Title: Agnes Grey
Author: Anne Bronte
No. of Pages: 241
First Released: 1847
Synopsis (Courtesy of Joseph-Beth Booksellers): “Drawing directly on her own experiences, Anne Bronte describes the isolation and dark ambiguity of the governess’s life as lived by her fictional heroine Agnes Grey. Mature, insightful, and edged with a quiet irony, this first novel by the youngest of the Brontes displays her keen sense of moral responsibility and sharp eye for bourgeois attitudes and behavior.”
Comments and Critique: This book was an almost unanimous selection for my book club. When we were voting, we were in the throes of some very weighty books, Little Dorrit, The Three Musketeers, Of Human Bondage, and the like. I think almost everyone in the group was ready for something a little lighter and definitely shorter. Agnes Grey definitely fits that bill.
If you read it looking for similarities in writing to her sisters, however, you will be disappointed. Anne is the vanilla to Jane and Charlotte’s more exotic chocolate. Agnes Grey contains no Gothic elements. It is slightly preachy and somewhat predictable. I would term it an overall pleasant book to read, albeit one that is not going to change the world.
Agnes is just plain nice. She could have been very annoying with her goodness, but I think Anne avoids that very deftly. While on the outside she may appear like a goody-two-shoes who does nothing but preach to her charges, she throws in enough criticism for the reader’s eyes that makes her story quite interesting and fun to read. In general, the entire story is a good, old-fashioned love story. I may not be particularly happy that Anne finds true happiness through marriage (because I get tired of that lesson), I do understand that for women in the 1800s, there truly were very few options.
Speaking of options, I do believe Agnes Grey does a tremendous job of showcasing the struggles of governesses and the limited options for women who needed to work to support their families. As Agnes (and Anne) can attest, often they were considered lower than the servants. They had no respect or authority but were expected to mold spoiled children into model citizens. Without the authority to do anything, their jobs were often doomed from the beginning. And for all their efforts, they received pitiful wages that barely helped. However, if one were truly to do a comparison, are teaching positions all that different now than they were in Anne’s time? Teachers remain grossly underpaid, often have no authority for discipline and yet expected to mold students and help them reach their full potential. Parents either thwart their efforts at home or throw fits over certain punishments that a teacher’s hands are tied. It appears that governesses and today’s teachers still have much in common.
Overall, I found Agnes Grey an enjoyable read. I know that Agnes bothered some of my fellow book club members, but I liked her. She had spunk and backbone and never once deviated from her beliefs. We should all be so strong in our convictions.
If you have had the opportunity to read this book, I would love to know your thoughts! Did you love or hate Agnes? What about the overall plight of being a governess? Was the ending necessary or does it enforce a dangerous message about women in a man’s world?
This book fulfills requirements for the 100+ Reading Challenge, the Read ‘n Review challenge, and the Women Unbound Challenge. For the FTC, I purchased this with my own money but am always will to accept copies of classics for review!