Kalliope's Reviews > Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
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really liked it
bookshelves: 19-century, 2017, britain, classics, fiction-english




Having watched recently the film To Walk Invisible, and having also finished not long ago Wuthering Heights, while I was reading this I could not but imagine the two sisters, Emily and Anne, sitting around the same table, either in the dining room or in the kitchen, each leaning over a very small notebook and writing away their novels in silence. Both sharing and not sharing; keeping each other’s company, but also guarding the privacy of their thoughts and their writing from the other sister.

And I wondered how was it possible that on the same table those two notebooks were filling with such different fiction. How could these two sisters, apparently so similar in character, with the same upbringing and similar experiences, produce such different works. With Emily’s novel made me dread the falling into Hell, while Anne’s account of a governess made me at times wished for a redeeming Hell.

Agnes Grey is a governess to her very core. Not one does she lose her, very proper, identity. Even in moments of weakness, she does not doubt for an instance her exemplary view of the world. For even if she is very convincing in her neutrality and perfection--that stands out against the rest of the, always faulty, characters--, the reader can at times question whether things, or people, are as outlandish as she presents them to be. I acknowledge that I felt at times like sticking my tongue out at Agnes in a purifying act of rebellion.

May be it was the language, always so composed, so correct, so balanced, so measured, so poised, that made me want to scream, or swear, or run away.

There was one moment in which I had some hope. In a scene I felt that finally Agnes could feel some spite. But no, she immediately corrected the suspicion and states that: I derived a secret gratification from the fact, not that she was vexed, but that she thought she had reason to be so. Definitely, no hope, for she continues: It made me think my hopes were not entirely the offspring of my wishes and imagination.

This non-novel, is nonetheless an extraordinary account of what a curious creature of a governess, in mid 19C England, was. While reading it was inevitable not to ponder about the restricted world for women, and how at this time they needed to fit in a necessary but also potentially alarming education. The account is also saturated with comments on social differences, which made me wonder how conscious was Anne Brönte of the political dimension of some of her sentences.

It was disagreeable to walk behind, and thus appear to acknowledge my own inferiority; for, in truth, I considered myself pretty nearly as good as the best of them, and wished them to know that I did so, and not to imagine that I looked upon myself as a mere domestic, who know her own place to walk beside such fine ladies and gentlemen as they were.
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And soon onto The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Reading Progress

March 4, 2017 – Started Reading
March 4, 2017 – Shelved
March 4, 2017 – Shelved as: 19-century
March 4, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017
March 4, 2017 – Shelved as: britain
March 4, 2017 – Shelved as: classics
March 4, 2017 – Shelved as: fiction-english
March 7, 2017 –
16.0% "Last summer, he gave me a nest full of young sparrow, and he saw me pulling off heir legs and wings, and hers, and never said anything; except that they ware nasty things, and I must not let them soil my trousers."
March 7, 2017 –
28.0% "He taught his nephew to believe that the more wine and spirits he could take, and the better he liked them, the more he manifested his bold, and manly spirit, and rose superior to his sisters."
March 7, 2017 –
44.0% "But if I could always be young, I would be always single. I should like to enjoy myself thoroughly, and coquet with all the world, till I am on the verge of being called an old maid; and then, to escape the infamy of that, after having made ten thousand conquests, to break all their hearts save one, by marrying some high-born, rich, indulgent husband, whom fifty ladies were dying to have."
March 8, 2017 –
48.0% "I ought to leave these selfish pleasures, and the park with its glorious canopy of bright blue sky, the west wind sounding through its yet leafless branches, the snow-wreaths still lingering in its hollows, but melting fast beneath the sun, and the graceful deer browsing on its moist herbage already assuming the freshness and verdure of spring."
March 9, 2017 –
53.0% "Already, I seemed to feel my intellect deteriorating, my heart petrifying, my soul contracting; and I trembled lest my very moral perceptions should become deadened, my distinction son right and wrong confounded, and alley better faculties be sunk, at last, beneath the baneful influence of such a mode of life."
March 10, 2017 –
57.0% "It was disagreeable to walk behind, and thus appear to acknowledge my own inferiority; for, in truth, I considered myself pretty nearly as good as the best of them, and wished them to know that I did so, and not to imagine that I looked upon myself as a mere domestic, who know her own place to walk beside such fine ladies and gentlemen as they were."
March 10, 2017 –
58.0% "I began this book with the intention of concealing nothing; that those who liked might have the benefit of perusing a fellow-creature's heart: but we have some thoughts that all the angels in heaven are welcome to behold, but not our brother-men--not even the best and kindest amongst them."
March 10, 2017 –
63.0% "I have omitted to give a detail of his words, from a notion that they would not interest the reader as they did me, and not because I have forgotten."
March 10, 2017 –
72.0% "I might dive much deeper, and disclose other thoughts, propose questions the reader might be puzzled to answer, and deduce arguments that might startle his prejudices, or, perhaps, provoke his ridicule, because he could not comprehend them; but I forbear."
March 10, 2017 –
73.0% "Had I seen it depicted in a novel, I should have thought it unnatural; had I heard it described by others, I should have deemed it a mistake or an exaggeration; but when I saw it with my own eyes...."
March 11, 2017 –
91.0% "I never care about the footmen; they're mere automatons: it's nothing to them what their superiors say or do; they won't dare to repeat it; and as to what they think--if they presume to think at all--of course, nobody cares for that. It would be a pretty think indeed, if we were to be tongue-tied by our servants!"
March 11, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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Issicratea I think I maybe liked this novel a little more than you did, although I agree that it's not a patch on the novels of Emily Bronte (or, indeed, Charlotte.) It's true that it illuminates the strange and contradictory position of the governess—in some sense, the first "career woman," yet at the same time, deeply embedded within Victorian family structures—as well as anything written at this time.


