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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My Year in Books: 2016

How many books did you read this year?

93 books which was pretty good considering my reading dramatically decreased after April.

What was your number one TOP FAVORITE of them?

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The Magician’s Nephew by C. S Lewis, fantastical and hysterical, what’s not to love? Also I actually forgot I read it last year until doing this post so my 2016 favourites post is factually inaccurate, I apologise.

Favorite new-to-you author that you discovered this year?

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Best new-to-you book by an author you already liked?

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I love Hemingway’s writing and was surprised to find this novel a romance! It made me cry on its last page and I’m a huge fan, he also remains one of the only writers to make me care about setting.

 

What book were you surprised to like?

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I was surprised to like this novel simply because I didn’t know too much about its plot, ultimately I’m glad this was the case and I’d like to watch the movie this year.

 

What was the funniest book you read this year?

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I love Mindy Kaling’s humour and how down to Earth she remains. I did a review of this audiobook which you can read here.

What book made you cry?

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It is far too easy to make me cry. In the end it was the relationship between the sisters Rose and protagonist Eilis in Brooklyn that made me cry.

What was the most beautifully written?

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I loved Dostoyevsky’s writing, I also have a review of this novel that you can read here.

 

Most thought-provoking or life-changing?

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Sky Burial by Xinran which also has a beautiful cover.

 

Most unputdownable?

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Fruits Basket was far too charming and lighthearted to want to put down.

 

Most shocking or disturbing?

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And not in a good way.

 

Most imaginative?

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This made my top 10 reads list for last year. Ness’s novel is about a group of teens at a local high school who are not ‘the chosen ones.’ It’s hilarious.

 

Who was the most memorable character of the year?

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People are probably tired of hearing me talk about this fictional character but Leo Denton was my favourite character of the year.

 

Most memorable friendship or romance?

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The Six of Crows gang!

 

What genre or subject matter did you try that you normally don’t read?

Celebrity Autobiography.

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I own more autobiographies and they are mostly by musicians. Bruce did not disappoint!

 

What book can you not believe you waited this long to get to?

1984

 

What books did you read based mostly on recommendation or peer pressure?

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Which of your reads did you recommend most to others?

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Did you start or finish a series?

I started and finished A Song of Ice and Fire, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games. I finished The Mortal Instruments at the beginning of the year and started reading The Infernal Devices at the end of the year and the latter was quite frankly a waste of my time. I also started Tokyo Ghoul which is AMAZING, Fruits Basket which is good though I prefer Ishida’s series. In addition I began The African Trilogy by China Achebe, The Poirot Mysteries and The Richard Hannay series by John Buchan. As previously mentioned I also started re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Clearly it was a year of series for me in 2016.

 

Shortest book?

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Longest?

Probably one from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series if not an instalment in Clare’s The Mortal Instruments. 

 

Favorite cover of the year?

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What was your favorite reading spot?

The Scottish Highlands on Honeymoon.

 

Did you read anything published within the year?

No

 

Did you watch a movie based on a book you’d read?

I watched all of The Hunger Games films as well as The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials. I also watched the film adaptation of Cirque Du Freak and although I LOVE John C Reilly it left me underwhelmed, if only they put as much time into this series as they did with Harry Potter.

 

Which books were re-reads?

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What are you most excited to read next year?

So many Classics!

 

And lastly… THE LIST! All of your reads from this year, ready, go!

