Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey

by Anne Brontë


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In her daring first novel, the youngest Brontë sister drew upon her own experiences to tell the unvarnished truth about life as a governess. Like Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë was a young middle-class Victorian lady whose family fortunes had faltered. Like so many other unmarried women of the nineteenth century, Brontë accepted the only "respectable" employment available--and entered a world of hardship, humiliation, and loneliness.
Written with a realism that shocked critics, this biting social commentary offers a sympathetic portrait of Agnes and a moving indictment of her brutish and haughty employers. Separated from her family and friends by many miles, paid little more than subsistence wages, Agnes stands alone--both in society at large and in a household where she is neither family member nor servant. Agnes Grey remains a landmark in the literature of social history. In addition to its challenge to the era's chauvinism and materialism, it features a first-person narrative that offers a rare opportunity to hear the voice of a Victorian working woman.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486451213
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 09/08/2006
Series: Dover Thrift Editions
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 637,706
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Anne Brontë (1820–1849), the youngest of the Brontë sisters, is best known for her two novels The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey. Like her siblings Emily and Branwell, her life was tragically cut short by tuberculosis.

Read an Excerpt

Agnes Grey

By Anne Brontë


Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0163-2



All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge. I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others; but the world may judge for itself. Shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture; and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.

My father was a clergyman of the north of England, who was deservedly respected by all who knew him; and, in his younger days, lived pretty comfortably on the joint income of a small incumbency and a snug little property of his own. My mother, who married him against the wishes of her friends, was a squire's daughter, and a woman of spirit. In vain it was represented to her, that if she became the poor parson's wife, she must relinquish her carriage and her lady's-maid, and all the luxuries and elegancies of affluence; which to her were little less than the necessaries of life. A carriage and a lady's-maid were great conveniences; but, thank heaven, she had feet to carry her, and hands to minister to her own necessities. An elegant house and spacious grounds were not to be despised; but she would rather live in a cottage with Richard Grey than in a palace with any other man in the world.

Finding arguments of no avail, her father, at length, told the lovers they might marry if they pleased; but, in so doing, his daughter would forfeit every fraction of her fortune. He expected this would cool the ardour of both; but he was mistaken. My father knew too well my mother's superior worth not to be sensible that she was a valuable fortune in herself: and if she would but consent to embellish his humble hearth he should be happy to take her on any terms; while she, on her part, would rather labour with her own hands than be divided from the man she loved, whose happiness it would be her joy to make, and who was already one with her in heart and soul. So her fortune went to swell the purse of a wiser sister, who had married a rich nabob; and she, to the wonder and compassionate regret of all who knew her, went to bury herself in the homely village parsonage among the hills of ---. And yet, in spite of all this, and in spite of my mother's high spirit and my father's whims, I believe you might search all England through, and fail to find a happier couple.

Of six children, my sister Mary and myself were the only two that survived the perils of infancy and early childhood. I, being the younger by five or six years, was always regarded as the child, and the pet of the family: father, mother, and sister, all combined to spoil me—not by foolish indulgence, to render me fractious and ungovernable, but by ceaseless kindness, to make me too helpless and dependent—too unfit for buffeting with the cares and turmoils of life.

Mary and I were brought up in the strictest seclusion. My mother, being at once highly accomplished, well informed, and fond of employment, took the whole charge of our education on herself, with the exception of Latin—which my father undertook to teach us—so that we never even went to school; and, as there was no society in the neighbourhood, our only intercourse with the world consisted in a stately tea-party, now and then, with the principal farmers and tradespeople of the vicinity (just to avoid being stigmatized as too proud to consort with our neighbours), and an annual visit to our paternal grandfather's; where himself, our kind grandmamma, a maiden aunt, and two or three elderly ladies and gentlemen, were the only persons we ever saw. Sometimes our mother would amuse us with stories and anecdotes of her younger days, which, while they entertained us amazingly, frequently awoke—in me, at least—a secret wish to see a little more of the world.

