Brady was born an American citizen in Tientsin, China, and traveled frequently as a child, spending time in Los Angeles, California, British Columbia, and Austin, Texas. She studied in the University of California system, receiving her bachelor's and master's degrees, and her Ph.D. in 1935. She next became an English instructor at that university's College of Agriculture, and worked as an assistant professor of languages and literature at Berkeley from 1941 to 1946. The following three years were spent at the University of Pennsylvania, until, at the end of 1949, Brady moved to teach at Central Oregon Community College; her resignation due to "ill health" was announced a few months later. After being named the 1952–53 Marion Talbot Fellow of the American Association of University Women and writing two articles, Brady's scholarship ceased for a quarter of a century. In 1979, and posthumously in 1983, her final two articles were published.
Brady's monograph, The Legends of Ermanaric, argued that the Gothic king Ermanaric was subject to two competing traditions, and earned her a reputation as "a broad and discriminating investigator" with "a sovereign disregard of established opinion". Her papers on Beowulf, meanwhile, were identified by Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature, as "three fundamental studies" that were "philological in the traditional sense", shedding light on "the shades of meaning of the diction" used in the poem. Brady concluded that the Beowulf poet "is no artificer mechanically piling up synonyms and conventional metaphors, but an artist who knows how to use a variety of words and phrases".
Programme of the Final Examination for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Caroline Agnes von Egmont Brady (1935)
Brady is occasionally referred to as Caroline Agnes Von Egmont Brady. Though her published output universally refers to her as either "Caroline A. Brady" or "Caroline Brady", the program for her dissertation defense names her "Caroline Agnes Von Egmont Brady". Several library entries and membership lists of the Modern Language Association also use the longer name.
In 1935, the same year that she received her Ph.D., Brady became an English instructor at the College of Agriculture at the University of California. Brady was promoted on July 13, 1941 to assistant professor of languages and literature at the Berkeley campus. In 1943, her "completely rewritten" dissertation was published under the same title, The Legends of Ermanaric. Brady continued teaching at Berkeley until 1946. Thereafter, she taught for three years at the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor of English.
Brady's subsequent activities are unclear. In 1979, she was listed again with a California address. That year, she published the second piece in her Beowulf trilogy, "'Weapons' in Beowulf." The final work in the trilogy, "'Warriors' in Beowulf," was published posthumously, in 1983.
Brady's book The Legends of Ermanaric suggests the Gothic king Ermanaric, who ruled in the fourth century AD, was the subject of two competing traditions: one, in Ostrogothic lore, viewing him as a good king, and a second, promulgated by those subjugated by him, as evil. Brady's thesis gained less traction than her ability to investigate the intractable problems of Germanic myth, and the convoluted nature of the related scholarship. She was noted as "a broad and discriminating investigator", who had "a sovereign disregard of established opinion". Such disregard caused one reviewer to label Brady's work "more valuable in the sphere of criticism than construction," and another to note that her "conclusions are reached without reliance on the views of predecessors, and one may be sure that, in some quarters, the volume will be thoroughly combed for flaws to match those it has uncovered in the reasoning of others". Indeed, after Brady's "vigorous tilting with no less a scholar than Kemp Malone," he penned two separate reviews disparaging what he termed her scholastic immaturity, and suggesting "she overestimates the worth of debaters' points".[note 5] Others shared concerns with Brady's thesis while being generally supportive, including the Old English scholar Philip W. Souers, who wrote that:
Her knowledge, from linguistics to archaeology, is great; her command of bibliography is sure; her acquaintance with languages shows the temper of a true scholar. ... It was worth doing, to try to establish a late Gothic legend that could be seen reflected in the Norse, to see where the results would lead. Others have always worked from the German sources. Though I cannot accept her hypothesis as proved, [the book] is without doubt one of the most important works in that difficult subject of heroic legend that has come from American scholarship in recent years.
Brady's 1979 and 1983 articles on the words used to describe weapons and warriors in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf suggested that, unlike the interchangeability of words used for other subjects such as strong drink, the words used to describe weapons and warriors were precisely tailored to fit their specific contexts. Taken with her 1952 article "The Synonyms for 'Sea' in Beowulf ", these are described by Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe in A Beowulf Handbook as "three fundamental studies" that examine the context in which the Beowulf poet chose a word rather than simply the word itself. Brady concluded that "this poet is no artificer mechanically piling up synonyms and conventional metaphors, but an artist who knows how to use a variety of words and phrases". Her approach was considered "philological in the traditional sense" by O'Keeffe, and to have shed light on "the shades of meaning of the diction" used in the poem.
In addition to her book and the Beowulf articles, Brady published a number of other works during her career. She also presented several papers, including some which ultimately went unpublished, at academic conferences—notably at meetings of the Philological Association of the Pacific Coast and the Modern Language Association.
Brady, Caroline (June 1952). "The Old English Nominal Compounds in -rád". Publications of the Modern Language Association. Modern Language Association. LXVII (4): 538–571. JSTOR459826.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
^In Caroline Brady's entry in Who's Who in California, she gives her mother's name as "Maud (Short)", which is also the name used in Maud Brady's obituary (1959) and in her death record in California (which also states her date of birth was 12 March 1877 and her mother's maiden name was Green). However, the newspaper notice of Maud Short's 1904 marriage in China to D. J. Brady, "general manager of the Chinese Engineering & Mining Co., Chin-Wang-Tao", names her as "A. L. Maude, dau. of the late John Short of Granby, formerly deputy prothonotary at Sherbrooke"; the marriage record itself calls her Annie Lucy Maude, daughter of the late John Short, a lawyer. The book Loyalist Lineages of Canada traces the family history further, noting that Annie Lucy Maude Short (b. 12 March 1877) was the daughter of John Short (1828–1904), originally from Three Rivers and later of Granby, and his wife Annie Caroline (1854–1936), daughter of Henry Schlicter Greene and his wife Susanna Helmer (d. 1916), herself the daughter of Andrew Helmer and his wife Marie Susanna Caroline Van Egmond (1810–1861), daughter of the noted Dutch settler Anthony Van Egmond.
^On August 21, 1944, sailing under a Japanese flag as the Kinryo Maru, the ship was sunk by the USS Haddo.
^In 1949 the organization had hosted a reception, which Brady attended, for students and faculty at the Central Oregon Community College.
^Brady was listed with a Cambridge, Massachusetts address in 1953. In his January 1955 review of her work "The Synonyms for 'Sea' in Beowulf", Adrien Bonjour noted that "Miss Brady has now been working for some time at Harvard—let us hope that she will soon publish more about the ways of the word in Beowulf." (This comment has been described as "a barely veiled and kind of underhanded jab" directed at Francis Peabody Magoun, "the obvious Harvard Anglo-Saxonist"). That November Brady reviewed one of Bonjour's works in turn.
^Malone stated, for example, that "[t]he faults of this book, and of Miss Brady's papers in the same field, are those of immaturity. The author has not yet lived with the old texts long enough, and does not yet know them intimately well enough. Moreover, her judgment has not yet been sharpened by long experience in research, and she overestimates the worth of debaters' points."