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Book Review: "Agnes Grey" by Anne Brontë

Since retiring, Paul has taken to reading classical English literature. British romantic classics from the 19th century are his favorites.

"Agnes Grey" by Anne Brontë

"Agnes Grey" by Anne Brontë

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë is one of the classics of English literature. Although overshadowed by Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, the classics of Anne's sisters Charlotte and Emily, Agnes Grey is exciting and enjoyable reading.

Anne Brontë's portrayal of the resilience, integrity, and survival of one woman in the face of upper-class snobbery and social values was pioneering in the patriarchal society of Victorian England in the first half of the 1800s.

In this article, I will begin with a brief biography of Anne Brontë and then account for the setting, characters, plot, and themes of Agnes Grey. I will conclude by commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of the novel.

Anne Brontë: A Short Biography

Anne Brontë, born on January 17, 1820, was a British novelist and poet. She was the youngest member of the Brontë literary family, which included her oldest sister, Charlotte, and her second oldest sister, Emily. Anne also had an older brother, Branwell.

Being the daughter of a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, Anne Brontë spent most of her early years with her family at the parish of Haworth in West Yorkshire. After studying for a few years at a boarding school, Anne departed Haworth at the age of 19 and secured employment as a governess between 1839 and 1845.

After leaving her governess teaching position, Anne Brontë fulfilled her literary ambitions. She first wrote a volume of poetry under the pen name of Acton Bell with her sisters, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846). Following this, Anne wrote two novels. The first, Agnes Grey, paralleling her experiences as a governess, was published in 1847. Anne Brontë's second and last novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, came out in 1848. Anne's second novel is considered to be one of the first feminist novels in Victorian England exposing the maltreatment of women through marital oppression and abuse.

Following Anne Brontë's death of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 29 in 1849, the re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was prevented by Charlotte Brontë, probably for selfish and jealous reasons. For this reason, Anne Brontë is less well-known than her sisters, Charlotte, author of Jane Eyre, and Emily, author of Wuthering Heights.

Biographical information about Anne Brontë was taken from Wikipedia.

Agnes Grey: An Autobiographical Novel

Agnes Grey is an autobiographical novel with similarities between its events and Anne's life as a governess. According to Charlotte Brontë, in April of 1839, Anne took up a governess position with the Ingham family of Blake Hall, Mirfield, in West Yorkshire, 20 miles from Haworth. This strongly parallels Agnes Grey's governess position with Bloomfield. In December of 1839, Anne was dismissed from her position with the Ingham family just like Agnes was fired by the Bloomfield.

Furthermore, based on Charlotte Brontë's accounts, Anne found a second governess position at Thorp Green, Little Ouseburn, near York, 70 miles away, just like Agnes's second position is further from home with the older children of the Murrays. The fictional Murrays of Horton Lodge resemble the Robinsons of Thorp Green, especially Mrs. Murray, who is like Mrs. Lydia Robinson.

1. Setting

The setting for the novel Agnes Grey is in northern England in the West Yorkshire countryside and the fictitious village of O near Horton Lodge, Wellwood Mansion, and the village of A on the sea during the first half of the 19th century.

2. Characters

The main characters in this novel are Agnes Grey, the youngest daughter of a poor clergyman, and her mother who remains a pillar of strength for the family during the novel.

Significant secondary characters that appear as the plot unfolds include the Bloomfields, where Agnes has her first governess position, and the Murrays, where Agnes Grey has her succeeding governess position.

While employed at the Murrays, Rosalie Murray, Agnes' oldest student, plays a big part in bringing out the governess's personality and the curate Edward Weston, who establishes both an intellectual and emotional connection with Agnes. Finally, Nancy Brown, one of the cottagers on the Murray estate, teaches the governess how to experience joy in helping the less fortunate.

