Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

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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.

There are some spoilers in this review.

As I am not a fan of Jane Austen I did not expect to enjoy the works of the Brontë sisters. This is due to the fact that until now, everyone I have spoke to who is a fan of one is also a fan of the other. I first read the Brontës at University starting with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë followed by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. While I did not enjoy Jane Eyre, to my surprise, I cannot say the same for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I believed that I had already found my favourite Brontë which was a bold claim to make having neglected Emily’s works. I hope to read Wuthering Heights this year.

 

Having enjoyed Anne Brontë’s second novel I was eagerly anticipating Agnes Grey which I requested from my local library. My first impression was almost the opposite to my first impressions of Charlotte’s work Jane Eyre (Jane as a child was far more interesting.) I enjoyed (only) the beginning of Jane Eyre and felt that, Agnes Grey in comparison was lacking a certain entertainment value, it seemed already to a slow burner. However, I expected I would soon get more immersed when the plot began to unravel. It is in fact overall slow-paced and less action packed than Jane Eyre which in my opinion is positive as Charlotte’s novel has perhaps too much going on.  I compare the two novels due to their authors and the fact that they both centre around a governess.

 

I realised fairly quickly that there was a feminist narrative in Anne’s novel, a bold move for a female author (albeit under a pseudonym) in 1847. As a feminist of her time Agnes was, on occasion, the provider of great wisdom and can therefore be a positive influencer as her role of governess requires,

 

“Filling her head with all manner of conceited notions concerning her personal appearance (which I had instructed her to regard as dust in the balance compared with the cultivation of her mind and manners)” (102)

 

However I was not fond of Agnes’s character as I found her to be far too critical of others to be a moral, likeable person, often going over the top with her descriptions of others, for example:

“My only companions had been unamiable children, and ignorant, wrong-headed girls, from whose fatiguing folly, unbroken solitude was often a relief most earnestly desired and dearly prized.” (155)

This quote in particular had me loathing Agnes as I failed to view her as more amiable than the children in question. As their governess I would have thought that she would want to make these children better people rather than wanting to run away from them in what can only be described as dramatic despair. Our protagonist then shares her fears that in solitude she will, heaven forbid, become less intelligent and less moral. In all honesty I felt I was almost choking on her morality that was being forced down our throats on almost every page.

One of her primary criticisms of Miss Murray is that she is too boy-crazy. This, in itself, is fair and Agnes gives good counsel to her pupil on such matters several times throughout the novel questioning her liking for having “so many conquests” (135) by asking “what good will they do you? I should think one conquest would be enough.” (135) However, twenty pages later we read Agnes informing her readers that

“The gross vapours of earth were gathering round me, and closing in upon my inward heaven; and thus it was that Mr Weston rose at length upon me, appearing like the morning star in my horizon, to save me from the fear of utter darkness” (155)

It was at this point of the novel when I began to like the character of Miss Murray more than Agnes herself. Miss Murray is, at the very least,  more aware of her flaws whereas Agnes sees nobody else but Mr Weston who exhibits “human excellence.” (155) Her liking for Mr Weston, which happens far too quickly (we first hear her discuss him on page 139) without ever having a meaningful discussion with him, immediately consumes her. She thinks of Mr Weston for the rest of the novel which takes away her independence, which was until this stage of the novel the one quality I could praise her for. As, though she is kind, she is kind only outwardly, therefore I assume her intention for any act of kindness is her own reputation. Her kindness in fact, seemed somewhat of a joke on page 165 when she hears of Mr Weston’s sorry tale and notes “I pitied him from my heart; I almost wept for sympathy” almost wept? almost? is this yet another moral brag? I should mention she goes on to say “but’, thought I, ‘he is not so miserable as I should be under such a depravation.” did you pick up on the human excellence that is Agnes Grey?

It was also my opinion that she often used people to her own avail, including Nancy and Miss Murray. There was also her constant worrying about her reputation above all else while she was teaching her pupils not to do so that lead me to think  of her as hypocritical. It felt as though her narrative was aimed at lecturing the reader on morals when the protagonist herself was exhibiting few.

One character I was fond of was Agnes’s mother who, upon being widowed, wrote back to her father rejecting his conditions of acceptance. Agnes’ grandfather did not approve of his daughter’s marriage and subsequent children and found her choices shameful, he then, upon her husband’s death,  agreed to overlook all of her mishaps (of which there were none in reality) and add her to his will if she admitted to all of her mistakes. After writing her reply she asks her daughters “Will this do children?- or shall we say we are all very sorry for what has happened during the last thirty years; and my daughters wish they had never been born; but since they have had that misfortune, they will be thankful for any trifle their grandpapa will be kind enough to bestow?” (214) queue the applause.It is strong moments like this, of which there are a few, that make Agnes Grey an important novel in history regardless to personal taste. I personally wish these moments were more consistent. In fact the novel as a whole seems to be disjointed perhaps due to the autobiographical elements.

