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Her sister’s novel about the life of a governess hit bookshelves only a few months before her own, but Anne Brontë put pen to paper on Agnes Grey long before Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre. Timing and the whims of the critics dictated that Jane was better remembered than Agnes and Charlotte better remembered than Anne (though it didn’t help that Anne died at the tender age of twenty-nine). But Agnes Grey has never been allowed to fade completely into the background. The heroine is a sheltered young woman in the bosom of a poor but loving family. To help with the finances and assert her own independence, she becomes governess for the Bloomfields. Agnes has hopes of a kind, motherly mistress and sweet, obedient charges. What she gets is the precise opposite—and she is completely unprepared for the unruly, obstinate, and even violent behavior of the children. Fed up, Agnes moves on to the upper-class Murray family. The children are older and better behaved, but their governess is more a thing than a person to them, and sixteen-year-old Miss Murray’s coquettish flirting with any and every man in sight is especially distressing. Anyone who has ever had the care of children (even well-behaved children) will instantly sympathize with Miss Grey, become completely invested in Agnes’ struggles, and hope desperately for her rescue. Anne Brontë’s aim in writing Agnes Grey was to expose the plight of the governess of her day. It was a goal she accomplished with depth and purpose and the novel still serves as an important portrait of its times—not to mention a fine and elegant story.
posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:01AM
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