Poor Anne Bronte, condemned to the dustbin of history for the affront of saying that abusive alcoholics are poor romantic prospects rather than Byronic bad boys who just need the love of a good woman. She died young, and her sister suppressed her work. Were she alive today, teens would write web pages devoted to hating her for the review of New Moon that you know she would write.
The Nanny Diaries, 1847. Agnes Gray takes a job as a governess, first with spoiled children, later with spoiled teenagers. Those are the kinds of families that can afford to hire governesses for their children. Can she find love or happiness amidst the vapid, young gentry-to-be?
Anne Bronte wrote two books. I should have gone with the other one, because this one is not very good.
To some degree, that reflects my preferences. Much of the story is about the suffering of the innocent protagonist, subject to the whims of her employers and their children. If you enjoy books about bearing pointless cruelty, you will still find better versions elsewhere. The story is standard, the writing is unexceptional, and the characters were reportedly more sympathetic and identifiable at the time.
Teachers might recognize Anges's first job, in which she is expected to produce results from obstinate children while denied both carrots and sticks. She has nothing but persuasion, which she is reprimanded for using, and any success is undermined by the family that wonders why things are not getting better.
I returned, however, with unabashed vigour to my work -- a more arduous task than anyone can imagine, who has not felt something like the misery of being charged with the care and direction of a set of mischievous, turbulent rebels, whom his utmost exertions cannot bind to their duty, while, at the same time, he is responsible for their conduct to a higher power, who exacts from him what cannot be achieved without the aid of the superior's more potent authority, which, either from indolence, or the fear of becoming unpopular with the said rebellious gang, the latter refuses to give. I can conceive of few situations more harassing than that wherein, however you may long for success, however you may labour to fulfill your duty, your efforts are baffled and set at naught by those beneath you, and unjustly censured and misjudged by those above.The second arc is a Cinderella story, minus the fairy godmother and plus more explicit Christian moralizing than we are used to in romance stories. Anne Bronte was the plain, unassuming daughter of a country curate, so Agnes Gray is the plain, unassuming daughter of a country parson. Agnes falls for a country curate, and her sister marries a country vicar. One suspects a limited frame of reference or scope of imagination, but "write what you know." At any rate, the romantic thoughts are tied to love of kindness, simplicity, and theological vigor. If you have ever been attracted to someone because of his/her strong views on the doctrinal differences between Anglicans and Methodists, this will be right up your alley.
To emphasize that we have a Cinderella story, her two pupils even match the standard wicked step-sisters, one haughty and vain while the other more earthy and dull, conspiring to keep her oppressed at home while they make a play for the prince. The "prince" being an ugly but morally upstanding country curate, the stakes are somewhat lower here, and the story hews closely to the fact that competition is always the most vicious when there is little to go around.
Anne Bronte is noted for the realism of her writing, rather than the romanticism of her sisters, and it shows clearly here. Agnes's life is more or less a continuous stream of minor hardships, the willful and unthinking cruelties of the upper classes upon their servants. They are petty things but great in number and deeply felt. Perhaps we all suppose our lives are epic tales, for Agnes certainly seems to think she feels more deeply than the rest of the species. Again writing semi-autobiographically, Anne Bronte was a governess and used her experiences with pupils, although I cannot comment on any romantic hopes or experiences she may have had on the job.
Agnes is more pathetic than sympathetic. She is passive, devoid of agency and barely daring to speak. She waits for the story to happen to her. She laments her misfortunes while explicitly trying to keep a stiff upper lip. She writes poor poetry. She alludes to having greater depths that she never demonstrates, including one overwrought paragraph where she explains that she could expound her wisdom in matters of the heart except she would not want to risk the boredom and ridicule of an audience that was not up to understanding her. Hmm, this might play well to an audience of love-struck teenage lasses who no one understands.
I could support reading the chapters of her first position, just to see the depiction of the teacher disarmed and then punished for trying to do her job. Delinquents below, enablers above. Agnes says she is trying to inform other governesses, and the depiction is still useful to parents, teachers, etc. Other than that, meh.
On a note of "the past is another country," Agnes starts looking for work because her family is reduced to such poverty that they have only one servant. Yeah. Perhaps the lot of the lower-class servants was less anguished because they did not expect decent treatment, while Agnes suffers from the mismatch.
Free text at Project Gutenberg