1001 Group Read August, 2012: Agnes Grey

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1001 Group Read August, 2012: Agnes Grey

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1george1295
Ago 2, 2012, 3:14pm

Sorry about the late start, but I got seriously tied up with business issues. Can't wait for the comments to begin.

2Britt84
Ago 2, 2012, 3:20pm

Hurrah! Thank you George :) And no problem for the lateness :)

Sooo... I've read the first couple of chapters, and it's not terribly exciting yet, but I like it so far. I'm just sort of waiting for the exciting parts to begin...

Anybody else reading yet? Or am I gonna have a very lonely group read? :)

3amerynth
Ago 2, 2012, 3:44pm

Waiting for a copy to arrive from the library-- surprised I had to go through interlibrary loan for a Bronte book... none of the local libraries had it. (I'm hoping it arrives tomorrow so I can get a start on it this weekend.)

4MikeMonkey
Ago 2, 2012, 4:09pm

A little bit more happens in the second chapter. The story is presumably taken from Anne Brontë's own life.

5Britt84
Ago 2, 2012, 11:41pm

I'm now at chapter 7... I think the real story is going to start now, the first chapters felt more like an introduction...

Spoiler for first 5 chapters
Gosh, those kids are annoying! Spoiled little brats :/

6StevenTX
Ago 3, 2012, 8:40am

I read the first couple of chapters yesterday, but I have something else to finish before I can get back to it.

7MikeMonkey
Ago 3, 2012, 9:25am

Yes, the kids really irritates me, not to talk about their parents...

8amerynth
Editado: Ago 3, 2012, 10:33am

Agreed the children are little monsters and the parents are obviously not much help in that regard, but I think Agnes herself is also part of the problem. While she's quite preachy during the narration, she clearly has trouble speaking her mind. I'm aware this would have been very difficult to do, given her station in life and that it would have probably resulted in dismissal from her post, but given the way the first set of children acted, that might not have been so bad.

Knowing just a small bit about Anne's life... (I read Juliet Barker's The Brontes earlier this year... I am fairly certain she was pretty timid herself.)

9Britt84
Ago 3, 2012, 11:45am

Though she doesn't speak her mind, I do also really see her problem in the way that she can't do anything to keep the kids in order because then the parents will be angry. But I also think she comes across as somewhat arrogant, or preachy, like you say; she seems to feel that she knows exactly what should have been done and feel that she would have done a much better job; and on top of that she feels mistreated because she is treated as a servant, whereas technically speaking, that's what she is, she is dependent on the family.
And I know that in those days many young ladies of lesser fortunes became governesses without having any experience with educating children, but I thought it was a bit simple of her to think that simply because she had once been a child herself, she would therefore also do well at teaching children. I mean, teaching is more difficult than that.

I do like the book so far though, I like the writing style and even if Agnes gets a bit preachy at times, I find it an enjoyable read.
I don't actually know much about the Bronte's life, so I can't really relate it to that...

Btw, I think I've actually read it before, it's very familiar, but I don't remember what happens later on, so it's good to re-read. Must have been a very long time ago :P

10amerynth
Ago 3, 2012, 7:33pm

Britt84: I agree with you completely.... it seemed Agnes, as well as the Bronte sisters themselves were somewhat ill-suited for work as governesses. (Not due to education, but to temperment. The work seems to have been a trial for all of them.)

I had a free afternoon and was able to finish the book... it was nice to have such a short, easy read for the group read this month (after a few months of more difficult reads.) I overall liked the book and enjoyed reading it, though I liked it much less than Anne's second novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

11japaul22
Ago 3, 2012, 7:46pm

I was also initially annoyed by Agnes's tone. This is what I wrote in my review last year.

At first I thought Agnes was pretty annoying - self-righteous and a little full of herself. But two things changed this for me. One was that I embraced the concept that this was sort of a diary-style book and realized that Agnes was being very honest the whole time with her opinions and observations. I thought about how when I kept a diary in high school how awful a lot of the things I wrote were! When you really think no one's reading something like that all sorts of things come out. Second, as Agnes experiences more of the world, she becomes a better person. So that made the book more enjoyable as you get further in.

12Britt84
Ago 3, 2012, 10:34pm

I've also finished the book. And I do agree with you, japaul; on the one hand I found the tone of Agnes' writing annoying, on the other hand I think you really get a very good in-depth view of what she's feeling and how she's experiencing her situation, without it being 'edited' for the reader, and I did really like that.
I think it's also a way of making you think about how we react to people; especially because of mr Weston's conversation with Nancy Brown, when he encourages her to be kind to all people, even if she doesn't like them. I felt like that conversation was really also a comment on Agnes' own behaviour, who thinks very badly of her wards and her employer, when she could be more forgiving of their flaws, and more kind and accepting. In a way, it shows us that we should all try to not be too hasty with our verdicts on people, and try to be kind to others.

Overall I thought it was a nice read and enjoyed it, but I also think The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is better...

