Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

19 Mar
Horrors! A Bronte book that I didn’t like! I never would have thunk it.

One of my New Year’s resolutions (I don’t really take them seriously, but it is a bit of a motivation) was to read more classics this year. Hence, Agnes Grey! I had already read and loved books by the other Bronte sisters, namely Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and started wondering why I hadn’t read anything by Anne Bronte. Um, I realize now it was some kind of latent self-preservation. It wasn’t horrible, but in no way did it compare to the magnificence of the other two. In my Penguin edition there is an introduction by Charlotte Bronte, written after both of her sisters’ deaths. (How awful to be the one left behind, no?) She’s talking about both her sisters’ writing; when talking about Emily’s, she says her words were “condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music – wild, melancholy, and elevating.” That’s some praise, yo. But about Anne’s, she says “those verses, too, had a sweet, sincere pathos of their own.” Yikes. On the head, Charlotte, you nailed it on the head. It’s all right, just…not great.

Agnes Grey tells the story of one Agnes Grey, who grew up in a lovely family, but leaves to take employment as a governess. Now, her employers? Not so nice. And the children are horrendous. But Agnes soldiers on, relying on her upbringing to stay cheerful and giving despite the treatment she experiences. I kept trying to see what Anne was trying to communicate in this book – it almost feels like she doesn’t actually like to write, but was doing it because she felt she had a point to get across. I think she was trying to show the plight of the gently bred but impoverished woman during that time, dependent on others but trying to make her way. It’s just rings so untrue. Not the economic insecurity of women then, but Agnes’ own personal behavior. No one behaves like Agnes. She’s just so tedious with her positivity and determination to stick to her morals. That’s it! It’s like a morality tale, which is all well and good if I can get into the story. One of my MOST beloved books is Anne of Green Gables, and I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t “lessons” to be learned through Anne’s exploits. But, in that case, the characters are so charming, and Montgomery’s writing so captivating that it works. In this case, I just felt annoyed. Maybe my expectations were so high because of the other Brontes’ books. Ah well, I’m glad I gave it a try but it’s just not my cup of tea.

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2 Responses to “Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte”

  1. Rebecca March 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    I’ve never read anything by the Bronte sisters (horrible, right? Especially for an English major.) I’ve also not read Anne of Green Gables, but I have fond memories of the pledge-a-thon hours of the TV series, and I adore Anne, and also enjoyed the lessons.

    I can relate the lesson-without-enough-story sentiment to Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Goodkind feels strongly about possessing a unbendable morality, one that doesn’t balk at fear or danger or really anything (hum, this is the first time I’ve considered it, but his writing reminds me a bit of that Scientology video of Tom Cruise that released a few years ago…do you remember the one, where he’s talking a little too fast about how “A Scientologist can’t just drive past a car wreck; you have to stop, because you know you can help. You know you can do it.”? Anyway…). The first novel was pretty good and an adventure and enough to hook me for another, oh, seven or so novels. But the heavy-handed morality message just became too much. (And then I read stuff on his site and realized what a large, ugly ego the man has, and that was it for me.)

    Hum, not sure where I was going with this. 🙂 I don’t think I’ll ever give Agnes Grey a chance.

  2. Amanda March 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Meh, I don’t know, I don’t think every English major is required to love the classics – I certainly don’t love them all! For instance, I could go a lifetime without reading Walden again. And you’re quite the voracious reader – I can’t believe you got SEVEN books into a series that got on your nerves. I’m so fickle and I’ve always wished I could stick with a series longer. There’s very few where I have.

    Please don’t waste time on Agnes Grey. I’d go with Jane Eyre any day of the week – it’s one of my favorite novels, regardless of classic status. 🙂

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