Monday, February 1, 2016

Classics: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

When I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall at the end of 2014 it became quite clear to me that even though Anne Brontë is often the least-remembered of the well-known literary family, she's a wonderful writer with important things to say. Agnes Grey, the first of her two novels, left me with the same opinion. While it certainly provides a hefty dose of social commentary, Agnes Grey was not nearly as controversial as Tenant and is the least dark out of all the Brontë novels I've read (which is all of them except Charlotte's Shirley and The Professor). That is not to say, however, that this novel does not touch on any emotional turmoil - it does, but it's not as intense.

This book depicts what life was like for governesses in the Victorian era. They had troubles within their work, they were in an awkward place on the social pyramid, and let's not forget the financial circumstances that led them to such work. It wasn't the easiest of situations to endure; it would have been no fun at all and my bigass mouth would have been fired. Agnes' employers were idiots; my jaw actually dropped at some of the illogical statements they were spewing. However... I have to admit there were some funny moments to read about while they would have been nightmarish to live. Some of the children she had to work with made the novel feel like a Victorian-era Supernanny episode full of screaming and  unruliness, although there were some downright disturbing moments of animal cruelty that were certainly not amusing in any sense. It seems Anne was not only advocating to improve human circumstances - she also deeply cared for animals. I like how Agnes is able to accurately judge a man's character based on how he treats nonhumans, from birds to dogs.

As Agnes was trying to teach teenagers, she didn't have to deal with such unruliness, but she had to deal with other forms of BS nonetheless. I always say that the Brontë sisters are good at making me feel feelings, and I must say I felt Agnes' loneliness in these parts. I felt her love for Mr. Weston... Funny how a book written about a hundred and fifty years ago can depict a  heavy crush better than most contemporary work. Her relationship with Mr. Weston warmed my heart despite there only being brief moments with him.

In a way, Agnes Grey is the most Austen-like out of all the Brontë novels I've encountered as it is not so controversial and crazy, but of course, it is mixed with the wilder style of Brontë writing, so full of emotions and more critical statements made of society. In fact, I'd recommend this to anyone who is a beginner in the world of Victorian literature as the plot moves along more quickly than other books of this era, plus it's somewhat short.

Of course, Anne is more of a realist than any of the Brontë family members while her sisters romanticized their stories, but she is not without charms by any means. Her stories are enjoyable, no matter how large- or small-scale the plot. I love that she's always making a statement in both Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: In Agnes Grey, she makes a firm statement that never really caused drama, but in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall she scared the Victorians out of their wits. Her purposes for writing are clear, and her execution is always on-point, like that of her siblings. I read in the appendix that accompanies all of Anne's work (which was written by her older sister Charlotte after her death) that Anne was apparently profoundly affected by the wrongs she saw in her life, and hence she wrote about them. She dared to say things even Charlotte was afraid to say... for that alone, she will always have my respect.

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