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on 13 August 2005
Mrs Brontë tells the tale of Agnes Grey, a young governess of a little over 20 and her experience working for two families, The Bloomfields and their 3 children Tom, Mary Ann and Fanny, and with the Murrays and their two daughters Mathilda and Rosalie.
In writing her first novel, Mrs Brontë must have drawn from her own experiences in 1839 when she worked for the Ingham family at Blake Hall and from 1840 till 1845 with the Robinsons at Thorp Green Hall. As her sister Charlotte sated, this personal experience lies behind many of the characters and events as well as Agnes's feelings in the novel.
As a first novel, it show an astonishing maturity and technical accomplishment since "Agnes Grey" is in many ways a very personal story. Mrs Brontë describes as vividly as possible the strong pressures that a governess' life involved at that time - the isolation, the frustrations, the insensitive treatment of employers and their families. Actually it transpires in this novel that middle-class households used to consider a governess as little more than a servant thus undervaluing her role as an educator. And the author's view of such households is sharply cynical: they are self-satisfied, vulgar, small-minded snobs who delight in social pretension. They are mercilessly depicted in their moral emptiness and Agnes actually suffers from moral isolation which becomes more and more oppressive and alienating, especially during her stay with the Murrays. In this family Agnes feel deprived from ordinary human kindness and warmth of affection so much so that she falls into depression because she feels that her moral identity is being destroyed, no longer confident in her "distinctions of right and wrong".
A remarkable novel about a young woman and such issues as moral behaviour, moral responsibility and individual integrity.
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VINE VOICEon 5 June 2010
Although I didn't think this book was as good as Anne Bronte's other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and it didn't have the feel of a must-read classic like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, there was still a lot to like about Agnes Grey.

The plot is simple, plain and linear. It's the story of a young woman in 19th century England who goes out to work as a governess when her family fall on hard times. Unfortunately Tom, Mary Ann and Fanny Bloomfield are three of the most badly-behaved children imaginable. When her short, unhappy time with the Bloomfields comes to an end, Agnes finds another situation with two older pupils, Rosalie and Matilda Murray. This second position is not much better than the first - the Murray girls are selfish and thoughtless and the only thing that makes Agnes's life bearable is her friendship with Mr Weston, the village curate.

Agnes Grey has an autobiographical feel because Anne Bronte herself had worked as a governess and was able to draw on her own personal experiences to show how servants were often treated with cruelty and contempt by their employers. I could sympathise with Agnes as I would soon have lost my patience with the spoilt Bloomfield children and the self-centred, inconsiderate Murrays. I also thought it was unfair that the parents expected Agnes to control their children without actually giving her any real authority over them. It was such a difficult position to be in. However, I found it slightly disappointing that Agnes seemed prepared to just accept things the way they were and not do anything to change the situation. The book was more about tolerance and perseverance than about taking action to try to make things better.

Another of the book's themes is the importance of morality, virtuousness and goodness, qualities in which the Bloomfield and Murray families seem to be sadly lacking, leading Agnes to feel isolated and miserable. However, I think many readers will find Agnes too self-righteous and superior, so if you prefer your heroines to be flawed and imperfect this probably isn't the book for you! Reading about the day to day life of a governess is not particularly exciting or dramatic, but I still found the book enjoyable and interesting - and at under 200 pages a very quick read compared to many of the other Bronte books.
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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2009
I was very eager to read "Agnes Grey" after greatly enjoying "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall", which now stands very high in my list of great Victorian novels. Agnes Grey is a very different book - for one thing it is very short at well under 200 pages, and the story is deceptively simple. Agnes, who narrates her own story, is, like the author herself, a youngest child of a clergyman: when her father loses his already modest fortune and sinks into depression Agnes decides to earn her own living as a governess (as Anne also did for several years), and the book is the story of her dealings with the two families she works for before finally finding true love, (I hope nobody will think this is a "spoiler" - the hero does not appear until quite late in the tale, and it fairly obvious what will happen almost as soon as he is mentioned.)

So far as plot goes this book is a disappointment when compared with "Wildfell Hall", for that has a far more exciting story. And Agnes is not terribly appealing as a heroine: though kind-hearted and intelligent she is perhaps overly pious, timid, and emotional. However, I think it would be very wrong to assume that Anne means us to admire Agnes as uncritically as their seeming similarities might lead us to think.

Anne Brontë is a very subtle writer, worthy to be compared with Jane Austen. There is something of the same detachment from her characters: both are sympathetic to their characters, but not afraid to let their heroines' faults be seen, nor to smile at them when they get events out of proportion. Brontë does this very cleverly, because she never comments or judges directly as Jane Austen sometimes does, but only through things other characters say or do. As in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, the counter-point to a sometimes dull heroine is an engaging other woman: although Agnes disapproves of her strongly, and is sometimes persecuted by her, Rosalie Murray (the eldest of her charges), is so vivacious and mischievous that, even if we disapprove of her actions, it is very hard not to like her.

Although this book was written 160 years ago I found its ideas still relevant. One of the major themes of the book is the great difficulty a teacher is in when he or she is given responsibility for, but not authority over, children in his or her care. I think many teachers or social workers would probably identify with that predicament. Another passage that I found very thought-provoking was one which discusses how people who are "bad influences" really do influence us even when we are on guard against them.

Overall, though I could perhaps only give this book three stars for my enjoyment of the tale, it is well worth four stars for the quality of the writing and the ideas expressed in the book, and I will certainly read the book again and expect to find more than I got on the first reading.

