Sunday 29 November 2009

Agnes Grey

Anne Bronte drew on her own experiences as a governess in her portrayal of Agnes Grey who battles with spoilt brats, pushy mothers and fashion-obsessed young ladies. There are no plot twists and turns in this novel, but a straightforward narrative which begins with Agnes Grey's strong desire for independence. Like Jane Eyre, she places an advertisement for work in a newspaper which leads to a position attempting to teach three unbelievably spoilt children (one of them spits in her workbag!) while facing constant criticism from their doting mama. When she is unceremoniously sacked, Agnes goes on to a position as governess to three older children and faces a different problem, namely that sixteen-year old Rosalie chases any man who crosses her path including one that Agnes rather likes herself ...

Anne Bronte created a little gem of a novel in Agnes Grey and the final chapter where Mr Weston comes looking for Agnes on Scarborough beach is as romantic as anything written by her sisters.

Sunday 15 November 2009


There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Jane Eyre

Dark winter evenings lend themselves to hefty gothic novels and I'm spoilt for choice. My mother-in-law very kindly bought me the new Audrey Niffenegger for my birthday and I'm well overdue for a re-read of Jane Eyre. Remember the stunning opening paragraph where the child Jane sits in the window seat looking out over the frosty landscape?

The Bronte sisters have been my on my mind since I went to the National Portrait Gallery in the summer and saw the haunting portrait painted by their brother Branwell who appears to have painted himself out of the picture. I'm also very fond of Anne's novel, Agnes Grey which I'd like to re-read. Many years ago I visited Anne's grave in a churchyard in Scarborough which overlooks the sea. I'd like to go back one day. Actually I'm still only half way through The Poisonwood Bible but us readaholics like to have their schedule sorted!

Sunday 8 November 2009

Beloved Books

Man oh man, are we in for it now, was my thinking about the Congo from the instant we first set foot.
Thus speaks Rachel Rebekah Price the 'extreme blonde' in The Poisonwood Bible. Fifteen-years old and completely self-centred she unwillingly spends a year in a remote village in Africa with her missionary father, mother and three sisters, Adah, Leah and Ruth May. Pretty tough for a girl 'whose only hopes for the year were a sweet sixteen party and a pink mohair twin set.'

The Poisonwood Bible is a fabulous novel. I loved Methuselah, the African Grey parrot, who has learned to swear from the previous missionary ('Piss off, Methuselah!') and the early scene where Nathan tries to cultivate the African soil. Arrogantly chopping down orchids to make way for beans and tomatoes he falls foul of the poisonwood tree which brings him out in a weeping, welted rash.

In her introduction to this edition Barbara Kingsolver says that she waited nearly 30 years for the wisdom and maturity to write this novel. It's a beautiful evocation of Africa.