Sarah's Reviews > Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
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's review
May 14, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: kindred-characters

I don't think I've ever been so conflicted about a rating. Though the story is evenly written, my opinion of it was in constant fluctuation. The first quarter of the book, I hated. I found the writing dull and the heroine insufferable. While it's true, there was none too little self-righteousness in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I could easily sympathize. Helen was up against a decadent, domineering husband. Agnes, as a governess, grapples with children. Small children, to begin with. And, she just can't state strongly enough how awful they are and how it's in no way her fault. Anne makes it quite clear that Agnes is completely right and everyone else is completely wrong. That kind of certainty just doesn't make for compelling literature.

By the second quarter of the book, Agnes had transitioned to older students, and I grew more sympathetic towards her. Indeed, her oldest charge Rosalie seems a precursor to George Eliot's Rosamond and Charlotte's Ginevra. (Though I suppose there could be many such precursors...)

But it was the love story that resonated most with me. Take, for instance, this bit regarding flowers given Agnes by her beloved:
"As for the primroses, I kept two of them in a glass in my room until they were completely withered, and the housemaid threw them out; and the petals of the other I pressed between the leaves of my Bible - I have them still, and mean to keep them always."
Have you ever read a more poignant sentence? More plaintive? More evocative of loneliness? There's a sweetness to her love that no other book in the Brontë canon touches upon.

And so we're brought to the age old question: Do you prefer the simplicity of an author's first work or the poetic and intellectual meandering of later works? I prefer the greater dimensions of Tenant, but I appreciate this early effort: earnest, subjective, painfully human in its well as its falsehoods.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you for this - a great review :)

Sarah Thank you for the sweet comment!

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