At age 19 Anne Brontë left home and worked as a governess for a few years before becoming a writer. Agnes Grey was an 1847 novel based on her experience as a governess. Bronte depicts the precarious position of a governess and how that can affect a young woman. Agnes was the daughter of a minister whose family was in financial difficulty. She has only a few choices for employment. Agnes experiences the difficulty of reining in spoiled children and how wealth can corrupt morals.
Earlier this year I finally read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It had been sitting on my shelves for a number of years. I’d tried it once a number of years ago, around the time I first read (and fell in love) with Jane Eyre, but just couldn’t get into it. When I read it this year, I discovered I actually quite like Anne Bronte, the often overlooked and forgotten Bronte sister. I liked her style. She is far less melodramatic than her sisters. In fact her style is more like Austen (whom her sister was very dismissive of) and Gaskell, both of whom I love, with her commentary on society and tackling of social issues.
Agnes Grey is Anne Bronte’s lesser known novel. Similar to Charlotte it portrays the life often hard life of poor unmarried educated women, and the only form of employment open to them, that of a governess. However unlike Jane Eyre, who is valued and respected in her position as governess to Adele, and finds a sanctuary (of a sort) at Thornfield, Agnes Grey’s experience is far from enjoyable. She abused by both parents and children, undervalued and generally overlooked. Every aspect of her existence is determined by the whims of her employers and charges. The families she works for display the sense of entitlement one would expect given the culture of the time. They are basically horrible people in every sense of the word.
I’ll be honest, it was pretty obvious from the half way point how the story was going to play out but it didn’t take from my enjoyment. I can’t say I loved any of the characters. The families Agnes works for didn’t have a redeemable trait between them and Agnes herself wasn’t the most compelling heroine. There are no dramatic events. In fact the plot is very Austenesq, moving quietly towards a conclusion. Yet I undeniably enjoyed it. There was something endearing about it.
For those who enjoy classic literature, this is worth a read. However don’t go in to it expecting the usual Bronte fare. This is definitely more Austen than Bronte.