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Agnes Grey (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)…

Agnes Grey (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (original 1847; edition 2005)

by Anne Bronte, Fred Schwarzbach (Introduction)

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Title:Agnes Grey (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
Authors:Anne Bronte
Other authors:Fred Schwarzbach (Introduction)
Info:Barnes & Noble Classics (2005), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library, Recommended
Tags:Fiction, Governess, 19th century, England, Bronte, Classic, Society, Love

Work details

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë (1847)

  1. 80
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Medellia)
  2. 70
    Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Medellia)
    Medellia: Both books have sweet, shy, thoroughly virtuous protagonists, if you're a fan of that sort of character. (I am, and loved both novels!)

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English (72)  French (2)  Finnish (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (77)
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The story of Agnes Grey is essentially thinly veiled autobiography which parallels key elements of Anne Bronte’s own life. Related in the first person, it is the story of a clergyman’s daughter in the north of England who seeks financial independence in light of the family’s straightened circumstances and eventually chooses, much to the astonishment of her parents and sisters, to become a governess. The ensuing narrative provides ample opportunity to present some powerful depictions of over indulgent and thoughtless parents, their obstreperous and selfish children as well as the vacuity of the schoolroom. We see two families, the Bloomfields and the Murrays, each of which proves unkind, unfeeling and insensitive after their own fashion. We also see the attendant village societies with their divisions, jealousies and aspirations – although the overall presentation of these is more akin to Jane Austen’s two inches of ivory rather than to Dickens’ or Eliot’s wider panorama of the social order.

This novel fits the pattern of so many great classic realist works of the Victorian era from Dickens to Hardy, which explore the principle division of matter and spirit. The material conditions of nineteenth century society are always kept in mind; we are given details of the wealth and earnings of Agnes, her economic strains and anxieties; and we are shown how they contrast with the ease and comfort of her employers as well as the pecuniary motivations for the marriages they arrange. But, while worldly enough to incorporate such gross matters, the moral and spiritual dimension of the characters is always the principle focus of interest. For Agnes, the most important concern is to maintain integrity in the face of experience; to focus on the simple and honest virtues of love rather than social probity or advancement. Agnes’ mother sums this up most clearly towards the end when she affirms the choice she made to marry for love rather than money many years earlier by turning down her own father’s offer to restore her place in his will if she will renounce her marriage. She stoutly asserts that “he is mistaken in supposing that I can regret the birth of my daughters...; had our misfortunes been three times as great as they were ... I should still the more rejoice to have shared them with your father...” (p.124). What keeps Agnes going in the dark times as she feels increasingly alienated from the world and its values, is this family feeling and the thought of doing her best for them. When the admirable curate Mr Weston asks her what her favourite flowers are, she replies with “primroses, blue-bells and heath-blossoms” because they remind her of home; and here she pledges herself to Victorian hearth and home: “It is so much that I think I could not live without it” she says (p.84).

The great temptation for the characters of the novel is the pride that comes from their wealth and the ability it gives them to exploit others. On one side are the wealthy who have generally succumbed to this egotism. Rosalie Murray, one of Agnes’s charges, fits this mould. Agnes admits to caring for her and seeing her virtues of vivacity and charm; but her indulgent parents and their philistine world view have allowed Rosalie’s weaknesses to outgrow her strengths. As Agnes notes “Her temper being naturally good, she was never violent or morose, but from constant indulgence and habitual scorn of reason, she was often testy and capricious; her mind had never been cultivated; her intellect at best was somewhat shallow; she possessed considerable vivacity, some quickness of perception, and some talent for music and the acquisition of languages, but till fifteen she had troubled herself to acquire nothing; - then the love of display had roused her faculties, and induced her to apply herself, but only to the more showy accomplishments” (51). Even worse are the cruelties of Tom Bloomfield, the eldest child of Agnes’ first placement. He is constantly defiant to Agnes and vicious to animals (he is the boy Lear refers to who kills things for his sport).

This culture culminates in mercenary attitudes to love and marriage as seen in Rosalie’s poor choice of a husband, something connived in by her parents.
All this is counterpointed with Agnes’s steadfast and level headed moral judgement. Her connections reflect this same modest and simple attitude: her constant and loyal family, Nancy Brown (a local cottage dweller looked down on by the well-to-do because of her meagre living) and the curate Mr Weston. Modesty, endurance and a clear sighted simple honesty and faith are the touchstone virtues here. And, as we would expect they are rewarded in their way.

The drama played out between these sets of characters is to a great degree predictable but the resolution is skilfully held back until extremely late in the story; the heart of the novel is Agnes herself, her modesty and moral integrity. She can judge harshly: Tom Bloomfield and the uncle who incites him to outrageous acts of so-called “manly” torture are clearly taken to task in the narrative. But she can also forgive Rosalie for her thoughtless marriage when she sees its sorrowful consequences in a poignant scene. So, along with a moral toughness there is a capacity for flexibility and kindness.

