Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thoughts: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Being the miser that I am, it occurred to me two weeks ago that I was actually paying a required library fee, and I wasn’t using the library. At all. On my first trip, I immediately headed for the classics section. For some reason, they didn’t have copies of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte respectively. They did have, however, copies of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, which I found to be quite curious since most people consider her the “lesser” Bronte. So, I chose Agnes Grey because a) it was thinner and b) I’m lazy.

The titular character, Agnes Grey, is the sheltered younger child of a curate. When her father’s business venture fails, their whole family is plunged into debt, and, in order to help, Agnes decides to work as a governess. The Bloomfields, the first group of children she teaches, are ignorant and cruel, while the Murrays, the second, are vain and shallow. Agnes weathers through the trials of being a poor governess, and begins her search for true love.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how whiny and judgmental Agnes Grey was. I thought I would love it because the prose was so fluid, but I couldn’t stand the main character. She saw something wrong about EVERYBODY except her own immediate family. I admit the children Agnes had to teach were pretty horrible, but I didn’t trust her judgment as the narrator. Everything was filtered through Agnes’s eyes, and it was awful. If some people see things through rose-colored glasses, Agnes sees them through mud-colored ones.

While reading, I saw some similarities to Charlotte’s writing—yes, we’re on a first name basis. A poor and plain governess who finds true love despite having a ridiculously beautiful rival? Check. In Jane Eyre, the reader is the one who interprets what Charlotte Bronte is trying to say. In Agnes Grey, I didn’t have to interpret anything. Anne Bronte spelled EVERYTHING out for me through numerous catechisms masquerading as long speeches by her characters. It was like she was shoving a ton of moral lessons down my throat. I can’t stand it when authors use characters as mouthpieces for their own agendas. Me not like that.

I did enjoy the latter part of the book where it suddenly turns into a love story with—guess!—more preaching. The latter part, though, wasn’t enough to reduce my utter hatred for Agnes Grey. In fact, the only reason I finished it was because of the—drum roll, please—overdue library fee I already to pay for it.

Rating: 2/5

I'm adding this in case I forget: The copy I borrowed was published in the 1930s, so I had to be really careful about it. I did enjoy the old-book smell, though.

13 comments:

Amanda said...

That's EXACTLY how I felt about this book! On the other hand, I read Tenant of Wildfell Hall before this one, and it's WONDERFUL, completely different from this one. Even though it's longer, it reads much faster because it's actually interesting. It's my second-favorite Bronte novel, after Jane Eyre!

Brenna said...

Nice review. Anne is the only Bronte sister I haven't read yet and I think I'll start with The Tenant at Wildfell Hall.

BookBelle said...

I am so with you on the agenda bit. I just answered a question about Christian fiction and how I can spot an agenda in an instant. I think this may be a developmental stage for writers; The urge to tell the reader what they want them to think. After we get that out of our system, perhaps we can move on to trusting our readers to think for themselves! I do really need to get back to the classics. It's been too long again.

Letter4no1 said...

I haven't read any of Anne's work yet, but I get a lot of amusement from the Bronte themed comics on harkavagrant.com

Teacher/Learner said...

I forgot about this book, since Anne Bronte often escapes me, given that Emily & Charlotte (I guess we're on a first name basis too ;) are more prominent. I hate whiny characters! They are such terrible narrators. Both Agnes Grey & Jane Eyre (after a quick Google search) were both published the same year (1847), which makes me think they were competing for the better book about a governess.

llevinso said...

I also just read Agnes Grey and will be reviewing it on my blog next week. What timing!

I agree with your review a lot. The moralizing got a bit much at times and I couldn't believe how Agnes thought basically everyone was sooo inferior to her and her family. I was also struck by the directness of Anne's writing compared to her sisters. No going on and on about moors and whatnot. But I have to say this felt very much like her first novel, like a rough draft. I'm excited to read Tenant of Wildfell Hall as I've heard good things.

Trisha said...

I'm not sure I'll pick this up anytime soon; it sounds like an annoying read.

Sam said...

I've not read any Anne Bronte, and don't think I'll be rushing to pick this one up! Maybe the more well-known Brontes were already checked out of the library?

Jillian said...

I liked this book, because I think it was brave of Anne -- to go for realism rather than drama. I think she was a femenist, and any similarites to Charlotte's voice are due to the fact that they were sisters (and likely biologically similar), and led similar lives (what else could a woman of their means do, but be a governess?)

Charlotte chose to dramatize the life of a governess, and Anne chose to paint it honestly, to shed light on the way governesses were treated in her day.

I love that she starts out so eager to leave the nest, and is seadfast throughout, in her desire to remain independent.

I found Agnes Grey fascinating, and very well written.

Vintage Reading said...

I adore Agnes Grey but I accept that it may not be everybody's cup of tea! I suspect it was written from Anne's own experiences as a governess. I love the last scene on Scarborough beach.

Zibilee said...

Oh, I don't know if I like the sound of this at all! I have read Charlotte and Emily, and found both of their work to be fascinating because of their differences and strange similarities. I think I only really began to appreciate Wuthering Heights after reading Jane Eyre, which seems weird even to me. I have been meaning to try Anne, but hearing that Agnes is so insufferable, I may start elsewhere. I also really don't like preachy writing, so that's another demerit for Anne in my book, and we haven't even got started yet!

everybookandcranny said...

This was my second read of 2011 and while I think that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is Anne's superior work, I liked Agnes Grey. The moralizing didn't bother me. I think the extremities of Agnes' character are meant to add emphasis to Anne's social critique.

Anonymous said...

i am writing an essay in which i want to point out the differences in the governess in jane eyre and agnes grey. please give me some suggestion

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