Kalliope Issicratea wrote: "I think I maybe liked this novel a little more than you did, although I agree that it's not a patch on the novels of Emily Bronte (or, indeed, Charlotte.) It's true that it illuminates the strange ..."

Thank you, Issicratea.. Yes, as a document registering the very peculiar role of governesses, it is excellent.. it was just that the actual writing, perfect for a governess, at times seemed to me too self-consciuos (on the part of the author and only by extension, not by intent, that of Agnes Grey herself).

It is very interesting that women of lower social class would have an educational level befitting the women of a wealthier status.. I suppose it is the same today, with teachers and wealthy students.


·Karen· To Walk Invisible was good wasn't it?
I had a similar reaction to Villette which I finished today: it also occasionally made me want to scream. It's magnificent on the kind of depression that Charlotte must have experienced herself after Branwell, Emily and Anne all died within eight months of each other. And Charlotte found it hard to write sometimes, without the support and criticism of her sisters, to whom she would read passages as she wrote.


message 4: by Kalliope (last edited Mar 19, 2017 11:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kalliope ·Karen· wrote: "
I had a similar reaction to Villette which I finished today: it also occasionally made me want to scream. It's magnificent on the kind of depress..."


Yes, great film.. I saw it knowing very little about the sisters, and from what I have learnt later, the film is even more accurate on some of the aspects it presents.

Actually, my next Brönte read is Villette... and then The Tenant... Yes, the peculiar mix of sharing and total privacy (in respect to their writing) that the three showed with each other is fascinating.

Emily was so distressed when she realised her poetry had been read on the sly by Charlotte. But then they were all also very supportive. But I understand that Charlotted edited considerably the second edition of Wuthering after Emily had died.


message 5: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I'd hate to have been your governess, Kall!
I love your picture of the Brontës writing, writing, writing and yet producing such different visions of life out of roughly the same raw material. So interesting to think about - the differences individual temperament make, and the enormous possibilities of imagination.
You make great points too about the dilemmas of the Victorian governess. They certainly were in a horrible position - often better educated than their employers and often with a more refined upbringing but always sadly much poorer. And if they were young, they'd be lucky not to be abused by the man of the house. No wonder the Brontës didn't stick it for long!
I'm pretty sure I liked this book when I read it ages ago - in fact I doubt I ever came across a Brontë book I didn't like though Wuthering Heights tested me quite a bit - I think I was just too young when I read that one. It's probably due a reread.


message 6: by Kalliope (last edited Mar 19, 2017 11:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kalliope Fionnuala wrote: "I'd hate to have been your governess, Kall!
I love your picture of the Brontës writing, writing, writing and yet producing such different visions of life out of roughly the same raw material. So i..."


