I read Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte without expecting to like it, because as a teenager, I read and hated Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights by Bronte’s sisters Charlotte and Emily. I suspect I was too young for these stories when I read them.
So, why did I read Agnes Grey? Vanity. I thought it was time I improved my mind with a higher class of literature than I usually read, and the Bronte’s usually spring to mind when I think about literature. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story of Agnes Grey was a romance.
The story is told by Agnes, a young woman who leaves her family to become a governess. She was brought up in a gentle and loving home, but when her father, a clergyman, loses most of his money in a risky financial venture at the beginning of the story, Agnes recognises that the financial pressure on her parents would be eased if she were to earn her own living. Agnes is also keen to be independent and to see a bit of the world, although she doesn’t phrase her plans to her parents in those exact terms when asking their permission to seek work.
Agnes gained her first position as a governess with a horrible family, and had a fairly rude awakening regarding her value in the household. The adults were selfish, nasty bullies, and so were the children, who were spoiled brats, and possibly psychopaths; here I’m thinking of the little boy, who liked to kill baby birds using several cruel methods. Agnes was unable to govern these brats with kindness and love, but luckily, she got the sack before too long and left this unhappy position.
Agnes’ second position as governess to two teenage girls was better paid than her first, and the family slightly kinder to her than the first, although the older girl, Rosalie, is vain and selfish, and a boy-mad flirt, while the other girl, Matilda, is a rude tomboy. Agnes does her best with the two girls, but honestly, I suspect she was wasting her time with them too.
During her free time, Agnes helps the poor and sick people of the neighbourhood. She also meets the parson, Mr Weston, who is also good and kind, and she falls in love with him. Rosalie recognises that her governess has a high regard for Mr Weston and from sheer maliciousness, decides to charm him herself for the fun of it.
You can read Agnes Grey for yourself to find out if Agnes has her happy ending.
The characters of Agnes and Mr Weston are a bit too good to be true, as they are both kind, considerate, clever, they help the poor and the needy, and are generally far more patient and humble than anyone I’ve ever met. Agnes spent most of her time with her first family telling readers how terrible it was to be a governess, especially one in a family who believe that their children are little angels, but once she moved into her second position, her whinging stopped and the story started.
Anne Bronte’s writing is descriptive without being overly ornate, the story is plain and straightforward, and everything in the book belongs in the story. The conversations very quickly give the reader an idea of each character’s values and morals.
I’m going to have a crack at The Tenant of Wildfell Hall next, and who knows, I may even have another go at reading Charlotte and Emily Bronte’s works again sometime….