Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Agnes Grey

I've just finished reading Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte. It's been on my to-read list for a long time. . . I knew it would be a good read, but it was even better than I expected. :-)

Agnes Grey is based on Anne Bronte's own personal experience as a governess. The heroine, longing for independence and adventure, leaves her family at a young age to become a governess in a middle-class household. What follows is a nightmarish account of a governess's life in 19th century England.

Agnes's young charges are rowdy, undisciplined children. She is not allowed to punish them in any way when they misbehave, and the childrens' parents don't make any effort to discipline them. So, poor Agnes is supposed to to take care of and teach half-a-dozen unteachable, undisciplined little children. . . an unenviable position, to say the least. She doesn't make much progress in transforming the children into well-mannered, well-educated little angels, so the parents dismiss her from her post.

Eventually, Agnes finds another position - slightly better than the first. This time she has the charge of two spoilt, bratty teenage girls instead of spoilt, bratty toddlers. Not much difference, really.

A portrait of Anne Bronte, drawn by her sister, Charlotte

It might sound like a depressing, uninspiring read, but it's not!! Anne Bronte's mastery of writing is superb - her dialogue, especially, is excellent. It's interesting to compare Anne's writing style to that her sisters. There is definitely some similarity to Charlotte's novels, but there's slightly more humour and less of the supernatural and dramatic here.

The book is written in the first person, and Agnes is a sometimes frustrating narrator, but she is a deserving heroine - we quickly come to care about her welfare and destiny in the course of the novel. There is also a beautiful romance that unfolds in the second half of the book. :-)

I heartily recommend this book to any fan of the Brontes, Austen, and/or Gaskell. It is short, it won't take you ages to slog though (unlike your average Victorian novel), and it is guaranteed to leave you smiling - inside and out. A beautiful little book, now on my list of favourites.



Enbrethiliel said...


I first read this book so long ago that I barely remember it now! =(

Well, that just gives me an excuse for a reread, doesn't it? ;-)

I do recall being touched by the proposal scene (though I find that the one from Anne's other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, has proved more memorable over the years).

She's definitely more understated than Charlotte and Emily, which is probably why one biography of hers is entitled (if I remember correctly) Anne Bronte: The Other One.

The Editrix said...

Yes, she is definitely more understated. I'll have to read Wildfell Hall sometime. Is the miniseries any good?

emme said...

I have to say, Elise, this is one novel I have to disagree with you about. :)

I just really, really did not care for it. It seemed dull & not very well written to me.

*But* I do really enjoy The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I haven't seen the miniseries for Agnes Grey. Sorry, Elise.

Tory Sherrill said...

I have been wanting to read this one for a while now... thanks for sharing your thought on it!!!