13StevenTX
Ago 7, 2012, 12:18am

I just finished it, and I'll agree with the above comments that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is much better. Agnes Grey, while well-written, is just too predictable. There just isn't much happening in the novel, and certainly nothing that will surprise the reader. If the author's name weren't Brontë I don't think it would be read today. Still it has some strong points in its social commentary. I think Rosalie Murray is the novel's best character; she reminds me of Scarlett O'Hara. Agnes herself is too prudish to be likable; in that respect she resembles Fanny of Mansfield Park.

14johnnypies
Ago 7, 2012, 7:49am

A nice simple read, although I felt it took a while to get going. Her first position felt more like a whole bunch of observations which didn't really lead anywhere and I preferred when it moved to more of a narrative in the second position. Like others, I found Agnes herself less tiresome as the book developed - although I'd still see her more as someone I'd trust to look after my cat when I went on holiday rather than someone I'd enjoy going on holiday with. Well, that's unless she started complaining that the cat wasn't being considerate and attentive enough to her needs.

While accepting the cultural differences between then and now, I did think her father was a bit of an idiot to let someone just sail off with all their money. Mischievously, I wanted at least one of the other characters to be really angry with him - in fairness, it might have helped his wellbeing for someone to blame him, be angry and then get over it rather than everyone being so nice and just being left to blame himself forever.

I also took a liking to the nurse at her first position. Despite having been told she'd be dismissed if she continued to discipline the children, she evidently just couldn't stop herself wanting to punish the ghastly little creatures in the way they deserved (not that I'm making any comment about the rightness or otherwise of smacking children in today's society!). While she may have lost her job and possibly become destitute as a result, I think she won a moral victory over earnest old Agnes in that regard.

15MikeMonkey
Ago 7, 2012, 10:20am

I haven't read more than half of it, but I'd like to ask those who have finished it: Should it really be in 1001 books? Aren't there a lot of books more suitable to be there?

16amerynth
Editado: Ago 7, 2012, 10:44am

No, I definitely wouldn't consider it important enough for the 1001 list, despite having enjoyed it overall. I haven't read all of the Bronte books yet, but this was the weakest of those I have read so far.

If I'm remembering correctly, it was removed from one of the later versions of the list.

17MikeMonkey
Ago 7, 2012, 11:29am

That's for sure, on the 1001 website it's not included: http://1001beforeyoudie.com/

18The_Hibernator
Ago 7, 2012, 11:42am

I'm going to listen to the audiobook on a car trip tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it despite all these dreary comments. ;) at least it's short!

19MikeMonkey
Editado: Ago 8, 2012, 1:40pm

Sorry 'bout taking the pleasure away in advance ;)

20Britt84
Ago 7, 2012, 10:29pm

well, I did like it :) I agree that it's not really 1001-list-worthy, but it's still an enjoyable read. It's predictable, but in a sweet sort of way, a feel-good-movie kind of way, where you know things will be ok in the end, but you watch it anyway...

21devone
Ago 10, 2012, 5:32pm

I'm only 2 chapters into Agnes Grey. My reading time is limited so even though it's short, it may take me a while. I just finished re-reading Jane Eyre and after Agnes, I plan to re-read Wuthering Heights.

Reading these three books one after the other may turn out to be a mistake as I can't help compare them, rather than enjoy each on its own merits. We'll see.

22puckers
Ago 13, 2012, 12:51am

Finished this one in a couple of days. Predictable story line but nicely written. Not sure if her trials were due to her being unsuited to the job, or whether a nanny at that time just had to put up with being walked all over by her charges and employers. Anyway, it was a pleasant and short read. I might make an early start on our September books which are six times the length of this!

23annamorphic
Ago 13, 2012, 2:05am

I am about 65 pages into this book and am finding Agnes a very unlikeable narrator, full of self-pity, lacking feeling for those around her, and extremely judgmental. As with some other Bronte books I have read, I sometimes have trouble figuring out whether I am supposed to feel this way (at all) or not. In this case I suspect not -- I am supposed to feel as sorry for Agnes as she feels for herself -- but sometimes her catty descriptions of her pupils and their parents just annoys me.

24The_Hibernator
Ago 13, 2012, 7:55am

I finished the book on my car trip a few days ago. I didn't dislike Agnes as a character, like some people seem to--I think she was just young and didn't know what to expect when she got out in the world. She was too sheltered. The kids were little boogers, and I would have quit the job for fear that I might have eventually slapped that boy. The story was rather unexceptional, as far as I'm concerned. But it was short!

25jasmeyer
Ago 13, 2012, 10:19am

I am a late addition to the group read. I'm barely 4 chapters in to the book and I agree with the general sentiments of the group. But, I do enjoy Anne Bronte's writing style - it is clean with an easy rhythm. I just find the story light.

I am reading the Oxford World's Classics edition. The explanatory notes are interesting. They often connect the story with biographical context. They also explain the contemporary language. For example, unbeknownst to me a Nabob is someone who made their fortune in India, then returned to England. I'm most familiar with the term "nattering nabobs of negativsim" for which the meaning of nabob is left to the imagination of the listener.

