A classic romance by Anne Bronte, this story follows a young woman determined to support herself in the face of poverty by working as a governess. The plot follows her through her through her misfortunes and awful placements until she meets a potential suitor – the new pastor – and her luck begins to change. This book is available for free download thanks to the gutenburg project.
Title: Agnes Grey
Author: Anne Bronte
First Published: 1847
Having been an au pair – a modern equivalent to a governess, although without the educational responsibilities – I felt an immediate camaraderie with Agnes’ character. She is somewhat bookish and subdued, humble, and a generally attractive heroine. The story shows some of the very real struggles that one faces when they enter into a families home, care for their children whilst trying to find a balance between the parents’ standards and one’s own personal ethics, and the general loneliness and homesickness that accompanies moving far away from home. Agnes’ situation shows some true insights to what it is like to be in such a position, and was written from Anne’s own experiences as a governess – although some of the situations were no doubt exaggerated!
This being said, I found myself getting quite frustrated at the representations of some of the characters. In some ways it seemed like this was a bit of a self indulgent novel where the author was writing the main character as an idealized version of herself. Agnes seemed too perfect, too proper, and whenever she verged on the brink of becoming a Mary-Sue she would point out her flaws in a way that the author seemed to be emphasizing her humility and self-awareness as an eclipsing virtue. Many of the other characters also seemed to be exaggeratedly awful in order to polarize their characters and reflect better on Agnes, most of all Rosalie who is beautiful but vain, ruthless and idiotic in comparison to Agnes who dresses plainly but is in all other ways supposedly “ideal”. She came across to me in some scenarios as overly judgmental of her employers, overly religious to the point where it was painful, and unnecessarily ascetic where there was no need. I also had an issue with the back seat role that her suitor, Mr. Weston, played until almost the end of the novel. He made remarkably few appearances and was more talked about or thought about than actually interacted with. I felt as though this was a bit of a waste of a good character, and it resulted in objectifying him as a passive love interest rather than developing him as a strong character within his own rights.
Despite the annoyances I felt with the characters, however, I truly enjoyed this book and finished it in about 5 hours overall (thank you Kobo app, for keeping track of my stats!). It was a nice summer read, and I would still rate it very highly in terms of enjoyment. Some have likened this book to Austen’s works, and although I would say it’s in the same genre I would not give it that much credit. Austen’s works comparatively have far better developed plots and characters and a higher level of sophistication in writing. To put it another way, Austen’s works I would buy in beautifully bound hardback, whereas this is more of a well beaten paperback that I would pick up every few years. Agnes Grey WAS Anne’s first book however, and was possibly even the first written from all of the Bronte sisters, so perhaps we should cut her some slack.
I would still highly recommend this book to anyone who likes lighthearted romances set in the 1800s, as I found it very enjoyable, and analysis aside what more can you really ask for.