Review: Agnes Grey

“If happiness in this world is not for me, I will endeavour to promote the welfare of those around me, and my reward shall be hereafter.”

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte (originally published as Acton Bell)
193 pages
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Published by Barnes and Noble Classics, 2005 (org. 1847)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: While I enjoyed this one for the most part, I don’t think I’ll be returning to it soon.
Reviewed by Indiana
Spoilers ahead

A cold determination and a quiet joy run through both Anne Bronte’s protagonist in Agnes Grey and in her sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. They are in some ways similar story lines, though Anne’s one could argue is more biographical.

Agnes comes from a loving family. Her father is a kind clergyman who made some bad investments and lost much of the family’s money. His health is also failing, which is the cause of much worry among family members.

Agnes is determined to help and begs her mother to find a family who will hire her as a governess. Her first station is rather awful. The children are terrors; selfish and greedy with a habit of killing cute woodland animals for pleasure. Agnes tries to break them of all these character flaws, but she isn’t supported by the parents so of course it doesn’t work. She was eventually dismissed.

Yet, still determined, she goes to another family to become their governess—  “I’m sure all children are not like theirs,” Agnes told her mother.

This time around she was only slightly more successful. The children were similarly unwieldy, but they were at least a bit more joyous to be around and although the parents were just as unsupportive, she dealt with it.

She begins going to church with the family, where she meets one of the clergyman. Agnes takes a liking to him, though she doesn’t admit it. They meet by chance a few times out and about, though when one of Agnes’ teenage charges sees what’s going on between them she gets jealous and does everything she can to attract him. It feels weird—a young teen fawning over an older clergyman. Anyway, from there, the plot feels more like a classic rom-com, but maybe without so much of the com. There’s a few miscommunications between the clergyman and Agnes, there’s a family tragedy and a change in the church that bring them apart.

It seems like they’re destined to never get together and that Agnes will have to live out the rest of her days alone, a governess forever. Then they stumble across each other and the book wraps up in the next page or so.

These book has many of the same pieces as Jane Eyre, but they don’t quite fit together as well. Anne spends much of the time talking about the injustices that governesses experience and the weak morality of the aristocracy, rather than telling a good story. Agnes Grey perhaps should be read more through a lense of historical interest than through a literary lense.

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