Review: Agnes Grey

Posted 26 November, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 6 Comments

Agnes Grey
By: Anne Bronte
Format/Source: eBook

‘The name of governess, I soon found, was a mere mockery … my pupils had no more notion of obedience than a wild, unbroken colt’

When her family becomes impoverished after a disastrous financial speculation, Agnes Grey determines to find work as a governess in order to contribute to their meagre income and assert her independence. But Agnes’s enthusiasm is swiftly extinguished as she struggles first with the unmanageable Bloomfield children and then with the painful disdain of the haughty Murray family; the only kindness she receives comes from Mr Weston, the sober young curate. Drawing on her own experience, Anne Brontë’s first novel offers a compelling personal perspective on the desperate position of unmarried, educated women for whom becoming a governess was the only respectable career open in Victorian society.

Anne Bronte is the only Bronte sister whose works I had not read to date. There is of course her most famous work, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but I opted to go with Agnes Grey as my first book from her because I’m not emotionally prepared for the former title 😛 I’m not sure what prompted me to read it when I did, but here we are anyway.

Agnes Grey is quite a sombre tale of a young woman finding work as a governess to help her family. In a way it’s a coming-of-age piece with Agnes setting out into the world, standing on her own, and learning what the world outside her family home is like. It’s quite an eye-opener as the reality of being a governness is laid out here, partly thanks to Anne Bronte’s own experiences in the role. I really felt for Agnes as she struggled to work with what she had and deal with her charges, who quite frankly were brats of all sorts. The Bloomfield children were frightful, and the Murray daughters were selfish and annoying. How she managed to put up with them–the latter in particular, as it feels she was with them longer–is beyond me.

On a related note, I can see why some contemporaries were shocked by the vulgarities; I was also shocked at how the Murray daughters were uttering “Dammit” at one point. I feel like such a Victorian at my own reaction–“How unladylike of them!” lol

Having said that, I found the book to be a rather dull read =/ I think part of it was because there wasn’t too much of a plot going on beyond recounting Agnes’ experiences finding work as a governess and all the role entails: I didn’t much care for Rosalie’s flirtations and forays into the social world, and beyond Agnes’ exertion of independence and occupation she wasn’t on some major character-changing journey. I’m normally all for quiet and thoughtful characters, but there’s something a little wanting with Agnes’ character that makes it difficult to follow as the main character. Nonetheless, I was rooting for her the whole time that she would find a better arrangement and one where she was more appreciated.

I think my favourite part of this story was her quiet but budding romance with the curate, Mr. Weston. It’s not all-out passionate like Cathy and Heathcliffe or that growing UST a la Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, but there’s something sweet about its quietness and that growing regard they have for each other. Plus, Mr. Weston seems like a nice guy with no regrets or secrets to torment him.

I’m glad to have finally read something by Anne Bronte. While very slow at times, losing my attention in the process, it did have its interesting moments, especially in Agnes’ interactions with other characters. It’s sombre but not downright gloomy; I think some of the settings help alleviate the atmosphere (love how towards the end the story was set by the sea). And the ending wasn’t tragic, which was a plus.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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6 Responses to “Review: Agnes Grey”

  1. I thought ‘Agnes Grey’ was only okay. It’s just not very memorable. ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ is a MUCH better novel and has actually got a very uplifting ending. I love that book 🙂

  2. Interesting review. It’s been a while since I read Agnes Grey, but I definitely remember finding it one of the Brönte’s less interesting novels, a bit like The Professor maybe?

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