(I read much less elegantly/yellow-ly)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte: a Review

 photo agnes_grey_zpsafcce115.jpg
It's silly how much trouble I had writing this review. Certainly, I had thoughts about this book - but actually documenting them? Dumbly difficult.
What a little gem, though. Anne is the overshadowed Bronte, generally considered the least interesting of the three, if not dismissed outright as talentless in comparison with her sisters. Which is unfair - she wasn't worse, she was different. She was more of a realist than her sisters, and I would argue that she does her thing just as well as her sisters do theirs.
 photo tumblr_mifwf4iOzG1s4v799o1_500_zps6bac889c.gif

Anne wrote Agnes Grey when she was 27, after working as a governess from when she was 19 to 25. She died two years later, after also writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Basically, Agnes Grey is the story of a young girl who, after her family falls on hard times, becomes a governess and realizes that being a governess is terrible because they aren't treated like human beings. Did anyone else know about how terrible life was for governesses? They were too low class to be socially acknowledged by the people they worked for and too high to be acknowledged by the servants, so they were stuck between the two in a lonely limbo filled with judgement and ostracism. Agnes is made to feel unwanted and inferior wherever she goes, and has nobody to talk to about ANYTHING, such as when a kid spits at her or she starts seriously crushing on the nice new curate in town. I mean, how do you bottle that stuff up?
Obviously, governesses were responsible for the academic and moral education of their pupils. Fair enough. OR WAS IT? Because in Agnes Grey, Agnes'  employers  are completely oblivious and unreasonably demanding  - they are blind to their children's faults, spoil them rotten, blame Agnes for anything that goes wrong, treat her with blatant disrespect - and after ALL THAT wonder why she has no control over the kids!!!

 photo picard-facepalm-o_zps34385caf.gif
Some of Agnes' experiences with her pupils exceed the regular hyper, bratty infuriating variety and are truly horrible:

"Tom, who had been with his uncle into the neighbouring plantation, came running in high glee into the garden with a brood of little callow nestlings in his hands.
Mary Ann and Fanny, whom I was just bringing out, ran to admire his spoils, and to beg each a bird for themselves.
"No, not one!" cried Tom. "They're all mine. Uncle Robson gave them to me - one, two, three, four, five - you shan't touch one of them! no, not one for your lives!" continued he, exultantly, laying the nest on the ground, and standing over it, with his legs wide apart, his hands thrust into his breeches-pockets, his body bent forward and his face twisted into all manner of contortions in the ecstasy of his delight.
"But you shall see me fettle 'em off. My word, but I will wallop 'em! See if I don't now! By gum! but there's rare sport for me in that nest."
"But Tom," said I. "I shall not allow you to torture those birds. They must either be killed at once, or carried back to the place you took them from, that the old birds may continue to feed them."
"But you don't know where that is, madam. It's only me and uncle Robson that knows that."
"But if you don't tell me, I shall kill them myself - much as I hate it."
"You daren't. You daren't touch them for your life! because you know papa and mamma and uncle Robson would be angry. Ha, hah! I've caught you there, miss!"
"I shall do what I think right in a case of this sort, without consulting anyone."...
So saying - urged by a sense of duty- at the risk of both making myself sick and incurring the wrath of my employers - I got a large flat stone, that had been reared up for a moustrap by the gardener, then, having once more vainly endeavored to let  the little tyrant to let the birds be carried back, I asked what he intended to do with them. With fiendish glee he commenced a list of torments, and while he was busied in the relation, I dropped the stone upon his his intended victims, and crushed them flat beneath it."

 photo 347_zps0fe25594.gif
So THAT'S scarring. Then, in her second situation (she's fired over the bird thing, obviously) one of her charges is Rosalie,  a girl a few years younger than her. As soon as Rosalie realizes that Agnes is maybe-possibly starting to get something (a really cute something, by the way) going with Weston, the aforementioned nice new curate, she immediately snatches him away and doesn't let Agnes spend any time with him, not because she likes him, but so she can torment her governess and get some attention. Because she's bored and she CAN.  Agnes  has to watch the one source of happiness in her new life just slip away from her and ROSALIE KNOWS IT.

 photo tumblr_mrwihxvv9z1rnp959o1_500_zps1ddf829b.gif
Fortunately, the story resolves happily for Agnes. But as a girl, I feel very lucky that I don't live in the Victorian era. Pretty dresses, yes. Rights as a human being, no.
 I've read several comparisons of Anne's style with Jane Austen's, which I would say isn't totally off the mark; they both write with a particular feeling of light, refined warmth and deliberation.  Anne presents the infuriating unjustness of a governess's situation with a kind of measured, quiet indignation. Final verdict: Agnes Grey is short and sweet and very, very good. Give it a try!
Sorry for all the sad men GIFs today. (Although, would you really call Dawson a man?)

No comments:

Post a Comment