‘Agnes Grey’ – Anne Brontë
Genre: Victorian Literature/Fiction Pages: 150
Anne Brontë’s novel ‘Agnes Grey’ isn’t too well known as one of the Brontë sisters texts, with Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ often taking centre stage. After reading Anne’s novel ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ I found to enjoy her work and so purchased another of her texts, yet unfortunately I didn’t find this one as enjoyable.
This novel centres on Agnes who was born into a poor family who have little money to get by. Fairly early within the novel, Agnes takes it upon herself to increase the family’s income through beginning work as a governess. We follow Agnes’ journey, including her highs and lows, as she learns what is expected of her and where her limits stand. I admit, I did have high hopes for this novel yet I didn’t find it particularly interesting. The text has limited themes, yet I will mention them regardless in the hopes that they will be useful to you in comparison to another text.
The main themes of the novel include class, marriage and social climbing. Very early on in the novel, the theme of marrying out of love or social mobility is mentioned. Agnes mentioned that her parents had married despite the protests from her grandfather as he threatened that if she became ‘the poor parson’s wife, she must relinquish… all the luxuries and elegancies of affluence’. Therefore he states that she would have to make the choice on whether to marry for love or wealth. This becomes a common theme throughout the novel as Agnes is often witness to events such as this, which could be Brontë alluding to her beliefs on the subject.
Rosalie Murray (one of the pupils who Agnes is her governess), is of a higher class to Agnes and so has a very different upbringing and differing views on what marriage should be. While Agnes discusses marriage, Rosalie wished to know if Agnes’ sister’s husband was rich, handsome and young and exclaimed that ‘you’ll make me sick’ to discover that he was decent-looking with a comfortable wage. This shows the differences between classes and opinion on what a marriage should be. Rosalie’s views are also highlighted later in the novel, when she is searching for potential husbands as she likes the sound of being ‘Lady Ashby’ despite her potential husband being both ‘wicked’ and ‘an ugly beast’. This further reinforces the idea of marrying for wealth and social status, than love for one another. Class is also a theme here as her mother encourages this marriage and states that Rosalie ‘should not mind after a few months’ acquaintance.’
Another theme commonly mentioned is the expectations for gender roles for the children. Of one of the houses that Agnes is the governess, Tom’s uncle (Tom being another pupil) encouraged his nephew to drink heavily and introduced him to hunting ‘the more wine and spirits he could take… the more he manifested his bold and manly spirit, and rose superior to his sisters’. Gender roles were clearly distinguished between males and females, and Brontë may be trying to make a statement by highlighting this so often.
Yet ultimately, Brontë does seem to be writing with an aim. She states clearly within the text that the purpose of her writing was ‘not to amuse, but to benefit those whom it might concern’ and that if ‘an unfortunate governess received thereby the slightest benefit, I am well rewarded for my pains.’ Thus suggesting that there is a purpose to her text and despite the lack of hidden meanings within her novel, there is a clear aim. However, I did find this text uninteresting and I’m not in any hurry to give in another read in the near future. I did prefer her other novel, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ and as I’m disappointed in this novel I shall rate is only a four out of ten.
What are your opinions? Let me know in the comments below or send me a message on social media. Also, for those who have taken exams lately, I hope your results were as you had hoped and I wish you every success for the future!
Take care, Sophie x
Summary For Students
Marrying for love/wealth
- Agnes' mother said that ‘she would rather live in a cottage with Richard Grey than in a palace with any other man in the world.’
- Agnes’ opinion on Rosalie’s marriage differs to that of Rosalie herself as she believes it to be ‘rather a theme for sorrow than rejoicing’
Disappointing/Rejected Proposals -
- When Rosalie rejects Mr Hatfield’s proposal, Rosalie expresses that Hatfield looked like ‘he could have died on the spot with vexation and the intensity of his despair’ and how commented on how ‘dreadfully mortified he was – how crushed to the earth by his disappointment!’.