Agnes can seem a little pious at times to modern taste but the voracious, vindictive and spiritually vapid world of her antagonists serves to provide a counterweight to this. There is no shortage of cruelty and heartlessness to be seen in this novel, but these lack the energetic vigour with which Emily presents such emotions in "Wuthering Heights". But, the purpose of this book is to embody the values of Christian virtue not to extol or explore the passions of pantheistic or pagan character as her sister does. Whereas Emily’s novel leads us to the shimmering energies of “unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth”, Anne affirms a more conventional Victorian pietism by concluding that “we endeavour to live to the glory of Him who has scattered so many blessings in our path”. Unquiet slumbers? Quiet glory has its value, too. ( )
  elyreader | Apr 14, 2014 |
'It is an earnest book that seems to come from the heart."
read more: http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.gr/2014/04/agnes-grey-anne-bronte.html ( )
  mongoosenamedt | Apr 11, 2014 |
Plain and rather predictable, but nice. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
"Agnes Grey" is a book I could have written and ought to like: the story of a deeply religious woman who finds her first teaching position intolerable and her second improved but disheartening because of her pupils' lack of moral sentiment. But it bores me. I try to do Anne Brontë the credit of interpreting her apart from her sisters' legacies (to my mind, she bears far more resemblance to Jane Austen, anyway), but it is not just the lack of sensationalistic romantic fervour that leaves me wanting after reading this book. The plot is sparse and devotes more time to character sketches than to events, and the moralising is overt, repeating strings of Bible verses rather than expressing religious convictions through learned experience. This book is largely purported to be semi-autobiographical, and lauded for its endeavour to present the daily experiences of a governess in a realistic light. They may appeal to some readers for that very reason, but if I'm going to pick up an autobiography, I want to pick up a true autobiography, and if I'm going to pick up a novel, I want it to spend more time exploring symbolism and developing characters through their experiences. I'm sorry, Agnes. I just can't love you, but I hope someone else can.

The Barnes and Noble edition of this book contains a list of significant quotations from the book, an introduction and notes by Fred Schwarzbach, a preface and timeline outlining the life of the Brontë family, the "Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell" written by Charlotte Brontë in 1850, an "Inspired by Agnes Grey" section, critical comments and questions on the novel, and a bibliography of further biographical and critical readings on Anne. The notes to this book are disappointing, often spelling out things that a learned reader could figure out on his or her own, and occasionally offering spoilers about the rest of the plot. The "Inspired by Agnes Grey" chapter features nothing actually inspired by "Agnes Grey," but instead further describes the mixed reception of Anne's work and offers up one of her poems. The critical comments, however, are relatively interesting. ( )
  quaintlittlehead | Feb 1, 2014 |
I didn't like this as much as some of the other Bronte sister books that I'd read, perhaps because it doesn't have the same sweeping 'epic' feel that some of the others do. Agnes isn't the most riveting of characters either, although I couldn't help but feel some degree of sympathy for her in her dealings with spoilt children and their distant but judgemental parents. ( )
  Peace2 | Jan 24, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brontë, Anneprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brockway, HarryIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruohtula, KaarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, AnneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suess, Barbara A.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.
It is foolish to wish for beauty. Sensible people never either desire it for themselves or care about it in others. If the mind be but well cultivated, and the heart well disposed, no one ever cares for the exterior.
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Book description
Agnes Grey is forced by the poverty ensuing on her father's death to seek work as a governess, the only employment available to middle-class young women of the time. Her humiliating first position lasts only six months, but she is soon employed by the Murray family. Tormented by the coquettish Rosalie and the student tomboy Matilda, she finds her position increasingly lonely and difficult. Only Mr Weston, the poor, plain curate shows any kindness, and Rosalie seems bent on his conquest. Anne Bronte knew only too well what is was to be a governess - "your efforts baffled and set at nought by those beneath you, and unjustly censured by those above". With Agnes Grey she created an impassioned account of a role which stripped so many Victorian women of their dignity. And, reinforcing her insistence on a woman's right to personal freedom, vividly presents the natural landscape as a mirror to her heroine's inner life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140432108, Paperback)

When her family becomes impoverished after a disastrous financial speculation, Agnes Grey determines to find work as a governess in order to contribute to their meagre income and assert her independence. But Agnes' enthusiasm is swiftly extinguished as she struggles first with the unmanageable Bloomfield children and then with the painful disdain of the haughty Murray family; the only kindness she receives comes from Mr Weston, the sober young curate. Drawing on her own experience, Anne Bronte's first novel offers a compelling personal perspective on the desperate position of unmarried, educated women for whom becoming a governess was the only respectable career open in Victorian society.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:56 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

When her family becomes impoverished after a disastrous financial speculation, Agnes Grey determines to find work as a governess in order to contribute to their meagre income and assert her independence. But Agnes' enthusiasm is swiftly extinguished as she struggles first with the unmanageable Bloomfield children and then with the painful disdain of the haughty Murray family; the only kindness she receives comes from Mr Weston, the sober young curate. Drawing on her own experience, Anne Bronte's first novel offers a compelling personal perspective on the desperate position of unmarried, educated women for whom becoming a governess was the only respectable career open in Victorian society.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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