Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Agnes Grey

by Anne Bronte

If you've read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre or The Tennant of Wildfell Hall by the three Bronte sisters you might expect a Romantic epic with sweeping moors and mysterious architecture, but Anne Bronte's story of a girl from a poor family who sets out to earn her way as a governess is less adventurous and more introspective.

The titular character's experiences in the homes of two separate wealthy families feels authentic because they are based upon Anne's own experiences as a governess. I often felt while reading passages that were particularly critical of the children in her care that Anne must have had pulled the dialogue from her memory. In particular, the character of Rosalie seems drawn from life to the point that I wondered anyone recognized who she really was.

The story is not as fast-paced as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (also based on real people--her own brother's profligate lifestyle supposedly prompted the character of Arthur Huntington) but the novel is insightful. Agnes' observations of the middle class could rival Jane Austen's in shrewdness and wit.

Though not my favorite story by Anne or her sisters, it is a rich book gathered from an interesting life by an author of obvious talent and depth.