Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
My first Anne Bronte work. I had to resist reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for just a bit longer since I had this already on the Kindle and knew it to be Anne’s first novel.
This novel is somewhat autobiographical in nature, it’s not Roman à clef, but when reading this novel, it felt like a lot of the scenes were nonfiction and had actually happened to Anne Bronte. It is a novel about a governess and what it is like to live in that nebulous social position in a household where you are a lady, but also a servant; a caretaker, but not a mother who can discipline. A lot of the scenes felt sadly real and frustrating.
The writing is mature, advanced, and modern. I was aware of Anne’s style being more realistic and forthright than that of Charlotte or Emily. This is why I think she will become my favourite Bronte. There is a sense of modernism in her works. While the tone is still very Victorian, there are moments that could be in any novel after the 1900s. While I really liked Jane Eyre, and I have read Wuthering Heights, neither of those books are particularly realistic in terms of their plot. This one is the opposite. Though, I like Jane Eyre because Jane was so relateable as Agnes is in this book.
A nice passage which builds Agnes’s character, having arrived after a long journey to her second job:
I sat down beside the small, smoldering fire, and amused myself with a hearty fit of crying; after which, I said my prayers, and then, feeling considerably relieved, began to prepare for bed
I love that line, “a hearty fit of crying”; I’ve certainly done that.
Some parts of the novel were difficult to read because it was frustrating for Agnes and for the reader. She really suffered in her jobs, especially her first. She was patronized, neglected, ignored, and had to content with little sociopaths and insufferable spoiled snobs. It was evidently demoralising for Agnes and for Anne Bronte as well. There were a couple of instances of coyness and sense of humor in the writing that once again shows how forward and engaging a writer Anne is.
Religion has more of a presence in this novel than in the other Bronte novels I have read. Anne is allegedly the most religious of the Bronte sisters. I do think the writing shows that she has a strong sense of what is right and wrong. While I do not think the book is moralistic or heavily religious, I was less interested in biblical discussions in the book, but there are only a couple. They act as a good showcase for the time and from a character point of view, you can see how Agnes (and probably Anne in real life) endured her work and life owing much to her faith.
I liked this novel. I think it has a lot of pathos and realism. For a first novel, it is very good, and I look forward to more of her writing.
Read on Kindle from July 23-26th 2012.