Let’s play a game, shall we? Fill in the blank:
Wuthering Heights was written by __________. Jane Eyre was written by __________. Agnes Grey was written by __________.
Ha! Did I get ya? Sadly, people tend to forget about Anne Bronte, even though she published her writing as actively as her older sisters. This week, I figured I’d tackle a classic that may not be as well known to others.
The story follows a young lady named Agnes who volunteers to seek work as a governess when her father becomes ill and her family’s financial situation is starting to be a concern. Agnes first takes a position in the Bloomfield household, a family whose spoiled children are nothing but a headache to not only Agnes, but to their own parents as well. After being dismissed from the Bloomfield household because, according to the mother, Agnes “cannot control the children”, she takes a place with the Murray family whose children are considerably older. Here she is charged with the education and deportment of two young ladies: the eldest, who is a fortune hunter, and the younger girl, who would much rather be running around in the stables or out hunting. Throughout her career as a governess, Agnes is forced to find her place in a class system that leaves her stranded above the household servants but well below the family.
For the most part, I enjoyed reading Agnes Grey. I loved the honest and sometimes brutal descriptions of the other characters from Agnes’ point of view. I also liked that throughout the story, Bronte develops a character who knows her own mind and sticks to her morals. While her sister’s story of Jane Eyre tells of a governess who falls in love with her employer, Agnes Grey is said to be a more realistic portrait of the classes in Victorian England. As a history buff, I appreciated this to no end. Yes, there is a romantic element to Agnes Grey. She does fall in love with a man, but it is with a man who, realistically, a governess would have the chance to marry without the threat of a societal scandal.
I appreciated the other points of realism that Bronte sprinkled throughout the story, as well. At one point, Agnes is invited to be the guest of one of her previous students. From a modern point of view, I wanted her student to treat Agnes as a guest, nay a friend, and treat her with the hospitality that we would our own house guests in modern times. Her student did not. I would even go as far as to say that her student treated her worse than when Agnes was her governess. While this made me sad as a reader, it was, knowing the time period, realistic.
There was really only one thing that I did not enjoy about this story: Anges tends to be rather long winded when she preaches to her students about morals and the way they should treat their fellow human beings. Unfortunately for the reader, this can go on for pages at a time. However, her “sermons” are all in one chunk in the middle of the story and can be scanned if you find them as tedious as I did after a while. Anne Bronte was raised by her father who was a minister, and likewise her character Agnes is also brought up by a minister in the story. That being said, Agnes’ lectures do fit into the narrative and make sense for her character.
While Agnes Grey wasn’t Anne Bronte’s most famous work, it is a wonderful example of the genre that would include her sisters’ work and even Pride and Prejudice. If you like this genre as much as I do, Agnes Grey may be a good fit for you.
Emily is excitedly devouring more books for future reviews. She is also preparing to go to a book signing with one of her favorite authors. It's going to be a fantastic week.