Monday, October 16, 2017

Agnes Grey

"How delightful it would be to be a governess! To go out into the world; to enter upon a new life; to act for myself; to exercise my unused faculties; to try my unknown powers; to earn my own maintenance, and something to comfort and help my father, mother and sister, besides exonerating them from the provision of my food and clothing; to show papa what his little Agnes could do; to convince mamma and Mary that I was not quite the helpless, thoughtless being they supposed. And then, how charming to be intrusted with the care and education of children!"
But the realities of being a governess soon dispel all of Agnes's hopes and bright optimism. Because the children don't mind, and their parents aren't supportive or welcoming, and she doesn't fit with the family and their friends, or with the servants.
"My task of instruction and surveillance, instead of becoming easier as my charges and I got better accustomed to each other, became more arduous as their characters unfolded. The name of governess, I soon found, was a mere mockery as applied to me..."
And that's just the beginning! After her first disastrous position, Agnes goes to work for the Murray family as their governess and her story really begins. Not that her job there is a shining success. (She's a little too passive to ever be that.) But she bravely endures the trials of genteel poverty and the struggles and frustrations of governessing and finds her own happiness in the end.

Agnes Grey reads like a first novel:  it doesn't have the depth of Jane Eyre; it's not as well-crafted as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; and it's a little lacking in plot. But for all its weaknesses, it has its own merits. And I liked it. Anne Bronte shows from personal experience what it's like to be a governess in less than ideal circumstances. (And her language and vocabulary--wow!) Agnes's real struggles with her "little tormentors" and "the vexatious propensities of my pupils" made me laugh in sympathy. Although at times I found myself wishing she'd grow a spine and be just a little more assertive and confident. But Bronte had other designs for her character. This will never be my favorite Bronte novel, but I'm very glad I read it. It made me wish that Anne hadn't died so young. Think of what she could have written if she'd lived longer!

Happy Reading!

24 comments:

  1. Excellent review! I read this for The Classics Club and felt much the same.

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  2. I've never read anything by Anne, although I've read Charlotte and Emily's novels and some biographies of the sisters. I should remedy that with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

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    1. It's a good one...at least that's the way I remember it. It's been awhile since I've read it and I kind of want to read it again to see if I still feel the same.

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  3. I'm so happy you posted about this one, because I've been wanting to read it for ages. I loved your review and am looking forward to this book now. I think it'll be fun to read this one and I like how you say it has its own merits even though it seems to fall short is some ways. Such a great post!!

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    1. Thanks! You'll have to let me know what you think of this one...I'd love to get your take on it! :)

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  4. I actually liked this one better than Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

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    1. Jane Eyre is not my favorite Bronte book either. :)

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  5. I've not read anything by Anne. There's just something about the writing despite the little lacking in plot, isn't it? Plus, I'm fascinated by that time period so that should make up for the little shortcomings if there's any. :)

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    1. Her writing is great and definitely makes this book worth reading. :)

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  6. Ha, I had a suspicious feeling that naive young woman was in for a rude awakening! "little tormentors" I love that term!

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    1. That one made me laugh, too. This book definitely gives one the distinct impression that Anne Bronte really hated being a governess! :D

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  7. I liked this one too. It's not my favourite Bronte novel either, but still worth reading - and yes, it's sad to think of what Anne could have achieved if she had lived.

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    1. Yeah, I really wish there were more books by Anne to read. I like the way she writes!

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  8. I wonder if any of the Bronte sisters had an inkling the longevity of their works!

    Unfortunately I also have never read any Anne Bronte, but I own both of her books and will work one or both into a future Back to the Classic Challenge for sure.

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    1. I bet they, like Jane Austen, had no idea just how popular their books would be! But that's probably a good thing. If they'd known they would have such a big audience it might have inhibited what they wrote. :)

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  9. I don't think being a governess sounds fun at all! Especially if the kids are bratty and their parents aren't any better. No thank you!

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    1. Right? I wouldn't want that job either! :D

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  10. I plan to read this in 2018...finally! Having just finished the bio of the Bronte family, I'm energized to read those works I haven't gotten around to yet.

    I think I've always sort of bought into the romance that Agnes starts out with--maybe it has to do with the success that Jane Eyre and Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp had in their governess roles that gave me such a rosy view of the job.

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    1. They certainly made it look easy, didn't they? Especially Mary Poppins. I always wanted to spend the day with her. :D Agnes does not have it that easy...and I suspect Anne Bronte didn't either. Did they talk about that at all in the bio you read?

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  11. I haven't read this one, but I've been wanting to. I have only read Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights. Such a talented family!

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  12. Having read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights I very much want to read The Tennant of Wildfell Hall. The literary world doesn't put Anne Bronte on the same level as her sisters but I want to decide for myself. From the passages you quoted I think I will enjoy Anne's writing a great deal and a tragedy as you say that she died so young.

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    1. She writes very well, and I really liked The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I hope you do, too! :) Thanks for commenting.

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