Monday, April 3, 2017
What we wish would happen in Agnes Grey
As noted previously, Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey is a good novel, entirely readable and enjoyable, though not nearly as profound or complex as those of her sibs nor is it groundbreaking in any way - a novel typical of the age. Like Jane Eyre, it shows us the difficult if not impossible position of educated young women put out to work as governesses, how they were "neither fish nor foul," had to befriend the children in their charge yet had to command their respect and attention; they were not quite members of the family but not servants either. And of course they were entirely dependent on the "masters" - generally, it seems, paid at the end of their year of service, entirely depending on a solid recommendation if they're ever to work again, usually paid very little (in return for "free" room and board) - it sounds a little like prep-school teacher today, except that many of those are from wealthy families whereas the governesses were often from poor or marginal families, if not orphanages, who couldn't feed another mouth, so to speak, and were depending on getting at least a share of the annual pay. Agnes Grey also shows the limited straits of all middle-class women in England at the time, and earlier - it's a continuation of the conversation that started w/ Austen - women so dependent on the attentions of men, and raised to be passive, submissive, never expressing their views directly, never acting "cross" or "forward." Their fortunes were entirely dependent on what they might inherit - which in Austen and the Bronte's was nothing - or what they might marry into, and their options were few, especially for those trapped in remote towns or villages. So, Agnes Grey is an exemplar of the feminist "problem" novel, as noted in previous posts, is that the characters, Agnes in particular, are "fixed" and unchanging, they don't evolve, grow, mature, or change. I think all readers will agree with me that we wanted, just once!, for Agnes to let it rip, to tell her charges to go to hell or tell the Rev. Hatfield that he's a hypocrite and full of crap. Of course to do so would be to risk everything, but on the other hand, what's she really got to lose? It would make her a stronger character, and would make this a better novel.