Lisa's Reviews > Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die

"... for nothing can be taught to any purpose without some little exertion on the part of the learner."

So here we are, finding consolation in reading about the reality of schooling in a novel published almost two centuries ago. That quote is true, my dear Agnes alias Anne. And how come we still don't quote you on each curriculum, on each report card, on each test result?

Well, that is because you let your governess alter ego discover the other eternal truth as well, known to teachers of all curricula: namely that many parents may CLAIM to want to hear the truth about their children, and they may CLAIM to want them to learn and work studiously, but in reality, what they want to hear is praise of their offspring's unique genius, and they also want to be spared the parental effort it takes to instil respect and love of learning in their children - which is contrary to their natural desire to feel superior to the person assigned to take care of the schooling.

Being a governess in upper class Victorian England might sound like a completely different work experience when we compare it to being a school teacher in contemporary Sweden, but it is not. Where effort is avoided, and students are indulged to avoid short term tantrums and conflicts, the exact same situation occurs. A teacher trying to commit to a calling, a profession, will always be the first target for self-involved parents without true inclination for genuine education. Targeting the children is too close to self-criticism.

What I learned - yet again - from reading Agnes Grey is that human nature is the same over time and space, and that change can only happen on an individual, voluntary level. Parenting matters, more than anything else in the world. The ideas we give our children on how to treat our fellow human beings, and on how to approach the privilege of being educated and well cared for, still make all the difference for their development.

Tell students that the teacher is inferior to their parents and should be treated like a servant, and nothing the teacher teaches the students will be judged worth knowing. Tell them, on the other hand, that learning is the magical gate towards a self-determined and independent life, and that the teacher holds the key to the gate, - and the children will be sponges soaking up whatever knowledge they can collect. It is all about the mindset we give our children.

On the sidelines of the main social issue - the hardship of young educated women trying to succeed in the teaching profession - Agnes Grey manages to describe another ordeal of vulnerable female characters: the marrying business. One might get the notion that a woman can only choose between Scylla and Charybdis when making her path between the inhumane treatment of governesses and the eternal unhappiness following a conventional loveless marriage.

Had the youngest Brontë sister lived longer, she might have found a third path for herself - that of a successful writer. As it is, she remains forever contemporary in her honest and critical assessment of social injustice in her own time, based on firsthand experience and accurate rendering of basic psychological structures in upper class parenting.

Is it making me feel hope or despair to realise that there never were any good ol' times? I don't know.

I think it makes me feel hope that ANY society, no matter how dysfunctional and discriminating, can occasionally see the rise of brave and independent spirits like Agnes/Anne who dare to speak up for change. To be the change. To say and act on what is true:

"... for nothing can be taught to any purpose without some little exertion on the part of the learner."
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 24, 2018 – Shelved
June 24, 2018 – Shelved as: 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die
June 24, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)

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Lisa Lisa, nice review - I enjoyed this novel very much.


Jaline - (on partial hiatus) Lovely review, Lisa, as always. 😊


message 3: by Fiona (new)

Fiona A heartfelt review, Lisa. I went to school knowing that my Mum had left teaching because she hated it so I assumed that we were all there, teachers and pupils, hating it together! Not a recipe for academic success, I think!


Lisa Lisa wrote: "Lisa, nice review - I enjoyed this novel very much."

Me too, Lisa!


Lisa Fiona wrote: "A heartfelt review, Lisa. I went to school knowing that my Mum had left teaching because she hated it so I assumed that we were all there, teachers and pupils, hating it together! Not a recipe for ..."

Oh, Fiona! That is my point precisely. When students ask me why I became a teacher, they often expect me to roll my eyes and indicate it was a mistake, but I always "disappoint" them by answering that everyone should do what they love and what they see as meaningful and challenging ;-)


7jane (I was one of those who loved to learn and got on with the teachers, but was a total loner and other students irritated me *lol*) *cough* I really liked this book, the way she wrote was part of it :)


message 7: by Fiona (new)

Fiona Lisa wrote: "Fiona wrote: "A heartfelt review, Lisa. I went to school knowing that my Mum had left teaching because she hated it so I assumed that we were all there, teachers and pupils, hating it together! Not..."

Judging by all I have read, Lisa, your pupils are lucky to have you.


message 8: by Fergus (new)

Fergus What a wonderful review. Thanks, Lisa. What you say is so important!


Lisa 7jane wrote: "(I was one of those who loved to learn and got on with the teachers, but was a total loner and other students irritated me *lol*) *cough* I really liked this book, the way she wrote was part of it :)"

7jane, students like you describe yourself are still very common, and as a teacher I always feel we do not offer a safe place for those who want to learn without disruption from the many unruly children in the classroom. It is difficult to strike a balance between engaging everyone and honoring the thirst for knowledge of quiet and helpful students. Unfortunately bad behaviour has a tendency to claim more attention...


message 10: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Fergus wrote: "What a wonderful review. Thanks, Lisa. What you say is so important!"

Thank you, Fergus!


Dolors You do justice to the less famous of the Brontë Sisters, who I always felt was undervalued, although I preferred her The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Great review!


message 12: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Jaline wrote: "Lovely review, Lisa, as always. 😊"

Thanks, Jaline!


Kalliope Yes, we keep thinking that people change, but we do not...

You raise an intriguing, but sadly futile question, about what could have happened to Anne Brontë had she lived longer... Alas, we can ask ourselves this question with so many geniuses...


message 14: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Jesus Agnes Grey is good. But I like better " The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". The story is more powerlful. But I think that Anne is the most feminist of the sisters Bronte


message 15: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Dolors wrote: "You do justice to the less famous of the Brontë Sisters, who I always felt was undervalued, although I preferred her The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Great review!"

It is next up in my Brontë exploration! I find the introductory essays almost as exciting as the novels - bizarre sibling dynamics!


message 16: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Kalliope wrote: "Yes, we keep thinking that people change, but we do not...

You raise an intriguing, but sadly futile question, about what could have happened to Anne Brontë had she lived longer... Alas, we can a..."


True, Kalliope!


message 17: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Sara wrote: "Agnes Grey is good. But I like better " The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". The story is more powerlful. But I think that Anne is the most feminist of the sisters Bronte"

I will read her other novel next. Agnes Grey is a definitely an open statement on inequality and unfairness towards women. Thank you, Sara!


message 18: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Excellent review. Thanks for reminding me I need to read all of the Bronte sisters.


message 19: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Sue wrote: "Excellent review. Thanks for reminding me I need to read all of the Bronte sisters."

Thank you, Sue! That's my project for 2018 as well :-)


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