another go at some point. Hopefully her next will have a little more spark for me.