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28th August
2010
written by Steph

With the completion of Agnes Grey I can now say that I have read a novel apiece by each of the Bronte sisters. Hurrah! I didn’t really know what to expect going into an Anne Bronte novel, though this Hark! A Vagrant Cartoon that I was directed to by Jenny of Shelf Love during my read through of Jane Eyre last year caused me to suspect she might be my favorite sister of the three.  I mean, I like neither assholes nor alcoholic dickbags for my male heroes in fiction… What can I say? I’ve never been one of those girls who goes for the brooding, badboy. It’s just never been my shtick. Turns out, it’s not Anne Bronte’s thing either. If there’s such a thing as a proper romance (or a romance of manners), then that’s exactly what Agnes Grey is. In many ways it was like Jane Eyre, but it was far less epic and not at all gothic. Essentially, if you were one of those people who when reading Sense and Sensibility just wanted more of Elinor and Edward and swooned at their polite and reserved interactions that masked their deeper passions, then Agnes Grey is the novel for you. The novel as a whole is not entirely a romance, though I do feel that it is ultimately a love story, but one of the things I felt was just a bit off about Agnes was that it very distinctly felt like a novel split into two parts. It starts off being a story about child-rearing, as the first half of the novel recounts Agnes’s experiences as a lowly, naïve governess. It is not until the second half of the novel that a love interest is introduced for Anne and the novel turns in a different (and I must say, rather predictable) direction. I do wish the two halves of the novel felt better bound together into a unified whole, but that said I did enjoy what I perceived as the two parts equally well. Had the novel been simply a governess’s tale or a romance, I think I would have liked it equally well, simply because I enjoyed the voice of Agnes a good deal indeed. Perhaps the fact that I enjoyed the writing and found the narrative voice engaging and enjoyable is not all that surprising given that I found it to be very similar that found in Jane Austen’s novel. The sense of humor was subtle and wry, and much of comedy was based on insights into society and the ironic contrasts between characters’ words and deeds. This is one of my favorite types of humor, so again, it’s little wonder I liked it so much. A while back I read Amanda’s review at The Zen Leaf where she very vociferously discussed her dislike for Agnes in this novel. I personally didn’t find her terrible, though I could how she sometimes verged on officious due to her staunch moral rectitude, but more often than not, I simply found Agnes to be overwhelmingly gentle and exceedingly good. And maybe that makes for a somewhat bland heroine, which I allow, but by and large I took very little issue with Agnes as a heroine. I think I might have liked it if she had a little more outward spirit, but in saying so, I flashed back to the following scene in Anne of the Island where Anne laments to Marilla about her bosom friend Diana’s choice of husband:
"He certainly isn't the wild, dashing, wicked, young man Diana once wanted to marry," smiled Anne. "Fred is extremely good." "That's just what he ought to be. Would you want Diana to marry a wicked man? Or marry one yourself?" "Oh, no. I wouldn't want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I'd like it if he COULD be wicked and WOULDN'T. Now, Fred is HOPELESSLY good." "You'll have more sense some day, I hope," said Marilla.
I love that exchange so much, and it cracks me up every time. But perhaps this is why, in the end, for me Jane Eyre is still my reining favorite when it comes to Bronte novels. Rochester isn’t actually wicked, but there are times when we feel the potential is there, whereas Agnes could never love a man who wasn’t openly and “hopelessly good”. There are no brooding, dangerous heroes to be found in this novel, which is perhaps best for Agnes, but may just leave readers wanting slightly more. I suppose I may just be a little more Anne Shirley than I am Anne Bronte! So as it stands, my current Bronte standings are: 1. Charlotte Bronte 2. Anne Bronte 10. Emily Bronte (I really hate Wuthering Heights that much) I’ll be interested to try more from both Charlotte and Anne in the future, and I hope both continue to entertain. I'll probably tackle Villette and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall next time around. Rating: 4 out of 5

30 Comments

  1. 08/28/2010

    My problem with Agnes was that I found her neither gentle nor good despite what she pretended. It wasn’t that she was bland at all, it was that she seemed spiteful, cruel, and judgemental beneath a thin veneer of moral high ground.

    I do hope you like Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I loved far more than Agnes Grey. Oddly, this is one of the very few places where my husband and I, who have very opposite tastes in classics, agree.

  2. 08/28/2010

    I’m totally with you on Wuthering Heights, though.

  3. 08/28/2010

    I’ve not read the book, but totally have to agree with this:

    “Rochester isn’t actually wicked, but there are times when we feel the potential is there, whereas Agnes could never love a man who wasn’t openly and “hopelessly good”. There are no brooding, dangerous heroes to be found in this novel, which is perhaps best for Agnes, but may just leave readers left wanting slightly more.”

