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review 2017-09-13 16:08
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë

I have an affinity with the Bronte sisters, though I wouldn’t be able to begin to say why. I adore Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but I have never read any of the other books produced by the siblings. Why, I could not begin to say. I even live and work in the same county that they lived and died in. Haworth is about 30 minutes from where I work and yet I only visited the Parsonage for the first time this year. But what a visit. There was something quite beautiful about the building, and something quite moving about seeing the property and belongings of the family. Of course I could not come away without being a memento or five, and Agnes Grey was one of those purchases.

 

Immediately I started reading I felt that there was something quietly enticing about the story. It has been said that it is semi-autobiographical and there is certainly a feeling that Anne was drawing on experience. The writing feels more personal. This is of course aided by the narrator being in the first person and talking to the reader, admitting that parts are skipped over so not to bore, that occurrences are told not to evoke pity but to provide a true picture of Agnes’ life.

 

There is something beautiful and appealing in the brevity of the prose. The story is only 153 pages in length but doesn’t lack anything because of it. There is a humility to Agnes that one can imagine in Anne, and through Agnes it appears that Anne lived her dreams, or so it would appear to this reader.

 

Agnes’ charges are an amalgam of all that could be wanting in a child of the age. A child of a certain class that is. Whilst undoubtedly an exaggeration, they were based on experience. The dangers of spoiling a child, of lack of real interest by their parents of their welfare and of the desire to abdicate responsibility for their education are evident in this book. Matilda Murray is a cautionary tale, the result of indulgence, boredom and a victim, however willing, of the desire to marry for money and status than for love.

 

It is always hard to review a work of fiction that has been reviewed hundreds of times already, by many people with more developed and erudite ideas than myself. Suffice it to say I loved this novel. There is beauty, sadness, love, loss, poetry and beauty contained within its few pages. Sometimes it is hard to express why one finds a novel appealing, why it is loved. Sometimes it is just a feeling, a contentment from picking up it’s pages. And no more words are really needed.

 

As I was reading I felt that this was a story that deserved more than one piece of my attention. It is a book I could well imagine re-reading a number of times, no doubt gaining more insight on each occasion.

 

A book I will read again. I’m looking forward to doing so already.

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review 2017-05-28 00:00
Agnes Grey
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë Countering all of the romanticism of the position popularized by her sister, and showing the quiet humiliation faced by the marginalized figures in other works, Agnes Grey reveals the true lot of the governess. Agnes is a bright woman who is eager to do her part to support her family after they fall upon hard times. Her nervous optimism is soon shattered when she accepts her first position.

The novel was pulled from Bronte's own experiences as a governess and the book reads like someone relieved to open up. There's nothing like coming home from a bad day at work and saying "you'll never believe what happened this time...". A governess lives in her employer's house, as servants did, but as an acknowledged gentlewoman she also could not form bonds with other household staff. It was a lonely position, and a difficult one if your authority is limited to the boundaries that Agnes' employers gave her. There would have been no opportunity to decompress or garner sympathy from a friend except through letters - and it becomes clear that Agnes is not the sort of woman who would allow herself that kind of luxury.

Her charges are cruel, little monsters - children - or spoiled and inattentive. She is expected to correct faults and educate, but without inconveniencing them in any way. The contradictions, the hypocrisy, and again and again, the isolation and lack of understanding are insurmountable obstacles. Her only outlet to us, her readers, is a modern one: sarcasm. Agnes' sarcasm and irony nicely offset her faith and lovelorn denials. My impression is that Agnes found strength in her religion, but sanity in pointing out the often bizarre behavior and expectations of her employers and their families. As bleak as her situation can be, there are smiles and I could see the long suffering Agnes rolling her eyes behind her mistresses' back after yet another contradictory order.

Agnes Grey deals with grim realities which is a refreshing antidote to my other Victorian reading proclivities. Of her two novels this one feels superior for its simpler structure and the success of Agnes as a character who faces stern tests of character, shouts down doubts about herself, and persists.
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review 2017-04-30 23:40
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë

I really enjoyed this book.

Similar in style to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the book tells of Agnes Grey's journey into adulthood, specifically her struggles as a governess.

Beautifully-written, this book was a very good read. I really enjoyed Bronte's imagery.

It is heavy on the religious tones, but not in a preachy way, which didn't bother me. Agnes uses her religion to care for others, human and animal, which made her a very likeable character, despite her tendency to go on and on about God.

Light on the romance, which was also agreeable to me.

Listening to it as an audiobook made it even better; Emilia Fox did very well with the narration and intonation.

A good read with a satisfying ending.

