The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

87 views
2012 Group Reads - Archives > Agnes Grey - Background Information

Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 3764 comments Mod
Use this area for any research or background information.


message 2: by MadgeUK (last edited Oct 15, 2012 08:18PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Agnes Grey is thought to be an autobiographical work because its events so strongly mirror Anne Bronte's own life and the life of governesses of the period. It is also a bildungsroman and a good example of the struggle Victorian women had to gain independence. This Victorian Web piece illustrates the plight of the Governess, who was neither a servant nor a member of the family :-

http://www.victorianweb.org/gender/pv...

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O17...


message 3: by MadgeUK (last edited Oct 17, 2012 11:54AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Anne Bronte also wrote poetry under the pseudonym of Acton Bell. Here is a short biography of her which includes her poems:-

http://womenshistory.about.com/gi/dyn...

She is the only one of the sisters not buried in their home village of Haworth because she died in a hotel in the seaside town of Scarborough, where she had been taken to recover from 'consumption' (TB). There are some nice photos here:-

http://www.haworth-village.org.uk/bro...


message 4: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 3764 comments Mod
The Victorian Governess Novel

© Cecilia Wadsö Lecaros, Department of English, Lund University


[Victorian Web Home —> Political History —> Social History —> Gender Matters]

This text forms part of the introductory chapter of The Victorian Governess Novel by Cecilia Wadsö Lecaros, available from Lund University Press.


s many readers of Victorian novels know, the governess was indeed a common figure in fiction of that period. Less known, perhaps, is that a large group of nineteenth-century novels deal with governesses in ways that are so similar in respect of plot lines, characterisations, and scenes, as well as of aim and intention, that they can be referred to as belonging to a specific genre. Although a small number of governess novels, such as Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey (1847) and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847), are still read today, most of the novels within the genre belong to the mass of forgotten Victorian fiction.

The governess novel must be connected with the nineteenth-century anxiety concerning middle-class female employment in general, and governess work in particular. The situation of governesses generated a debate which was especially active from the 1840s until the end of the century. A large number of manuals for governesses and their employers were also published all through the nineteenth century. The governess debate focused on terms of employment, salaries, and on the socially intermediate position of the governess. In the novels, this intermediate position functions both as a device of bringing the governess's plight in focus, and to furnish the writer with a framework for female development. By sharing many characteristics regarding e.g. rhetoric and argument with the contemporary governess debate and the manuals, the novels form an important part of that debate.

Although the fictional characterisation of governesses can be traced back to eighteenth-century school stories, novels featuring resident governesses and their relation to employers and pupils did not appear until the turn of the century. Early examples are H.S.'s Anecdotes of Mary; or, the Good Governess (1795) and Maria Edgeworth's "The Good French Governess" (1801). The governess characters in these stories differ from the genre prototype that developed from the 1830s. While most early literary portrayals of governesses have a clearly didactic purpose and present highly appreciated teachers, a noticeable shift in attitude seems to have taken place in the 1830s. From then on, the governess heroine was usually depicted as a victim of circumstances at the mercy of inhospitable or even hostile employers. Economic and social changes in the mid-1800s affected the position of governesses, and those shifts seem to have influenced and intensified the fictional delineation of governesses.

Although different in some respects, novels like Mary Martha Sherwood's Caroline Mordaunt, or, The Governess (1835), Julia Buckley's Emily, the Governess (1836), Miss Ross's The Governess; or, Politics in Private Life (1836), and Marguerite Blessington's The Governess (1839) all represent this new kind of governess novel. Themes like sudden impoverishment, paternal insufficiency, and conflicts with nouveaux riches employers were introduced in the plot. It is with novels like these that the genre started to take shape. Although the books were still didactic in intention, the plots now focused on the working conditions and social position of the governess heroine in a more marked way than those of earlier works.

The governess novel genre must be seen in relation to other contemporary genres. Since the governess heroine could easily be made into an observer of her employers' life, it is not surprising that some governess novels share traits with silver-fork novels. The typical marginalisation of the governess heroine, for instance, could easily be achieved by positioning her against snobbish upper-class employers with little or no understanding of her situation. Towards the middle of the century, when the governess question increasingly became an issue in the social debate, a more dogmatic approach to governess work was seen in governess novels. Dinah Mulock Craik's Bread upon the Waters: A Governess's Life (1852) was published explicitly for the benefit of the charitable Governesses' Benevolent Institution, as was Anna Maria Hall's Stories of the Governess (1852).When new genres like the sensational novel and the detective novel developed, some writers made use of the characteristics of the governess-novel genre, which was well established by this time. One aspect that probably attracted authors was the fact that a governess could easily be portrayed as a woman of whom little, or even nothing, was known. This is the case in novels such as Harriet Maria Gordon Smythies's The Daily Governess; or, Self-Dependence (1861) and Mrs Henry Wood's East Lynne (1860-1861). The characterisation of the governess protagonist in sensational novels and detective stories differs from that in more mainstream governess novels; primarily in that the governess could be made into an enigmatic character, or occasionally an evil schemer, as in the American governess story "Behind a Mask, or, A Woman's Power" (1866) by Louisa M. Alcott.

