‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Brontë (1847)

Brontë addresses two important issues in Agnes Grey:

  1. Class: The upper class indulges their children and forces unrealistic expectations on their servants to tame the children they are unwilling to punish. Brontë seems to offer sympathy to the children, but not to the parents.
  2. Religion: The upper class professes concern about having a “christian” house and their children behaving in a “christian” way but Brontë does not feel that they ascribe to basic Christian values: enjoy what you have and try not to hate anyone, perform your duty.

Agnes, as a governess, seems to exist in a middle class of sorts. She doesn’t seem to get on well with the servants, yet she is not on the same social standing as the children she tutors or their parents. Also, Agnes seems to look down upon poorer people—even though her family is quite poor—as uneducated, pitiable creatures. Brontë seems to promote a moderate way of life. One must dedicate oneself to performing the duties God has intended; education is not frivolous or vain, but one must not have too many possessions as Mr. Hatfield does.

Brontë and Agnes are both very moralizing in this novel. Though Agnes is still likable most of the time and the reader does pity her position on many occasions. I tended to think her a little foolish to continue to hold such high expectations for her charges, particularly Rosalie, after she discovered their temperament. And, on the whole, Agnes is a bit naïve. She becomes world-wearier as the novel progresses, but she remains optimistic about people’s abilities to perfect their moral compass.