Thank you, Fio.... Haha... Yes, I would also have hated being my own governess...

This is a fascinating book, and probably the best account we have of that particular figure of the governess, even if the narrator never takes off her guise as governess even when she expresses criticism...

Gosh, Wuthering Heights must have been a real nightmare for a young reader... it was for me... an extraordinary novel... I also think it deserves a reread...


message 7: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Russell Intriguing review, K!

This non-novel, is nonetheless an extraordinary account of what a curious creature of a governess, in mid 19C England, was. ------------------- I wonder if a fruitful cultural comparison can be made when this book is read along side of The Nanny Diaries.


Lisa Lovely, Kalliope! There can never be too much rebellion against self-righteous preachy characters. I need to reread this one, as I only read it as a teenager, only vaguely concentrating, I suspect!


Kalliope Glenn wrote: "Intriguing review, K!

This non-novel, is nonetheless an extraordinary account of what a curious creature of a governess, in mid 19C England, was. ------------------- I wonder if a fruitful cultur..."


Thank you, Glen.. I don't know the Nanny Diaries... Another comparison could be Mary Poppins...


Kalliope Lada Fleur wrote: "I found the trio quite interesting Three sisters different in character living their apparently peaceful lives enveloped in teeir reding writing , walking and inevitably thinking Agnes Gray is the ..."

Thank you, Lada.. Yes, I fully agree... my interest in the three sisters is rather new.. I don't know why I have been avoiding them, with the exception of Jane Eyre.. I plan to read the Tennant.


Kalliope Lisa wrote: "Lovely, Kalliope! There can never be too much rebellion against self-righteous preachy characters. I need to reread this one, as I only read it as a teenager, only vaguely concentrating, I suspect!"

Dear Lisa, if Agnes Grey had known you were paying only partial attention to her narrative, she would have included you in it, under not a very favouring light, for posterity.. you are lucky you got away with it..


message 12: by Seemita (new)

Seemita 'I acknowledge that I felt at times like sticking my tongue out at Agnes in a purifying act of rebellion.'

Haha... I can see the propriety was way too much for you, Kall. But perhaps, it made you go all the way to compare the writing styles of the sisters and that, must have thrown much more inexplicable elements than what you have tersely covered here. Looks like you had a ride! :)


Kalliope Seemita wrote: "'I acknowledge that I felt at times like sticking my tongue out at Agnes in a purifying act of rebellion.'

Haha... I can see the propriety was way too much for you, Kall. But perhaps, it made you ..."


Ha... I read this just about one month after Wuthering Heights.... which apart from the theme, the plot, the characters, also flowed... this one always felt as if Agnes thought her sentences out before uttering them...


Kalliope I have just edited all the WUthering Heights in this page.... The autocorrect sneaks in Withering... and there is now a red underlining below WUthering..

What Emily's term has not made it into the built in dictionary in my computer?


message 15: by Renata (new)

Renata I greatly enjoyed your review of this book and feel mystified that I never branched out to read more of the Brontes work. Withering Heights just blew me away with its raw passions as a teenager. Rereading it in my thirties was a much different experience Lol - no surprise there! I've reread Jane Eyre and several modern versions and love it. So poor Anne has been neglected by me! Your review made me laugh and I will try to read it before I watch the PBS show To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters later this month!


message 16: by Renata (new)

Renata Darn - Wuthering!!!


Kalliope Renata wrote: "I greatly enjoyed your review of this book and feel mystified that I never branched out to read more of the Brontes work. Withering Heights just blew me away with its raw passions as a teenager. Re..."

Thank you, Renata.. Yes, I've heard that PBS will be airing the film To Walk Invisible.. Do not miss it, and also, do read this book. I think, though, that after the film you will want to get a more rounded view of the three... Even the brother - it is just that I am not a reader of poetry, but if you are, my sense is that his writings are also of great interest.

Haha..you also suffered the Withering-Wuthering dilemma.


message 18: by Florencia (new)

Florencia Your review opens with a great paragraph which conveys a lovely image I had no trouble picturing in my head. Very interesting to know about another member of that talented family.


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