When buying classics, I usually go for one of the editions with a critical introduction and notes. In this case although one or two of the notes high-lighting links with Anne's own life were interesting, I am not sure they were really worth the extra cost.
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on 30 May 2014
Everyone has heard of or read Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre by Anne's sisters but I think Anne is overlooked, and should be read just as much! Agnes Grey is a beautifully observed, subtle story of a governess and what she experiences. It is based loosely on some of Anne's experiences. Agnes is a bright lady and she goes to a really annoying family at one point - the way she draws the picture is clever. It is easy to empathise with Agnes and I have read the book a couple of times.
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Although I read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall many years ago, I had never read Agnes Grey until recently, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Anne Bronte had a superb command of English and the way she writes it is a joy to read. She certainly knew how to tell a story and Agnes Grey gains because it's so well focussed. Avoiding tedious embellishments, Anne keeps to the point with the result that the reader is readily able to gain a very good impression of how life was like for a good many goveresses in early Victorian England. Anne writes so well the reader can feel that he/she is there with Agnes Grey as she struggles to maintain order and teach her unruly pupils.

Besides all this, the reader is given a very good impression of how marriages were arranged among the upper classes in the mid Nineteenth Century. Anne Bronte brings it out how both her heroine, Agnes Grey, and Agnes' mother married for love, which she contrasts with the unhappiness of Rosalie Murray in her arranged marriage, which Rosalie choose to enter into rather than wed the man who truly loved her. Rosalie and her sister Matilda were Agnes Grey's pupils in her second stint as governess, which was rather better than the difficult time she had during her first appointment with the Bloomfield family. Agnes eventually marries a young clergyman, who has just been appointed as rector of a £300.00 per year living. One gets the impression that this is how Anne would have liked things to turn out for herself. Sadly she died of TB aged only 29. One can only wonder at the great works she might have written had she lived into old age. We can only be sad that someone with such a beautiful mind and strength of character should have died so young. Thank you Anne for writing such a revealing, succinct and very readable masterpiece.
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on 26 April 2001
This book is perfect for all those people who have loved unrequited or been through terrible times in their life. With the perfect ending this story touched and changed me. Anne, often considered the lesser of the Bronte sisters, shines with talent and individuality. A beautiful story.
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on 3 March 2012
This is an excellent book with well-rounded characters and the storyline is well-executed. The language usage is sophisticated, intelligent and clever. If you love a good romance then you will not be disappointed with this novel.
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on 18 April 2013
Neither this book or its author enjoy much of a reputation, so I was pleasantly surprised both by the quality of the writing and by the strength of the tale.

The story is, of course, autobiographical. The reader gets a real feeling of the degradation suffered by poor, but gentile, governesses and of the uselessness of their female wards. I don't know how Agnes could stand it for very long, but I suppose poverty encourages patience.Agnes, as a daughter of a vicar, is altogether too prim and proper, which only widens the gap with her charges.

The underlying love story bubbles along very convincingly, even if the reader suspects it will end well.

On the evidence of this book, I can't wait to read Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In my view, Anne is a much better writer than Emily, whose only novel, Wuthering Heights, is disturbing, degenerate and over-rated.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 4 October 2015
First published in 1847, Anne Bronte's debut novel (published under the pseudonym of Acton Bell) tells the story of a young woman, the daughter of a clergyman, who takes on the role of governess in order to help support her family after her father has lost his money through an unsuccessful investment. Her first post is with Mr and Mrs Bloomfield, whose children are so utterly spoiled and badly behaved (one of the children enjoys torturing small animals, aided and abetted by his insensitive father) that poor Agnes is driven to somewhat desperate measures to control them, her situation being made all the more difficult by Mrs Bloomfield who constantly undermines Agnes's authority as governess. After leaving the Bloomfields, Agnes takes up a post with the Murray family and although the Murray children are older than the Bloomfield children and are less unruly, Agnes still has her work cut out coping with her pupils' challenging behaviour - for instance the elder sister, Rosalie, is a very beautiful, but vain and manipulative flirt, and the younger sister, Matilda, is a horse-obsessed tomboy who swears like a stable-lad. When Agnes becomes acquainted with Mr Weston, a local clergyman, and their acquaintance slowly grows into a deepening friendship, Rosalie, out to cause mischief decides to make Mr Weston one of her many conquests. But will she succeed? And how will Agnes react to Rosalie's attempts to make Mr Weston fall in love with her?

Based on Anne Bronte's own experiences of working as a governess, the author deftly depicts the difficult position of her heroine, who is neither of the servant class nor of quite the same social standing as her employers, and she carefully illustrates how it is necessary for the governess to tread with caution when she is living in someone else's home and is often wholly dependent on the salary that is paid to her by her employers. Anne Bronte also portrays the loneliness and lack of affection her young heroine experiences when, from necessity, she is forced to live away from her family and of how unkind and inconsiderate her employers and charges can be towards those less fortunate than themselves. I first read this when I was in my early teens (which was rather a long time ago) and enjoyed it very much, although not quite as much as the author's second novel: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. This time around, I opted for the Kindle Whispersync combination which meant that I could download both the Kindle version and the Audible audio version (narrated by Emilia Fox) for less than the price of a new Penguin Classic paperback and was able to switch between reading on my Kindle and listening on my iPhone when commuting. Recommended.

4 Stars.
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on 27 August 2014
Anne Bronte wrote two novels: the very powerful "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall", and this book. "Agnes Grey" is much more conventional. The central character is a governess with a strong moral sense and considerable self-awareness who finds herself in largely uncongenial circumstances but ends up happily married. She is the most fully-developed character in the book: the others are essentially two-dimensional, some of them little more than caricatures. The novel is well-written and enjoyable but does not have the power and originality of the three Bronte sisters' best work.
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