Friday, September 25, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Agnes Grey'

Trai is a complete loser who doesn't update even when she has the time. Belatedly, the first review I neglected to give!

The Book: Agnes Grey

The Author: Anne Bronte

How I Found It: Read about Anne being the forgotten/ignored Bronte sister and decided to read her books (Tenant of Wildfell Hall is on the TBR pile).

The Review: Poor, poor Anne Bronte. I feel like she's gotten an unfair reputation as the forgotten sister, which leads to conclusions that she's not as good a writer as her sisters Charlotte and Emily. I refute this unfortunate preconception. In fact, now having read a book by each Bronte sister, Anne has earned my respect more fully than Charlotte or Emily.

Agnes Grey is based partially on Anne's experiences as a governess. Allegedly, her charges were so unruly that she tied them to a table leg for the space to write, which led to her firing. Being a governess was an awkward position-- above a servant, but below the people being served.

It is this awkwardness that is depicted in Agnes Grey. Agnes' family's financial difficulties lead to Agnes telling her family she will seek work as a governess. Her family, believing she was almost too delicate for the outside world, has sheltered her all her life, and try actively to dissuade her from becoming a governess. But Anne is determined, and obtains a job working with the Bloomfields.

With the Bloomfields and later the Murrays, Agnes is treated terribly. She is reprimanded for being unable to control her impossible charges, for not being able to teach those unwilling to learn. Through it all, the only thing that gets Agnes through is her sense of (rightly) being above her employers spiritually and mentally.

As with Jane Eyre, there is romance involved in the story, but it is not as big a figure as it is in Jane Eyre. If I recall, my copy of Eyre was around 565 pages; Agnes Grey came in at 198. It was a simpler story, but that does not diminish its quality. Agnes Grey was a sort of 19th-century Nanny Diaries (yes, I like it, shut up). The romance is secondary to Agnes' daily life as a governess struggling to cope with the indignities of her work. But never fear, a happy ending is in store.

Though Anne was the most religious of the sisters and religion certainly played a part here, I felt it really wasn't as overt as it was in Jane Eyre, where it sometimes became tedious. Agnes Grey is also definitely more realistic than, say, Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. There's no "hey, my wife burned down my manor and I'm blind so let's get married!" or "marry your first cousin and all will be well" resolution to this one. A simple resolution to a simple, well-drawn story.

Highly recommended to those who wish to read the work of the less-famous sister of Charlotte and Emily, or anyone who just wants to read a good, lesser-known classic.

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