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Agnes Grey
By Anne Brontė

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Agnes Grey

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Agnes Grey
By Anne Brontė
Dales Large Print Books, 2004
ISBN: 1-84262-333-8
Genre: Classic

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - January 25, 2010

Anne Brontė was one of the Brontė sisters, whose moving work Agnes Grey was, unfortunately, overshadowed by her sister's more popular works, namely Jane Eyre by Emily Brontė and Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Brontė. This was more a matter of timing rather than Anne's work being inferior to that of her sisters, as all three books were published in the same year. Of the three books, I found Agnes Grey to be the most interesting. That is because Agnes Grey provides a biting look into what life was really like for English governesses during the mid-nineteenth century. Anne's book was based in large measure on her own experiences as a governess, whereas her sisters' books are of a more romantic and fictional bent.

Like Anne, Agnes Grey is a minister's daughter, and she decides to take a position as a governess in a wealthy family when her family is financially ruined. As a respectable young woman, there are few career options open to her. By electing to become a governess she is voluntarily entering a sort of limbo. As a governess she'll not be part of the family, but neither is she classed as a servant. As such, she is welcomed in neither world and her only interactions are likely to be with her charges. Therefore, she will find herself bereft of social and intellectual contacts, isolated from the greater community, and starved for emotional and physical contact. In short, the life of a governess was far from ideal, and often emotionally and financially unsatisfying for the women who sought to earn a living for themselves in this important, but tenuous role.

In her role as governess, Agnes, like Anne will learn the most intimate secrets of the families she will work with. She'll see children spoiled to the point of ruin, how employers exploit their workers, and how little regard, in which governesses, who are charged with educating the family's children, are really held. In many regards, Agnes Grey is an eye opening exposé on an often overlooked aspect of English society.

In addition to offering keen insights into the life of a Victorian governess, Agnes Grey is also a fine story written with eloquence and emotion. I don't think I'll be giving too much away to say that while based on Anne's life, this is a novel and as such it does have a happy ending with Agnes starting a school of her own and eventually marrying. This is an important book both in terms of English literature and as social commentary. As well, while seemingly a bit simplistic at times, this is a well thought out and written novel that is sure to delight fans of Victorian literature.

Agnes Grey can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of Dales Large Print Books.

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