Even so, the characterisation of the governess, and the kind of situations she faced, was consistent throughout the nineteenth century. It should be stated that a number of 'traditional' governess novels were published during the latter decades of the century, too. The anonymous Margaret Stourton, or a Year of Governess Life (1863), Henry Courtney Selous's The Young Governess: A Tale for Girls (1871), and Irene Clifton's The Little Governess (1900) show little difference in the handling of the governess theme from the novels of the 1830s and 1840s. After the turn of the century, when the extent of governess employment decreased in real life, interest in the governess as a literary character seems to have diminished accordingly. Other occupational spheres opened for women, and literary representations of other kinds of working women broke the governess's near-monopoly as a professional heroine. However, the literary influence of the governess has not entirely vanished. Quite a few modern romances have incorporated characteristics belonging to the Victorian governess novel genre.


message 5: by MadgeUK (last edited Oct 29, 2012 12:58AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks Deborah. The Bronte sisters certainly knew about being governesses, as Charlotte Bronte observed:-

'None but those who had been in the position of a governess could ever realise that dark side of 'respectable' human nature; under no great temptation to crime, but daily giving way to selfishness and ill-temper, till its conduct toward those dependent on it sometimes amounts to a tyranny of which one would rather be the victim than the inflicter.'

When she was invited to tea at the home of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte, then a famous author, was so socially ill-at- ease that she took refuge with the family's governess.


message 6: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 3764 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "Thanks Deborah. The Bronte sisters certainly knew about being governesses, as Charlotte Bronte observed:-

'None but those who had been in the position of a governess could ever realise that dark s..."


Love the fact that Charlotte took refuge with the governess. That would have been me in that situation.


message 7: by Lily (last edited Oct 29, 2012 02:04PM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 2612 comments Deborah wrote: "The Victorian Governess Novel © Cecilia Wadsö Lecaros, Department of English, Lund University [Victorian Web Home —> Political History —> Social History —> Gender Matters] This text forms part ..."

Thank you for this, Deborah. It was long enough I debated whether to take the time to read it, but am glad I did.

Interesting to consider the resurgence of this "genre" in the 21st century with the "Nanny novels" we are seeing in current literature, e.g., The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid.


message 8: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 3764 comments Mod
Your welcome. I actually stole it from the Victorian group


message 9: by MadgeUK (last edited Oct 31, 2012 11:17AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Here are some links which describe the Brontes' home in Haworth, Yorkshire and its surroundings:-

http://www.bronte.info/index.php?opti...

http://www.haworth-village.org.uk/bro...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUzczm...

Anne Bronte loved Scarborough and was taken there by her sisters to recuperate from TB but she died there:-

http://www.annebrontescarborough.co.uk/

http://www.mick-armitage.staff.shef.a...


message 10: by Silver (new)

Silver I found this interesting article about Children and Governesses in the Victorian Era

http://www.likesbooks.com/nannies.html


message 11: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 3764 comments Mod
Silver wrote: "I found this interesting article about Children and Governesses in the Victorian Era

http://www.likesbooks.com/nannies.html"


Thanks silver.


message 12: by MichelleCH (new)

MichelleCH (lalatina) | 6 comments Thank you both. Interesting as to how far of a turn we have taken from the hands off approach.Abuse today would be highly unlikely with our nanny cams.


message 13: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Nanny cams??


message 14: by Silver (new)

Silver MadgeUK wrote: "Nanny cams??"

Nanny cams are hidden cameras parents use to watch nannys and babysitters so they can make sure they are not doing anything they shouldn't while the parents are not home.

Often they will be concealed in unsuspecting objects. When they first came out it was common to make teddy bears with hidden cameras in them.


message 15: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Gosh - never heard of those.


message 16: by Silver (new)

Silver MadgeUK wrote: "Gosh - never heard of those."