  4. 08/28/2010

    Ha! I’ve just finished by first Anne Bronte novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I think is the root of the alcoholic dickbag joke in Hark a Vagrant! Seriously, there’s not a likable man in the whole thing.

    I love what you say about Rochester, though. He does act like an ass sometimes, but by the end of the novel, he’s a reformed ass. He had the potential of being good or bad. It makes him interesting, even if probably not a good choice for a marriage partner (at least not until he has *actually* reformed).

  5. 08/28/2010

    Have’nt read this as yet but the reviews and the comments are eye openers!

  6. LOL!! I hate Wuthering Heights that much too! I enjoyed Jayne Eyre so I guess I should try Anne’s book to complete the trio. It doesn’t sound as though I’ll love this one, but it will probably be OK. One day!

  7. 08/29/2010

    @ Amanda: I didn’t think Agnes was pretending at any point, nor did I find her spiteful or cruel. I suppose her inner monologue was at times judgmental, but I thought her outward actions were generally kind and well-meant. Regardless, I think I’ll probably like Tenant more… I hope I do! Also, glad we agree about Wuthering Heights! 😀
     
    @ rhapsody: It really was kind of like reading Sense & Sensibility if it didn’t have the Marianne storyline!
     
    @ Teresa: How interesting about the lack of appropriate men in Tenant! Is it wrong that now I’m looking forward to it even more? 😉
    And I’m very much glad that by the time Jane and Rochester are united, he has sufficiently redeemed himself in the eyes of the reader that we can rejoice their happy marriage.
     
    @ Mystica: Yes, clearly Anne Bronte is a divisive writer! If you enjoy the Classics, I think you’d enjoy her!
     
    @ Jackie: As long as you hate Wuthering Heights, that’s all that matters! 😉
     
    @ softdrink: Yeah, if you don’t like Jane Austen (gasp! 😉 ), then I don’t think you’ll love Agnes Grey. But at least you can enjoy the comic strip! 😉
     
    @ Stephanie: Me too! Hopefully soon!

  8. 08/29/2010

    Considering how much I disliked P&P (at least the parts I managed to read), I’m guessing Agnes wouldn’t work for me, either. Jane Eyre is still on my list, though. I may never get to poor Anne, though. Which is a shame, since she obviously has better taste than her sisters in men. 😀

  9. 08/29/2010

    I really want to read The Tenant of Windfell Hall.

  10. 08/29/2010

    I really enjoyed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; it was uneven in some ways, but the good parts were really interesting. But then again, I really like Wuthering Heights, so you may not want to take my claims about the Brontes too seriously! 🙂

  11. 08/30/2010

    I have not read Agnes Grey. But please pick The Tenant of Wildfell Hall next. It’s my favorite Bronte book.

  12. 08/30/2010

    So far, out of the three sisters, I have only read a bit from Emily, though I am looking forward to cracking open Jane Eyre very soon. It sounds like this one was good, but a little tame, which I really have no problem with. I think it would be really interesting to read this one, and I do have a copy on my Kindle, so I should get to it! Glad you liked this one, and I have to agree with your opinion of Wuthering Heights.

  13. 08/30/2010

    @ Kinna: I certainly will pick up Tenant, don’t you worry! I’m glad to hear it’s your favorite… that gives me high hopes indeed!
     
    @ zibilee: Yes, what’s great with these classics if you have an e-reader (or not, with Project Gutenberg) is that it’s easy to give them a whirl for free! If you’ve already downloaded it, what are you waiting for? It’s a super quick read!

  14. Kathleen
    08/30/2010

    I must plead complete and utter ignorance for never having heard of Anne Bronte. I’ve certainly read several of the other sister’s works.

  15. 08/30/2010

    I think I should give Anne another chance. I tried The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but never got into it (but I think that was directly after the excitement and drama that is Wuthring Heights 🙂 ). Maybe I’ll have more luck with Agnes Grey. So far, I prefer Charlotte.

  16. 08/31/2010

    @ Kathleen: Well, if you clicked on that cartoon I linked to, you’re not the only one! Anne is the oft overlooked sister of the trio, so don’t feel too bad about it!
     
    @ Bina: I find that I have to be in a particular mood for the Classics, and I like to space them out… Maybe try Agnes simply because it’s really short, so it’s easy to get through in a day or two… so if you don’t love it, no big deal!

  17. 08/31/2010

    Oh I enjoyed your review. You know I’m a besotted Anne fan. She’s less dramatic and more pragmatic than her sisters and I like that. I love ole Agnes. I think you’d like The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – it’s based on her experiences with her troubled brother Branwell.

