Agnes Grey, published before Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and along with Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, attracted little critical attention as it was overshadowed by the sensational dramas of the aforementioned novels. Furthermore, Anne's critical reputation was further damaged, according to Sally Shuttleworth1 by Charlotte Bronte's "portrait of [Anne Bronte] in the 'Biographical Notice' which prefaced the second edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, published after Emily's and Anne's deaths. In Charlotte's eyes, Anne's character was 'milder and more subdued' than Emily's." According to Charlotte Bronte2, Anne lacked "the power, the fire, the originality of her sister, but was well-endowed with quiet virtues of her own". Contemporary readings of Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey, though, have resulted in more positive criticism.
The following are both 19th century and contemporary excerpts of critical reviews of Agnes Grey:
1. "The review in the Atlas (1848) remarked that the book lacked the power and originality of Wuthering Heights, but 'is infinitely more agreeable. It leaves no impression at all'."
-Unsigned review, Atlas, 22 Jan. 1848, p.59. Repr. in Miriam Allott, The Brontes: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), 233.
2. "More positive was the review in Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper which hinted at the possibility of female authorship: 'we do not actually assert that the author must have been a governess himself, to describe as he does the minute torments and incessant tediums of her life, but he must have bribed some governess very largely, either with love or money, to reveal to him the secrets of her prison-house'. Yet even this reviewer concludes that the heroine is 'a sort of younger sister to Jane Eyre ; but inferior to her in every way'."
-Unsigned review, Douglass Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper, 15 Jan. 1848, p.77. Repr. in Allott, Critical Heritage, 227.
3. "Agnes's movement toward love-attachment is handled largley within the Victorian social norm, but even within this conservatism emerges the Brontes' didactic use of the family to reform society: in Agnes Grey, as in the six other Bronte novels, family is used to identify the deterioration of society's values. The corruption of moral values by a growing materialism is seen in the distortion of family values and affection. Therefore, viewing Agnes Grey within this larger framework, Anne Bronte's early novel assumes a new significance as both a social statement and as a deliberately structured work of art".
-Costello, Priscilla H. "A New Reading of Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey". Bronte Society Transactions, 19.3, 1987.
4. "No indeed, If Anne had written nothing but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall I should not have been able to predict the high place she would have taken in English letters. All I should have been able to say is: An inspiration that comes and goes like a dream. But, her first story, Agnes Grey, is the most perfect prose narrative in English literature."
-George Moore, from Conversations in Ebury Street, New York: Liveright, 1924.
1. Shuttleworth, Sally. Introduction. Agnes Grey. By Anne Bronte. 1847. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. ix-xxviii. Print.
2. Bronte, Charlotte. Appendix. Agnes Grey. By Anne Bronte. 1850. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. 175-180.
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