Must be a US thing


message 17: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments We have CCTV everywhere instead:(


message 18: by Silver (new)

Silver CCTV?


message 19: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Closed Circuit Television, which spies on you in shops, in streets etc.


message 20: by Denise (new)

Denise (drbetteridge) | 33 comments I purposely didn't read any background information on this book, but the first thing I felt myself wondering was whether or not the author was indeed British. Unlike most other English novels, this story is lacking the usual English atmosphere, if that makes sense. It doesn't mention familiar places, the descriptions of homes and scenery seem to lack any certain character, even the speech of some of the servants reminded me more of Uncle Tom's Cabin rather than Upstairs, Downstairs. I'm relatively new to the genre, so I'm wondering if I'm imagining it or just now reading something different for me but normal to the genre.


message 21: by MadgeUK (last edited Nov 08, 2012 03:41AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments It is very typical of novels of the Victorian genre Denise but Anne Bronte is better at describing people than places. Nor does she render the Yorkshire dialect as well as Emily Bronte did in Wuthering Heights but authors then were criticised for using too much dialect and making novels difficult to understand. This, for instance, is a very poor rendering of the Yorkshire dialect (Chapter 12): 'I'm feared o' th' gamekeepers,' said she: 'that's all 'at I think on. If th' young gentlemen had been at home, I should a' thought they'd been setting their dogs at her, an' worried her, poor thing, as they did many a poor thing's cat; but I haven't that to be feared on now.' This is what the spoken word sounds like:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScELaX...

And there are some examples of the written dialect here:-

http://www.yorkshiredialect.com/gramm...

Upstairs Downstairs is set in London Belgravia and the servants speak a variety of dialects, none of them very strong because servants in a London house would be better spoken. It is also set in the later Edwardian era, not the Victorian. Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1852 and Agnes Grey in 1847 so they are likely to have similarities.


message 22: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 3764 comments Mod
I keep wondering why Agnes thinks the family's friends and possible suitors for the girls should notice her and talk with her. She's not really considered their status because of her position; yet she feels this slight very strongly.


message 23: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Perhaps because she is young and unworldly. Also, Anne was from a Parson's family and used to being treated as more of an equal so when writing about Agnes she translates those feelings, which are unrealistic in that social milieu.


message 24: by Silver (new)

Silver MadgeUK wrote: "Closed Circuit Television, which spies on you in shops, in streets etc."

That sounds a bit like 1984


message 25: by Denise (new)

Denise (drbetteridge) | 33 comments MadgeUK wrote: "It is very typical of novels of the Victorian genre Denise but Anne Bronte is better at describing people than places. Nor does she render the Yorkshire dialect as well as Emily Bronte did in Wuth..."

Thank you for the insight, Madge. No, I never would have dreamed that was supposed to be a Yorkshire accent. I'm sure as I read more Victorian novels I'll start noticing other differences. I do enjoy them, for the most part.


message 26: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments It is a bit like 1984 Silver - we have more CCTV cameras than anywher else in Europe, possibly in the world! People don't seem to mind and the police like them, of ocurse.


message 27: by Denise (new)

Denise (Dulcinea3) | 269 comments Silver wrote: "MadgeUK wrote: "Nanny cams??"

Nanny cams are hidden cameras parents use to watch nannys and babysitters so they can make sure they are not doing anything they shouldn't while the parents are not h..."


Not that it's quite the same thing, but what that brought to my mind was one of my candidates for worst movie title of all time - "Baby Monitor - Sound of Fear"! LOL! Almost as bad as "Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?"

Sorry for going OT, but that title always makes me laugh!


message 28: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Garrett (AmandaElizabeth1) | 154 comments MadgeUK wrote: "It is very typical of novels of the Victorian genre Denise but Anne Bronte is better at describing people than places. Nor does she render the Yorkshire dialect as well as Emily Bronte did in Wuth..."

Writing in dialect is definitely a skill all its own. Some writers are masters at it such as Mark Twain and Dickens. Others, like Anne Bronte, not so much.

Good dialect writing can make the character come to life (like Huck Finn), but for me bad dialect writing can ruin a novel, although I'm enjoying Agnes Grey.

As far as Yorkshire dialect, I think James Herriot did a particularly good job in rendering it in his All Creatures Great and Small books.


message 29: by Denise (new)

Denise (drbetteridge) | 33 comments I have always wanted to know why authors of this period (19th century) would write, for example, "We left to journey to the house in A___ , to see Lord B___." I don't understand. It would have been just as easy to give the name or place. Can anyone enlighten me, please?


message 30: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments It is called spoof reportage, to imply that the author was writing about real events and was a custom at the time. It also protected them from libel if there was a Lord B there - it wasn't as easy to do research in that era.


message 31: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (DeborahKliegl) | 3764 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "It is called spoof reportage, to imply that the author was writing about real events and was a custom at the time. It also protected them from libel if there was a Lord B there - it wasn't as easy ..."

Thanks Madge. I had always wondered that too, and never asked.


message 32: by Denise (new)

Denise (drbetteridge) | 33 comments Thank you so much for finally putting my curiosity at rest. I had wondered if it was done by the author or taken out later. It just never made sense to me. Thanks again.


message 33: by Hrafnhildur (new)

Hrafnhildur | 3 comments I agree with Deborah and Denise; I've never taken the time to verify why many authors didn't include place names and such in their works. Although I suspected that this was the real reason behind the practice, it's great to have it confirmed. Thanks Madge!


back to top