In Victorian England, if you were female, unmarried, moderately well educated and poor, just about your only chance of independence was to become a governess: an in-house teacher of the children of a family able to afford you. It was a lonely life. The rigid class system placed you above the servants but below the family, from which position you had to teach children who were your social superiors.
Mary Summers argues that Anne Bront 's experience of this in two households was one of several influences both on her writing and on the beliefs on child-rearing which she displays in her two novels. Indeed the eponymous character of Agnes Grey is herself a governess who works hard with "patience, firmness and perseverance", rather than with chastisement and the birch, to win round a pair of over-indulged, wilful children.
Mary Summers sheds a new light on the Bront sister who, though least well known, perhaps has the most to say about the tensions and practicalities of family life.