Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Agnes Grey

Anne Bronte is the youngest of the Bronte sisters. Also the meekest. Her works are more reserved as well. She wrote two novels in her lifetime before she died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis. Agnes Grey is the shorter of the two, an almost biographical story. I loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and so I was more than sure that I would like this little prior gem. I did.


Agnes Grey tells the story of one woman's search for love and happiness within the boundaries of pre-Victorian society. Forced by her family’s declining circumstances to find employment, Agnes Grey takes the only position open to her—governess within a wealthy family—and faces hardships that challenge the boundaries of her experience.


I had a longing to read another Bronte novel. I'm running out of Bronte novels to read. I got one left after this one. Anyhow, I finally got to Agnes Grey. I should have read this one before I read her second novel, but for some reason or another I didn't. This story has to be the shortest of all the sisters' works. And I loved it. Surprise, surprise.

Agnes does not waste time telling us her story and getting to her point. She was an intriguing and yet flawed protagonist. Not as overly pious as her lead in her next novel. Her circumstances were good ones, too. I think part of the reason I enjoyed this novel had  to do with the not so dark circumstances the Bronte sisters are known to put their characters in.

Agnes' mother used to be wealthy and married a clergyman who her family did not approve of, but she was happy and raised two daughters on her own. Mary and Agnes. For several reasons the family goes into debt, and Agnes volunteers to help out as a governess. At first her family doesn't like the idea or find it necessary, but Agnes wants to find her own way in life and not depend so much on anyone--like her mother.

The first set of children she schools are a bunch of brats. And their parents, the Bloomfields, blame Agnes for not being able to tame them. Eventually, they fire her. Her time comes to an end and she moves back to her parents. She learns a lot about people in her stay with the first family. But Agnes, being as resilient as she is, decides to give it another try.

Her second family are the Murrays, and although the mother is very similar to the last one, Agnes gets to school teenage girls instead of children. The eldest daughter, Rosalie, is a selfish and vain girl who wants to flirt and win the heart of any man she comes across, her sister, Matilda, is a tom boy. The girls don't often listen to their governess, but they do take her around, and because of this Agnes gets to meet interesting people in her life, but often feels alone as she is away from home.

Edward Weston is a country parson who Agnes gets to know more in her walks from church and from visiting the poor. He is a nice man. She admires him a great deal and through time starts to grow feelings for. She fights these feelings knowing well that her love may well not be returned. I love how practical Agnes is with everyone including herself on matters of the heart. And her views on external beauty were wonderfully explained, not to change a readers mind but to make one think. I happen to agree with her. This is one of the reasons I liked Agnes Grey more than Jane Eyre. She was more experienced and although life proved to be less than great to her, she made sure to let no one see her decline and smiled as much as she could.

The story doesn't have to tell you that you reap what you sow, the Murray sisters choices and endings were good enough indicators. Another reason I liked this novel, it didn't try to walk me through and hold my hand, explaining everything. It was short and sweet.

A family tragedy happens in the last act and Agnes is forced to go home to her family and start over again from scratch. However, she does get a visit from an old furry friend and a person she has admired from the start. A sweet and practical ending to a straightforward and lovely novel.