Agnes Grey, the first novel by Anne Bronte made its appearance in 1847 right along with her sister Emily Bronte‘s “Wuthering Heights“. Agnes is a daughter of a poor clergyman whose experiences are shared with the reader in this book.
The story starts with Agnes’s childhood spent in the beautiful hills of England as a youngest daughter in a small and respectable family of a clergyman called Richard Grey. Her father loses his fortune in an unfortunate event and they are left with income just enough to get them through the daily necessities. The family copes with this and the daughters Mary and Agnes are instructed and educated expertly by their mother to grow up in accomplished women.
Agnes decides to work as a governess to earn some money and ease up the financial situation of the family. The first place she gets is in a successful tradesman’s family where she is left to deal with extremely naughty and mischievous children with no authorities given to her to regularise their conduct. She struggles through the first year but is not able to satisfy either herself or her employers. She seeks her second position in a family of a country nobleman residing at a place called Horton Lodge and her charges here are only a few years younger than her.
She learns to live with her pupils and tackle their whims and caprices without complaining. In this state of not complete happiness yet of tolerable peace, her life is changed when a new clergyman, an Edward Weston, arrives in the area. Agnes’s eldest pupil, Ms. Rosalie Murray, is an extremely beautiful girl, whose chief amusement lies in making conquests over men’s hearts and then discarding them. She takes a fancy to Edward Weston and contrives to flirt with him barring Agnes completely from his society. For Agnes, these are days of agony as she cherishes a passion for Edward in whom she has hoped to make a first of her friends outside her home.
Soon afterwards, Rosalie gets married to a sir Thomas and leaves Agnes, but Agnes is called home by the sickness of her father, who is dead before she reaches home. She decides to move with her mother and start a boarding school of their own, thus ending her tenure at the Horton Lodge and all her hopes for Mr. Weston.
How does Agnes fare at the boarding school? Did she meet Rosalie or any of her family again? Did she find peace and happiness? Did she ever meet Edward Weston again? What happened to her unspoken love?
Being a clergyman’s daughter and a governess herself, we can imagine some bits of Anne Bronte’s character in Agnes. The religion and religious texts are an inseparable part of the narrative as it was part of Anne’s constitution. Also, the title inevitably reminds us of her eldest sister’s “Jane Eyre”, again a story of a governess. But the similarities end there. “Agnes Grey” is comparatively much shorter and simpler than “Jane Eyre“. And the best part besides the simplicity of the narrative is the poetic beauty of Anne’s language right from the first sentence until the last.