Well, it appears all three Bronte sisters are gifted writers. After finishing up Jane Eyre, I decided to give the more brief Agnes Grey a shot. I was not disappointed.
At first, I was afraid that Anne would only provide her readers a poor regurgitation of her sister’s stories. The main character, Agnes, comes from a poor, but genuinely happy family. As a young woman, she ventures out to serve as a governess in the homes of two different, very indulgent families. This is where the similarities diverge.
Agnes’ first year as a governess reminded me in some ways of my first year of teaching. I felt her pain as she struggled to control her pupils with her hands tied behind her back, so to speak. Her employers blame her for all of their children’s shortcomings, but do not allow Agnes to elevate herself to a position of power over them, forbidding her to discipline, strike, or criticize their children in any form. Agnes is eventually asked to leave after a year of work because the children seem to exhibit worse behavior than before she arrived. It was not for lack of effort on Agnes’ part, but the continual undermining of her authority by her employers.
Agnes’ second job was better, to some degree, but she is still treated like a nothing and a nobody. What a challenge it is to make any impression on the young minds in your charge when they are taught by undeniable example that you are not deserving of respect. After a few years of service, her burden lightens with the departure of the young men of the home to university. Agnes also had some healing balm applied to the wounds of her loneliness. A new clergyman, Mr. Weston, comes to their town who handles the Word of God rightly and engagingly. He is also incredibly genuine and kind, and develops a rapport with all of the poor and lowly in the area.
To put it simply, Agnes’ heart skips a beat upon every meeting, every conversation, and every thought that drifts to Mr. Weston. She prays fervently that God would grant her the pleasure of one day being Mrs. Weston, but never stoops to unabashedly flirt with him in the way oldest and most beautiful young lady she cared for did. Rosalie Murray is perhaps the vilest female character I’ve ever encountered. She delights in controlling men and their emotions by feigning to entertain some feelings toward them. She loves a conquest and tries to fit in as many heart-wrenching triumphs as possible before her marriage to a wealthy man in good standing, whom she detests. Agnes describes Miss Murray best in her diary account:
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, and suffered from it, too, I could only conclude that excessive vanity, like drunkenness, hardens the heart, enslaves the faculties, and perverts the feelings; and that dogs are not the only creatures which, when gorged to the throat, will yet gloat over what they cannot devour, and grudge the smallest morsel to a starving brother.
The story has a happy ending and the conclusion is succinct. I would recommend this read for any teacher, mentor, or parent who wants to be encouraged that the children in their care are not as horrid as the ones Agnes had to deal with.