The Book: Anne Bronte, AGNES GREY. Oxford World Classics paperback reprint, 1991. Very good condition; some age-related browning. Sticker on front cover reads "Bronte Parsonage Museum."
First read: 1997
Owned since: 1997
Anyone with siblings can't help but be fascinated with the Bronte family's dynamics, but of course we'll never know how things really were among them. I bought this book at the Parsonage, when I realized I'd never read anything by Anne, and felt the need to direct my attention to the baby of the family.
Poor Anne. AGNES GREY, her first novel, was published in a three-volume set with her sister Emily's, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, in 1847; how could she hope to compete?
AGNES GREY is considered the most autobiographical of all the Bronte sisters' novels. Like Jane Eyre, Agnes is a governess; unlike JANE EYRE, AGNES GREY concerns itself specifically with the ambiguous role of a governess in genteel society. Agnes is not isolated, as Jane is at Thornfield; Horton Lodge, where Agnes teaches, is a hive of social activity, and the family's oldest daughter, Rosalie, is someone Agnes herself might have been, under different economic circumstances.
AGNES GREY is a much angrier novel than either JANE EYRE or WUTHERING HEIGHTS; it is also shorter and not as polished, although some passages are just as vivid as anything in the other books. Anne's second book, THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL, is remarkably sophisticated -- I might get to that one later in the week, if I can find my copy.
But Anne died in 1849, at the age of 29 -- less than a year after the deaths of her brother, Branwell, and her sister Emily -- and Charlotte was left to re-edit Anne's manuscripts and preserve the family's legacy, at least until she herself died six years later. (Patrick Bronte, their father, survived all of his children; he died in 1861, at the age of 84.) Did Charlotte value Emily's work over Anne's? Is Emily's book that much better than Anne's? Maybe so.