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review 2016-12-18 05:50
Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë

This is Anne's first novel and it's a lesser work than the subsequent Tenant of Wildfell Hall but it shows some similarities; it is most powerful when tackling social issues of autobiographical concern to the author; the protagonist is a bit self-righteous; it never suffers the dullness that afflicts the lesser parts of Jane Eyre; it never tilts over into the almost insane hysterical passion of Wuthering Heights.

 

It seems fairly obvious that Anne wanted to tackle the plight of poorly treated governesses and bolted a very conventional and largely uninspired romance on the end in order to make it a novel. This romance section in itself serves more to act as a warning about the potential fate of people who marry merely for money or social status than to provide any satisfying against-the-odds meeting of soul-mates; the outcome is dictated by convenient chance. I note that as with other Bronte novels, the protagonist wishes to be appreciated for her moral, educational and intellectual capacities and achievements. This was clearly what was valued by the Brontes and what they wanted to be esteemed for having.

 

I found the book never tedious, being short in length and brisk enough, unlike Jane Eyre which bogs down frequently, but the early parts, loaded with the protagonist's early experiences away from home before romance enters the picture are surprisingly the most memorable. It would seem governesses were frequently treated badly by both parents and pupils and, being isolated from their previous "support network" as well as usually young and inexperienced, they often suffered greatly. It is obvious that Anne is speaking from experience in these passages and they act as a precursor to the later and greater similarly autobiographically informed sections of Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which remains by far the stand-out Bronte novel I've read.

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review 2016-08-01 00:00
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë The Tennant of Wildfell Hall is Anne Bronte's novel about the depredations of alcohol. It is essentially a primer for the temperance movement, and yet it's also wildly feminist for it's time and rather snarky in some places. I wouldn't say I loved the novel, but I enjoyed it.

The novel is two stories, one about Gilbert Markham and one (the far more interesting, and lengthy story) about Helen Huntingdon. Gilbert is a young wealthy farmer, going about his wealthy farmer business when a young widow moves into Wildfell Hall. At first he's quite bothered by her cool demeanor, but as he comes to make her acquaintance he's drawn in and the two fall in love. However the young widow, Helen, has a terrible secret. She's on the run from her verbally abusive, alcoholic husband and isn't really a widow at all. When Gilbert professes his love to Helen, she reveals her secret and tells him her rather tragic tale.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit, even if the moralizing annoyed me in many places. However, in order to write the story she wanted where Helen is a heroine and not some tarted up hussy, Anne needed to make sure that her heroine embraced the most strict morals of the day so there are moments where Helen comes off rather preachy. This Victorian moralizing gives the book a very preachy feel, and dates the book quite a bit for when you peel back the surface of what modern readers would find old fashioned and dated, you get a very modern heroine. Helen leaves her husband. She flat out refuses him his bedroom rights, and when she feels she and her son can no longer abide in his presence she runs away in the night. There's a reason this book hit the world with shockwaves. A wife forbidding her husband her bed (we're talking sex here) just wasn't done, and yet Helen is extremely sympathetic because of her strict adherence to Victorian morals. My one complaint is that Helen is the cheese that stands alone, there is at least one other example of a good woman trapped in a marriage with an alcoholic asshole, however he reforms and the marriage is for the better for all that it's rather plain the two are mismatched in the extreme.

The other reason I really enjoyed the book was because I sensed that in some respects Anne was taking swipes at the novels of her sisters. I kept thinking that if the Brontes were alive today Emily and Charlotte would have been die hard Twilight fans and Anne would have written scathing blog posts about how Edward and Jacob are terrible love interests and Twilight promotes all kinds of abuse. Anne's complete takedown of the Byronic hero in this novel was a delight to watch.

There's a bit where Helen's aunt is trying to convince her not to marry Huntingdon and when Anne say's that she likes him despite his faults and her aunt replies, "To be sure, my dear; and the worse he is, I suppose, the more you long to deliver him from himself." That moment cemented that the book and I would get along just fine. All during the courtship I kept yelling, 'RED FLAG. RED FLAG" and I could tell that Anne wanted me to be yelling that (or whatever the Victorian equivalent would be). The book delighted me in how it eviscerated the 'brooding but sexy man' trope and pointed out that someone so obsessed with his own troubles isn't really the best relationship material.

It is not, as I said, a perfect book. The moralizing was annoying and detracted quite a bit from the book. Near the end I started skimming quite a bit as Helen's willingness to martyr herself in order to be a good Victorian woman made me roll my eyes. As I said, it keeps Helen sympathetic to the Victorian reader, but to the modern reader it makes her a bit bland. I can't say spineless, because Helen is nothing if not full of steel, but the final act of the book does detract some from that steel to a modern reader.
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