  18. 09/01/2010

    lol, I love that Hark! A Vagrant comic. It was actually my introduction to the site, and I’ve been a devout reader ever since 😛 Anyway… I’ve been told to make The Tenant of Wildfell Hall my first Anne (like you, I suspect she’ll be my favourite sister, though I love me some Jane Eyre), but I definitely want to read this at some point. And that exchange between Anne and Marilla is perfect indeed!

  19. 09/01/2010

    @ Nicola: I definitely saw Anne’s pragmatism in this book, and I enjoyed it a lot as well. I felt this was a hard book to take issue with, and enjoyed how gentle a read it was, while still being entertaining. I am definitely looking forward to reading Tenant next!
     
    @ Nymeth: I think that particular Bronte comic was my first introduction to Hark! A Vagrant, and now I love it dearly too… Especially the strips that skewer my home, Canada! 😉 Also, I’m so glad you enjoyed the Anne & Marilla conversation! It so perfectly capture my feelings, I think.

  20. 09/01/2010

    Sorry, I’m arriving late to the debate 🙂

    I’ve read Agnes Grey earlier this year and it was also my first Anne. I enjoyed her realism most of all, so different from the two other sisters. I’m reading The Tenant with by bookclub later this year and if I enjoy it as much as I did Agnes, Anne becomes my favorite sister.

    I also find it interesting that she’s the sister that hasn’t had her 5m of fame. I also read Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte this year and her descriptions (and neglect) of Anne made me even more curious about her.

  21. 09/02/2010

    @ Alex: Don’t worry, you’re just fashionably late! 😉 I’m sure you’ll get to Tenant before I do, so I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on it – I hope you love it! I’m always one to root for the underdog! Here’s hoping Anne gets her 5 minutes soon!

  22. 09/03/2010

    I am quite quite late as well. 🙂
    Like you, I’ve paid scant attention to Anne. I love Jane Eyre to little bits and pieces, reread it religiously, just love everything about. Wuthering Heights isn’t a very nice thing to read when one is twelve, so I definitely need to reread that. Right now, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is in the stack by my bed. I will get to it soon, having read a handful of chapters. I guess I love Charlotte too much, a part of me’s set that no other Bronte can compare? :]

    I think I’ll like Agnes Grey when I read it, given your post + the discussion. I saw this OWC edition in the bookstore and had to tear myself away — and then I came home and read this post. I know I’m going back to the store very soon.

    Villette is in the line too. Hell, I’ll probably just read all the sisters’ books for the fun of it, haha.

    Oh. And re Mr. Rochester: Here is an article from The Millions, called “Mr. Rochester is a Creep: A List.” It’s funny and if I’m in a forgiving mood, I’ll agree with several things. But Rochester will always hold a special place in my heart. I am biased for life. :] http://www.themillions.com/2010/08/mr-rochester-is-a-creep-a-list.html

  23. 09/03/2010

    @ Sasha: Love that Millions post! I love a good list, and well, how do you beat one with such a title? 😉
    And isn’t this edition gorgeous? I can’t imagine how you managed to restrain yourself… I guess you do have many other Bronte books in the stack for the time being… I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of both Charlotte and Anne.

  24. 09/03/2010

    I’m a huge Bronte fan–especially Charlotte–but I’ve never read Anne. I think I have to rectify that soon. Your review makes me suspect it won’t be a pure joy, though…

  25. 09/04/2010

    @ LifetimeReader: I think if you’ve enjoyed Charlotte then you will probably like Anne, but maybe won’t love her in the same way… I guess you’ll have to try her and let us know!

  26. Eva
    09/12/2010

    I read Tenant before Agnes, and it made me love Anne! I read Agnes last year and enjoyed it, but not at the same level. 😉 I don’t care for either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, so Anne’s the easy favourite in my book. lol

  27. 09/13/2010

    @ Eva: I’m kind of surprised you don’t like Jane Eyre! Why is that? Do you find Mr Rochester too creepy? 😉

  28. 09/21/2010

    As you know, I wasn’t crazy about this. I was glad there was some romance and I do think that both Agnes and her lover (what was his name?) were good people. But I did find Agnes incredibly self-centered and bland. That said, I read it one night and it just didn’t feel like a memorable book.

    I love Jane Austen, though, so I have a hard time comparing them…

  29. 09/21/2010

    @ Rebecca: Maybe this is one of those books where timing is important. I was very much looking for a quiet Victorian read, so this fit the bill perfectly. And I always tend to find the Victorians funnier than many other people…

  30. Ash
    03/29/2011

    Glad to see you like Agnes too :3

    Although I must admit, I never really liked Jane Eyre xD it’s all my fault though– if so much people like it and I don’t, obviously there’s something wrong there. I’ve tried to read and re-read it, but the first 10 chapters were awesome, and then I meet up the middle, where I start to lose wind. But I’ll try again soon :3

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