3. Plot Summary

Agnes is the youngest daughter of a clergyman who, through a bad investment, loses his savings and becomes very poor. Agnes is determined to help support her family and herself and finds a job as a governess to the children of the wealthy upper class. After working with two different families, the Bloomfield and the Murrays, Agnes learns that it isn't easy to control misbehaved, spoiled children for making a living. She also gradually sees how wealth and upper-class status ruin social values. After the passing away of her father, Agnes and her mother open a small school for girls and find happiness, especially after Agnes reunites with her soul mate.

Some Themes in "Agnes Grey"

These are some of the recurring themes I found while reading Agnes Grey.

1. The Desire to Return Home and Aid Family

Throughout the novel, Agnes Grey, as a devout filial child, desires to return home and care for the needs of her family. The first time she does this is after being dismissed from her governess position by Bloomfield. The second time is on the occasion of the death of her father when she returns home and assists her mother in opening a boarding school for girls.

2. Oppression

Events show the cruel treatment of governesses and women recurring throughout the novel. The governess, Agnes, is treated almost as a servant by the Bloomfield. Clergyman Hatfield, surprisingly, shows cruel treatment to Nancy Brown by expecting her to walk to church when she is ill. Finally, Agnes's mother who comes from an upper-class family is disowned and disinherited by her father after marrying a clergyman.

3. Empathy

At both the Bloomfield and the Murrays, Agnes attempts to instill in her students the ability to empathize with others. This is seen in her dialogs with Rosalie Murray whose insincere treatment of loving men upsets the governess.

4. Isolation

Agnes appears to be isolated from childhood. After growing up in a rural setting away from society, Agnes becomes more isolated while working as a governess.

5. Empathy and Treatment of Animals

Agnes teaches her students to respect animals like humans. She is abhorred when the young Bloomfield children mistreat baby birds found in a nest.

"Agnes Grey": Book Review

After reading this classic, I find the following strengths and weaknesses:

1. Strengths

  • Style: Unlike the overly romantic and moralizing novels of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey has perfect and simple prose, which makes it very easy and enjoyable reading for everyone.
  • Honest Reality: Anne Brontë is one of the pioneering female writers who honestly and realistically reveal the oppression of governesses and women in Victorian society.
  • Teaching Empathy for People and Animals: It was a breath of fresh air to read the accounts of a person in the early 1800s who could empathize with both people and animals.
  • Advocating Moral Ethics Upheld by All: As a governess, Agnes Grey taught her students that all people regardless of the social class must be treated equally with moral ethics and values.

2. Weaknesses

  • Plot: The plot could have been more complex. There weren't any unexpected turns in the story. If readers are expecting a plot similar to that of Jane Eyre, they will be disappointed.
  • The Revelation of Conscience: In Jane Eyre, the governess bares her conscience when portraying her relationship with Mr. Rochester. In Agnes Grey, the reader is often, especially up until the latter part of the novel, guessing about the exact feelings Agnes has for Edward Weston.

3. Recommendation

Agnes Grey is a novel that everyone can enjoy reading. Its simple prose makes it very easy to read and, after reading it, you will quickly empathize with the maltreatment of governesses and women in Victorian England in the early 19th century.

© 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 20, 2015:

&Dolores Monet Thank you so much for your comments. Yes, the Bronte sisters certainly told it like it was for women in the Victorian era. Another great novel written by Anne Bronte is "The Tenant at Wildfell Hall" which I thought was better than “Agnes Grey." Have you read this book?