As you now know I had many issues with this novel. The plot is unimaginative and due to my dislike towards Brontë’s protagonist I found little value in this novel outside of the few uplifting feminist scenes, which of course were not perfect for today’s times but make this novel important nevertheless. I do not believe Agnes underwent any positive character development in the novel or formed any positive human relationships. To conclude, I will not be recommending this novel to anyone. As previously mentioned I would like to read Wuthering Heights and perhaps Vilette. Are there any Brontë novels you would recommend I read or review? If so be sure to leave a comment. This is my third Brontë novel and I have only enjoyed one.

 

Sophie

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30 books 30 days: Week One

This is my wrap up of the first week in my April TBR challenge. I think it was around the third or fourth day in April I decided to do this challenge having thankfully already read two manga collections and a short novel which helped my number count from the beginning. In the first week of the challenge I have read seven books!

1: Deathnote Vol II by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

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Read: April  3rd making it the fourth of April when I started this challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed this volume and hope to do a series review once I’ve read the subsequent volumes. Doing a review in this way will allow me to give an honest review without being concerned with spoilers etc.

 

 

2: Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

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Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love.

Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.

Also read on April 3rd.  This is a slow paced romance which I did enjoy however this one was just an average read in my opinion. I did not particularly love any of Kawakami’s characters although I did find the writing beautiful and appreciated the added Haiku study.

 

 

3: Orange The Complete Collection 1 by  Ichigo Takano

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On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one, Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny? This is the heart-wrenching sci-fi romance that has over million copies in print in Japan!

Again read on April 3rd. This manga series is unlike any I’ve read before (although I have only ever tried four different series excluding this one) and while I know some people believe it has no staying power, I think it has a sort of subtle brilliance. The storyline is sad and juggles both reality and science fiction. I like the cast of characters and will be continuing with the series.

 

 

4: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

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Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…

A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book.

Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery.

From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realizes he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

Read on April 5th. I may end up writing a review for one book per week of this challenge. You can find my review in two parts: (Part One)  (Part Two)

 

 

5: A Streetcat named Bob by James Bowen

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When James Bowen found an injured, ginger street cat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, he had no idea just how much his life was about to change. James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London and the last thing he needed was a pet.
Yet James couldn’t resist helping the strikingly intelligent tom cat, whom he quickly christened Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas.

Soon the two were inseparable and their diverse, comic and occasionally dangerous adventures would transform both their lives, slowly healing the scars of each other’s troubled pasts.

A Street Cat Named Bob is a moving and uplifting story that will touch the heart of anyone who reads it.

I believe this was my first non-fiction book of the year which I finished reading yesterday, April 6th. Bowen’s story made me laugh and very nearly cry. I thought it was fast-paced and easy to read. However, I feel like the book did not have a conclusive ending, it seemed as though the book was ended on a whim.

 

6: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

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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.

Also read yesterday, April 6th. I had several problems with this novel. The first being that Agnes Grey is supposed to be a loveable and moral character. Personally, I did not like Brontë’s protagonist who, in my opinion, made no real, honest human connection after leaving her family’s home. It’s fair to say from the last statement that I was not a fan of the romance either. That being said I am more than happy to acknowledge that Agnes Grey is, for its time, a feminist novel and is therefore indisputably of high importance. I realise when writing this that I will have to write a separate review of this novel as I clearly have more to say than I had initially thought, which is also a good thing, if you are interested this review will be up over the weekend.

 

7: The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, translated by Joyce Crick

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‘When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into some kind of monstrous vermin.’

With a bewildering blend of the everyday and the fantastical, Kafka thus begins his most famous short story, The Metamorphosis. A commercial traveller is unexpectedly freed from his dreary job by his inexplicable transformation into an insect, which drastically alters his relationship with his family. Kafka considered publishing it with two of the stories included here in a volume to be called Punishments. The Judgement also concerns family tensions, when a power struggle between father and son ends with the father passing an enigmatic judgement on the helpless son. The third story, In the Penal Colony, explores questions of power, justice, punishment, and the meaning of pain in a colonial setting. These three stories are flanked by two very different works. Meditation, the first book Kafka published, consists of light, whimsical, often poignant mood-pictures, while in the autobiographical Letter to his Father, Kafka analyses his difficult relationship in forensic and devastating detail.

For the 125th anniversary of Kafka’s birth comes an astonishing new translation of his best-known stories, in a spectacular graphic package.

Table of contents:

Meditation
The Judgement
The Metamorphosis
In the Penal Colony
(Autobiographical) Letter to his Father

I finished reading this collection today. After reading The Trial a couple of years ago I was really excited to read more Kafka, my favourite part of this collection was the letter he wrote to his father. While I did not enjoy this collection as much as I hoped, or as much as I enjoyed The Trial, I still find Kafka’s writing beautiful.

 

 

Sophie