  1. Jan 4th City of Bones- Cassandra Clare
  2. Jan 7th City of Ashes- Cassandra Clare
  3. Jan 10th City of Glass- Cassandra Clare
  4. Jan 10th City of Fallen Angels- Cassandra Clare
  5. Jan 13th City of Lost Souls- Cassandra Clare
  6. Jan 13th City of Heavenly Fire- Cassandra Clare
  7. Jan 17th A Game of Thrones- George R R Martin
  8. Jan 21st The Magicians Nephew- C.S Lewis
  9. Jan 21st A Clash of Kings- George R R Martin
  10. Jan 24th A Storm of Swords 1- George R R Martin
  11. Jan 27th A Storm of Swords 2- George R R Martin
  12. Jan 29th A Feast for Crows- George R R Martin
  13. Jan 3oth A Dance With Dragons 1- George R R Martin
  14. Jan 31st A Dance With Dragons 2- George R R Martin
  15. Feb 1st My Antonia- Willa Cather
  16. Feb 8th Notes From Underground- Dostoyevsky
  17. Feb 11th The Snow Child- Eowyn Ivey
  18. Feb 17th The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
  19. Feb 17th A Farewell To Arms- Ernest Hemingway
  20. Feb 18th Catching Fire- Suzanne Collins
  21. Feb 20th Mockingjay- Suzanne Collins
  22. Feb 21st The Maze Runner- James Dashner
  23. Feb 22nd The Last Summer of Us- Maggie Harcourt
  24. Feb 24th The Revenant- Michael Punke
  25. Feb 25th Why Not Me? Mindy Kaling
  26. Feb 26th A Tiny Feeling of Fear- M. Jonathan Lee
  27. Feb 26th Sky Burial- Xinran
  28. Feb 28th A Spool of Blue Thread- Anne Tyler
  29. Feb 29th Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud- Andy Lane
  30. Feb 29th The Old Man of The Moon- Shen Fu
  31. March 4th Paper Towns- John Green
  32. March 7th Oryx and Crake- Margaret Atwood
  33. March 10th The Invention of Wings- Sue Monk Kidd
  34. March 12th The Purgatorium- Eva Pohler
  35. March 15th The Mysterious Affair at Styles- Agatha Christie
  36. March 15th The Scorch Trials- James Dashner
  37. March 15th The Death Cure- James Dashner
  38. March 21st The Year of the Flood- Margaret Atwood
  39. March 22nd The Pilgrims- Mary Shelley
  40. March 26th Scarlet- Marissa Meyer
  41. March 29th Tokyo Ghoul 1- Sui Ishida
  42. March 31st Tokyo Ghoul 2- Sui Ishida
  43. April 1st The Radio- M. Jonathan Lee
  44. April 1st Tokyo Ghoul 3- Sui Ishida
  45. April 4th Cirque Du Freak- Darren Shan
  46. April 4th The Vampire’s Assistant- Darren Shan
  47. April 5th Tunnels of Blood- Darren Shan
  48. April 5th Through the Woods- Emily Carroll
  49. April 5th Fairest Vol 1, Wide Awake- Bill Willingham, Phil Jimenez, Adam Hughes
  50. April 6th Vampire Mountain- Darren Shan
  51. April 7th Trials of Death-Darren Shan
  52. April 8th American Vampire Vol 1- Scott Snyder, Stephen King, Raphael Albuquerque
  53. April 9th Fangirl- Rainbow Rowell
  54. April 13th The Vampire Prince- Darren Shan
  55. April 14th Gate7 Vol 1- CLAMP
  56. April 21st Wolverine and the X-men Vol 1- Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, Nick Bradshaw
  57. April 21st We Need New Names- NoViolet Bulawayo
  58. April 24th The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo Graphic Novel – Denise Mina, Andrea Mutti, Leonardo Manco
  59. April 27th Hunters of the Dusk- Darren Shan
  60. April 28th Allies of the Night- Darren Shan
  61. April 28th Killers of the Dawn- Darren Shan
  62. April 28th Tokyo Ghoul 4 by Sui Ishida
  63. May 4th The Lake of Souls- Darren Shan
  64. May 4th Lord of the Shadows- Darren Shan
  65. May 6th Sons of Destiny- Darren Shan
  66. June 2nd Tokyo Ghoul 5- Sui Ishida
  67. June 7th Six of Crows- Leigh Bardugo
  68. July 11th Tokyo Ghoul 6- Sui Ishida
  69. July 13th Birdsong- Sebastian Faulks
  70. July 14th Wolf- Ales Kot, Lee Loughridge, Matt Taylor
  71. July 19th More Than This- Patrick Ness
  72. July 20th Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café- Fannie Flagg
  73. July 20th Catch 22- Joseph Heller
  74. Aug 6th Throne of Glass- Sarah J Maas
  75. Aug 6th The Man in the High Castle- Philip K Dick
  76. Sep 22nd And the Mountains Echoed- Khaled Hosseini
  77. Nov 8th Brooklyn- Colm Toibin
  78. Nov 8th: Me Before You- JoJo Moyes
  79. Nov 9th: Poison Study- Maria V. Snyder
  80. Nov 15th: Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe
  81. Nov 22nd: Born to Run- Bruce Springsteen
  82. Nov 25th: The 39 Steps- John Buchan
  83. Nov 30th: The Art of Being Normal- Lisa Williamson
  84. Dec 1st: The Pact- Jodi Picoult
  85. Dec 7th:The Storyteller- Jodi Picoult
  86. Dec 13th: A Little Princess- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  87. Dec 14th: 1984- George Orwell
  88. Dec 14th: We All Looked Up- Tommy Wallach
  89. Dec 20th: A Possible Life- Sebastian Faulks
  90. Dec19th: Clockwork Angel- Cassandra Clare
  91. Dec19th: The Rest of Us Just Live Here- Patrick Ness
  92. Dec 20th: Fruits Basket- Natsuki Takaya
  93. Dec 23rd: Clockwork Prince- Cassandra Clare