I have been interested in the Bronte sisters since I first read Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, and fell in love with it. Ever since I have found those three quiet sisters living on the moors as fascinating as a fairy tale. It wasn’t long before I delved into Wuthering Heights. But for some reason it took me much longer to read any work by Anne. And it’s not just me, all of my friends who’ve read Emily and Charlotte’s work have said they still have yet to read Anne’s.
So a few days ago I picked up her first novel, Agnes Grey. It was easy to get into, easier to read than the other Bronte novels I have encountered, and, of course, the writing was beautiful.
But I could definitely see many reflections of Jane Eyre, ranging from the plain name of the heroine, to the sombre, or serious, outlook of the book. They also both follow the trials and life of a governess in the mid-nineteenth century.
Charlotte said of Anne in her afterword of the reprint of her book, “Anne’s character was milder and more subdued; she wanted the power, the fire, the originality of her sister [Emily], but was well-endowered with quiet virtues of her own”.
This description certainly reflects the novel, in my opinion, as Agnes Grey is quiet, often mild, and serious. She is a character who I think might be a reflection of Anne herself. I understand how Charlotte stated Anne wanted the “fire” of her sisters, as the love in this book was sweet, calm, mild. It was nice, pretty, but it wasn’t revolutionary or dangerous or demonic. It had a sweet happy ending, which is often the nice ending that we want on a rainy day- but if you are going into this book hoping for more of that madness and sometimes animal-like nature that runs through the pages of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, this book won’t have that.
But it was a beautiful read. And despite the ending being predictable, it was what I hoped the ending would be. What Agnes deserved. I was intrigued into the characters, I loved Agnes, Miss Murray, and Mr Weston. I mean, Mr Weston is no Rochester, no brooding byronic hero, but he was kind, and sometimes you want to read about a man who is kind and wise. Not all of the time, but sometimes.
But back to the question. Who was Anne Bronte? I now understand more of why Anne is sometimes left behind her sisters, she seemed to have been the quieter one of the three, the religious and good one, from Charlotte’s comments. But can we really understand who Anne was from Charlotte’s subjective opinion? I don’t think so. I think it just emphasises that we will never really know who those three sisters were, and I think that is one of the reasons why we keep on coming back to read their work.
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