Monday, 2 June 2014

Thoughts on "Agnes Grey" [Book Review]

Recently I finished reading "Agnes Grey" (1847), Anne Brontë's first novel.

 It follows a period in the life of the young woman who gives this book it's name.
Agnes Grey starts to work as a governess to gain independence and to support her family. Supposedly Anne Brontë used her own experiences to write this story as she had worked as a governess herself.

Being young and unexperienced Agnes has to face a lot of troubles, especially when it comes to her protégés who are not interested in following her instructions and instead of receiving encouragement by their parents Agnes has to deal with their criticism as well.
The plot starts to thicken when Edward Weston, the new parson, is introduced (it is said that he has some of the features of Anne Brontë's own love interest William Weightman). Agnes feels immediately drawn to him, but living in the household of the Murray family, where she has to take care of two stubborn and also selfish girls (some might already call them young women), is a permanent obstacle.

This is the basic outline of the story and in all honesty, there is not much more to it. In her first book, Anne Brontë shows that she knows how to use words in order to create the right atmosphere for the story, but the characters remain flat (which is the main problem of this book).
Especially the heroine, Agnes Grey, is presented as a woman who is willing to change something and to do something good, but she does not have the means or the courage to do so. She remains passive and quiet until the end.

When I picked up this book at the bookshop I expected it to give me a deeper insight into the life as a governess in the 19th century, but while reading it I always felt, that it only scratched the surface. There were so many possibilities to give it more life and depth for example by working on the character development

However I do not want to be too harsh. I did enjoy this read as it was light and easy and at the end I was glad - not because the book was over, but because the finale was quite satisfying for someone who likes a bit of romance from time to time.

My overall opinion is that "Agnes Grey" is an enjoyable little read, but it lacks depth in some parts (both character and story wise). Still,it makes it easy to imagine how difficult working as a governess must have been in a family where the parents turned out to be just as stubborn as their children.
Maybe the book does not have too much to offer when it comes to drama, romance and twisted relationships, because it is based on Anne's own memories and as we all know real life is often not as dramatic as our favourite films and books, which often tend to exaggerate. 

On a side note, I just started to read "Villette" (1853) by Anne's sister Charlotte Brontë and so far it is quite promising. It goes into a similar direction as "Agnes Grey",beause it deals with a young woman who leaves her home and ends up at a French girls' school to work as a teacher. The plot is a lot more dense and there is more room for the characters to develop.

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