1001 Group Read August, 2012: Agnes Grey
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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? :)
Spoiler for first 5 chapters
Gosh, those kids are annoying! Spoiled little brats :/
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.)
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
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.
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.
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...
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.
If I'm remembering correctly, it was removed from one of the later versions of the list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! :)