January 22, 2007

Review: Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey
by Anne Bronte

I pulled this off the shelves for the Classics Reading Challenge. It looked easy, with only 145 pages, and by a Bronte. I knew it was bound to be good. I was a little disappointed.

This was Anne's first book, written under the alias of Anton Bell. It was largely autobiographical. The intent of the book was to expose the poor conditions under which most governesses of this period were expected to work. Given no authority to discipline or correct their charge in any effective manner; receiving no respect from parents, children, other servants, or the rest of society; being blamed for the children's own failings(because she hands were tied by the first restriction); and doing it all for little pay. It was an isolated and frustrating job.

Anne also included a love story into the tale. I'm not sure whether it was a good idea or not. She does a good job developing this part of the story and it brings about a happy ending so I tend to think it was an improvement but it seemed a bit out of place. I thought this book was about the mistreatment of governesses?

But the part that really bugged me was the main character, Miss Grey, who seems rather whiny and goes overboard in the "pity me" department. She complaints about and criticizes every single thing that her employers, charges, and others in house and society subject her to in the smallest detail without any grace while she places herself, and those few whom she respects, in the best of lights, minimizing and excusing their faults. I acknowledge this as a very human instinct, one that is common to almost everyone, but if you are going to publish a book about real people and want to present it for the betterment of all mankind then be careful of how much bitterness is included in the text.

I haven't given up on Ms. Bronte. Her writing style is good. Her storytelling is not bad at all. Maybe by removing some of the personal from her stories she can get on with an engaging and rich tale. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall looks a bit more promising.

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