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on April 20, 2015:

I enjoyed reading about Anne Bronte's "Agnes Grey." So many people think of Victorian women as being a bunch of knucleheads and wimps. But Anne displays the difficulties of women's plight, their dependence on men and how hard is was to earn an income during that time. I love the Bronte sisters for telling it like it was, for portraying women as strong, thinking people.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on November 13, 2014:

What a wonderful discovery, to know that a third Bronte sister wrote a novel that was autobiographical in nature. This was a great review and it makes me want to look for Agnes Grey in the bookstore.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 09, 2014:

Thelma, Thank you very much for your comments! I have also read "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" within the past year and I thought it was better than "Agnes Grey." Now if I can only tear myself away from the Bank of Bubblews and write a Book Review hub of it.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on May 31, 2014:

I have read "Agnes Grey" and "The Tenants of Wildfell Hall" novels ages ago and I think I´ll read them again. These books were not so popular compared to the "Wuthering Heights." I was so fascinated with the "Wuthering Heights" that I read it many times. Thanks for sharing this great review Paul. Enjoy your weekend!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 19, 2014:

&stuff4kids Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. I have recently finished reading "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" which is surprisingly better than Agnes Grey!

Amanda Littlejohn on January 18, 2014:

Thank you for that interesting and insightful look at a neglected work - and I have to confess that I am among the many who have passed over this one.

I may well be sure to read now, however.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 11, 2013:


Thanks for reading this hub, and I really appreciate your great review. If your daughter reads Agnes Grey, tell me what she thinks of the book. I appreciate you sharing, pinning, and tweeting this hub!

moonlake from America on May 11, 2013:

I have never read this book but your review makes me want to read it and I know my daughter would if she hasn't read it already. It's her kind of book. Thanks for sharing. Voted up, shared, pinned and tweeted.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 10, 2013:


Thanks for reading this book review. I really appreciate your favorable comments.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on May 10, 2013:

Very nicely done, Paul. I love the Bronte sisters and their novels. I also wrote a hub on Anne Bronte and Agnes Grey. You do a wonderful job here and I like your presentation. Spot on! Thanks for another enjoyable piece of writing!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 07, 2013:


Once again, I would like to thank you for reading my hub. I appreciate your great comments about my book review. Agnes Grey isn't that long and really is quick, fun reading.

Mary Craig from New York on May 07, 2013:

I'm embarrassed to say I knew there was a third Bronte sister but never knew she was an author too. I guess Charlotte's jealousy worked!

Your explanation and review of the Agnes Grey book really gives us insight into the character and story. I'll have to add it to my list of books to read.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 04, 2013:


Thank you so much for your great feedback on my book review! I'm very happy you liked this hub and appreciate you sharing it. Have you read Agnes Grey or any of the other books written by the Bronte sisters?

Michelle Liew from Singapore on May 04, 2013:

The emancipation of women has certainly been a constant subject of Victorian Literature. Glad that you brought this book up for a well deserved, well-written review! Sharing!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 03, 2013:

Au fait,

Thank you very much for reading my book review and commenting on it. Before reading Agnes Grey, I read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I found Wuthering Heights the most complex in plot and moralizing. Although Agnes Grey had a happy ending, I found Jane Eyre the most romantic. What was great about Agnes Grey is that it really brought out sexism and the mistreatment of women, governesses, by the upper-class. Thank you very much for your favorable review. I really appreciate it as well as you sharing this hub with your followers.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 03, 2013:


Thanks for stopping by again and commenting on my book review. You should read Agnes Grey as well as Jane Eyre. They are both great classics with Agnes Grey being easier to read and having a simpler plot. I appreciate you sharing and pinning this hub.

C E Clark from North Texas on May 03, 2013:

I've read Wuthering Heights many years ago. I didn't really know much about Emily Bronte and her sister Anne. It does sound like an interesting read.

I have to tell you that I have experienced sexism all of my life. Some people think we're post feminism, but I believe they are very wrong.

You might be surprised at how some people behave when they think they have the upper hand whether it's because they are wealthy or for some other reason. Such people should never be put in charge of so much as a loose pebble. Certainly never with any power over anything living.

Voted up, useful, interesting, and awesome because it is so well written. Will share with my followers.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 03, 2013:

Interesting review, Paul. Makes me want to read this novel, Agnes Gray.

Voted up, interesting and useful. Shared and pinned.