Agnes Grey (1847)

by Anne Brontë

Anne Brontë is often referred to as the third Brontë sister; she was younger than Charlotte and Emily, and her writing did not achieve the fame of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Anne wrote in a realistic style, in contrast to her sisters’ romanticism. Agnes Grey, the first of her two novels, is semi-autobiographical. The story of the younger daughter of an impoverished minister finding employment as a governess grew out of Anne’s episodes as a governess.

To help her family and to experience more of life, Agnes Grey works for two families in succession. Contending with the spoiled children of parents unwilling to authorize the necessary discipline, she is disabused of her romantic notions about being a governess. Her social position is ambiguous; she is “above” the servants by virtue of her education but “below” her employers, who ignore or humiliate her. She fits nowhere and has a lonely life.

Fortunately, Agnes Grey is rescued from her plight and ends the book happy. In contrast, Anne Brontë died young of tuberculosis a year after her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was published. Charlotte, the only Brontë sibling surviving Anne, prevented republication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall because of the subject matter (alcoholism, adultery, cruelty, and divorce). Anne’s work fell into obscurity, but it is being reevaluated today, and she may yet achieve the regard that her sisters have long enjoyed.


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