Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte – review

Published by

Publication date (this edition) – 5 September 1994

Source – own copy

With a specially commissioned Introduction and Notes by Kathryn White, Assistant Curator / Librarian of the Brontë Museum, Haworth, Yorkshire.

This novel is a trenchant expose of the frequently isolated, intellectually stagnant and emotionally-starved conditions under which many governesses worked in the mid-19th century.

This is a deeply personal novel written from the author’s own experience and as such Agnes Grey has a power and poignancy which mark it out as a landmark work of literature dealing with the social and moral evolution of English society during the last century.

I have an affinity with the Bronte sisters, though I wouldn’t be able to begin to say why. I adore Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but I have never read any of the other books produced by the siblings. Why, I could not begin to say. I even live and work in the same county that they lived and died in. Haworth is about 30 minutes from where I work and yet I only visited the Parsonage for the first time this year. But what a visit. There was something quite beautiful about the building, and something quite moving about seeing the property and belongings of the family. Of course I could not come away without being a memento or five, and Agnes Grey was one of those purchases.

Immediately I started reading I felt that there was something quietly enticing about the story. It has been said that it is semi-autobiographical and there is certainly a feeling that Anne was drawing on experience. The writing feels more personal. This is of course aided by the narrator being in the first person and talking to the reader, admitting that parts are skipped over so not to bore, that occurrences are told not to evoke pity but to provide a true picture of Agnes’ life.

There is something beautiful and appealing in the brevity of the prose. The story is only 153 pages in length but doesn’t lack anything because of it. There is a humility to Agnes that one can imagine in Anne, and through Agnes it appears that Anne lived her dreams, or so it would appear to this reader.

Agnes’ charges are an amalgam of all that could be wanting in a child of the age. A child of a certain class that is. Whilst undoubtedly an exaggeration, they were based on experience. The dangers of spoiling a child, of lack of real interest by their parents of their welfare and of the desire to abdicate responsibility for their education are evident in this book. Matilda Murray is a cautionary tale, the result of indulgence, boredom and a victim, however willing, of the desire to marry for money and status than for love.

It is always hard to review a work of fiction that has been reviewed hundreds of times already, by many people with more developed and erudite ideas than myself. Suffice it to say I loved this novel. There is beauty, sadness, love, loss and poetry contained within its few pages. Sometimes it is hard to express why one finds a novel appealing, why it is loved. Sometimes it is just a feeling, a contentment from picking up it’s pages. And no more words are really needed.

As I was reading I felt that this was a story that deserved more than one piece of my attention. It is a book I could well imagine re-reading a number of times, no doubt gaining more insight on each occasion.

A book I will read again. I’m looking forward to doing so already.

This was book 20 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. I love Agnes Grey – thanks for reminding me to re-read it! Congratulations on completing the challenge! 🙂

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    1. janetemson says:

      Thank you. It was the first time I’d read Agnes Grey but I’ll certainly be re-reading it. Glad to hear you love it too 🙂

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  2. I absolutely agree with everything you say about the Brontë sisters. I, too, live only a few miles from Haworth and like you hadn’t read anything beyond WH and JE until recently (I’d read nothing at all by Anne). Now I’ve been catching up as well. What’s so powerful is the depiction of the desperate situation of women, the property and chattels of their fathers and husbands. I suggest you read ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ next, which sits alongside ‘Portrait of a Lady’ as a powerful description of a woman of spirit who rebels against a bullying husband. Did you see Sarah Wainright’s ‘To Walk Invisible’ on TV last Christmas? Well worth catching up with if you missed it.
    Thanks for the blogs. Always an interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I adore Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights is one of my all time favourite books but I have never read anything by Anne. I’m going to have to rectify that. Wonderful review Janet.

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  4. Ashamed to say, I’ve not read anything by the Bronte sisters, but this does sound like a fab book. A wonderful reveiw Janet x

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  5. literaryeyes says:

    Agnes Grey is an eye-opening look at society in that age, and even in ours now. Anne Bronte wrote more realistically than her sisters, which makes her work resonate today. This is especially true of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. While it begins with old-style prose, as soon as the main character, Helen, starts to tell her story, the language and style become quite modern. These are books which are flawed, as all books are, but the characters and their situations will stay with you, just as Jane Eyre and Heathcliff do. A contemporary author, Diane M. Denton, has written a novel about the last seven years of Anne’s life, called Without The Veil Between. It should be out before Christmas. I read it and as a result read both of Anne Bronte’s works.

    Liked by 1 person

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