26george1295
Ago 13, 2012, 3:06pm

#24 I'd rather you slap the boy and I'd like to watch.

27devone
Editado: Ago 13, 2012, 3:46pm

I finished reading Agnes Grey with mixed feelings. I thought Anne Bronte wrote well - at least I enjoyed her style. It flowed nicely.

The plot was very simple. I'd describe it as linear - first this happened, then this, and finally that. There wasn't a lot of interplay between the chapters of her life with one notable exception. As others mentioned, the outcome was predictable. Still, it held my interest.

I didn't dislike Agnes as some here did but I was aware of her flaws and hoped she would grow more. She was pretty much the same person at the end as she was at the beginning. There was some implied growth in that she acknowledged that the negative outcome of her first governess position was in part her fault and was determined to apply what she learned to her second position. It did go somewhat better, but then they were different, and older, children. Anyway, growth wasn't really evident in her narrative.

I thought Agnes' flaws were partly because she was just young and sheltered and ill prepared for the demanding, uncaring and sometimes cruel people she had to deal with. I also speculate that her father's religious influence must have leaned towards legalism. The evidence I have for that is his inability to forgive himself for his own errors. Agnes' mother provided an example to Agnes of freely giving grace when her husband failed the family, but Agnes was not so free with it. Her mother's kindness and gentleness did rub off on her, but without the ability to balance her high expectations of people with forgiveness when they invariably missed the mark, it left her somewhat judgmental and bitter - but not so much so that I disliked her. I'm not sure I could have been much more gracious in the face of such ugliness and I really wanted to whoop me some behinds.

It's interesting to me that in spite of little growth in Agnes, her influence did prompt some growth in Rosalie, one of her pupils. Rosalie went from despicable to simply insufferable, with the possibility of making it all the way to almost tolerable if anyone in her life continued to influence her for the good as Agnes had (unlikely, given her circumstances).

I agree with those that said it's not worthy of being a 1001 book and give it 3/5. I do look forward to seeing how Anne grew as a writer in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

28johnnypies
Ago 13, 2012, 4:15pm

#27 - what a wonderful, thoughtful review. Thank you.

29Yells
Ago 13, 2012, 8:38pm

If I had to deal with that child, a slap would be the minimum thing I would do! Good grief what a brat.

I felt bad for Agnes. She lives this super sheltered life where everyone just seems to be annoyingly happy ALL THE TIME (how happy were these people below the surface? No one let's all that slide off their back without feeling something for crying out loud!) and then she brings this optimism to the home of the most dysfunctional family on earth. She is on her own for the first time and feels tremendous pressure to help out her family. She can't live with herself if she fails but yet she can't help but fail in this situation.

It's hard the first time you take off your rose-coloured glasses and see the real world for what it can be so I can forgive her for her flaws (in fact, I kind of see a lot of myself in those flaws). I too am curious to read Tenant and see where she goes with her writing.

30Britt84
Ago 14, 2012, 4:38am

I was actually doing some re-considering of Agnes lately, and also came to the conclusion that maybe I shouldn't be too hard on her because she lived such a sheltered live and just really didn't know anything else but her own situation and her own family. And I come back here and everybody's saying the same thing! :) So, I guess I'm a bit late on reaching this conclusion, but I agree, I fear Agnes just lived too much of a sheltered life to be able to deal with the big bad outside world very well...

31annamorphic
Ago 16, 2012, 10:33am

I posted a review of Agnes on my own thread, but basically I never grew to like her. I did see some interesting elements in this story but I do not trust that Anne Bronte saw them herself; I suspect that she wanted us to side with Agnes throughout, rather than to see her as self-righteous, judgmental, and blind to the ways in which the "flaws" of others mirrored those in herself.

32ALWINN
Ago 16, 2012, 11:17am

Also a late joiner to the group read and am about half way in the book.

Her first job I have to give her credit because I just dont know if I could of help myself but to get a good pinch in and then look all innocent like WHY I NEVER!!!!

Agnes 2nd job her charges are a big older but still just HUH!!! I understand we are living in different times and things are different in so many ways but still. One post said that Rosalie reminds them of Scarlett O'Hara Im not seeing that one at all. Rosalie is just arrogent.

Over all the book is not wonderful but its not so bad I want to chunk it across the room. But I feel like it should be cold outside and Im curled up under a blanket in front of a fire reading this.

33billiejean
Ago 17, 2012, 12:00pm

I just finished the book, and I enjoyed this quick read. Maybe because it was a break from a long one that I am kind of bogged down in reading.

It must have been hard to go from being the baby of the family not expected to do any work at home to working as a governess with pretty much no time off at all. I did think that the first family had unrealistically horrible children. The second family seemed more true to life.

I found it interesting that the first family wanted significant results in the children's learning although the parents' sabotaged her at every turn; whereas, the second family had no great educational aspirations for the girls. I also thought it was sort of surprising that Agnes was able to dictate terms for the second job when the first one turned out so badly.

This book has been sitting around my house for 25 years. Thanks to this group read for getting me to read it at last! :)