I thought she must have been very happy: but she never seemed to regret past times. My father, however, whose temper was neither tranquil nor cheerful by nature, often unduly vexed himself with thinking of the sacrifices his dear wife had made for him; and troubled his head with revolving endless schemes for the augmentation of his little fortune, for her sake and ours. In vain my mother assured him she was quite satisfied; and if he would but lay by a little for the children, we should all have plenty, both for time present and to come: but saving was not my father's forte. He would not run in debt (at least, my mother took good care he should not), but while he had money he must spend it: he liked to see his house comfortable, and his wife and daughters well clothed, and well attended; and besides, he was charitably disposed, and liked to give to the poor, according to his means: or, as some might think, beyond them.

At length, however, a kind friend suggested to him a means of doubling his private property at one stroke; and further increasing it, hereafter, to an untold amount. This friend was a merchant, a man of enterprising spirit and undoubted talent, who was somewhat straitened in his mercantile pursuits for want of capital; but generously proposed to give my father a fair share of his profits, if he would only entrust him with what he could spare; and he thought he might safely promise that whatever sum the latter chose to put into his hands, it should bring him in cent. per cent. The small patrimony was speedily sold, and the whole of its price was deposited in the hands of the friendly merchant; who as promptly proceeded to ship his cargo, and prepare for his voyage.

My father was delighted, so were we all, with our brightening prospects. For the present, it is true, we were reduced to the narrow income of the curacy; but my father seemed to think there was no necessity for scrupulously restricting our expenditure to that; so, with a standing bill at Mr. Jackson's, another at Smith's, and a third at Hobson's, we got along even more comfortably than before: though my mother affirmed we had better keep within bounds, for our prospects of wealth were but precarious, after all; and if my father would only trust everything to her management, he should never feel himself stinted: but he, for once, was incorrigible.

What happy hours Mary and I have passed while sitting at our work by the fire, or wandering on the heath-clad hills, or idling under the weeping birch (the only considerable tree in the garden), talking of future happiness to ourselves and our parents, of what we would do, and see, and possess; with no firmer foundation for our goodly superstructure than the riches that were expected to flow in upon us from the success of the worthy merchant's speculations. Our father was nearly as bad as ourselves; only that he affected not to be so much in earnest: expressing his bright hopes and sanguine expectations in jests and playful sallies, that always struck me as being exceedingly witty and pleasant. Our mother laughed with delight to see him so hopeful and happy: but still she feared he was setting his heart too much upon the matter; and once I heard her whisper as she left the room, 'God grant he be not disappointed! I know not how he would bear it.'

Disappointed he was; and bitterly, too. It came like a thunder-clap on us all, that the vessel which contained our fortune had been wrecked, and gone to the bottom with all its stores, together with several of the crew, and the unfortunate merchant himself. I was grieved for him; I was grieved for the overthrow of all our air-built castles: but, with the elasticity of youth, I soon recovered the shook.

Though riches had charms, poverty had no terrors for an inexperienced girl like me. Indeed, to say the truth, there was something exhilarating in the idea of being driven to straits, and thrown upon our own resources. I only wished papa, mamma, and Mary were all of the same mind as myself; and then, instead of lamenting past calamities we might all cheerfully set to work to remedy them; and the greater the difficulties, the harder our present privations, the greater should be our cheerfulness to endure the latter, and our vigour to contend against the former.

Mary did not lament, but she brooded continually over the misfortune, and sank into a state of dejection from which no effort of mine could rouse her. I could not possibly bring her to regard the matter on its bright side as I did: and indeed I was so fearful of being charged with childish frivolity, or stupid insensibility, that I carefully kept most of my bright ideas and cheering notions to myself; well knowing they could not be appreciated.

My mother thought only of consoling my father, and paying our debts and retrenching our expenditure by every available means; but my father was completely overwhelmed by the calamity: health, strength, and spirits sank beneath the blow, and he never wholly recovered them. In vain my mother strove to cheer him, by appealing to his piety, to his courage, to his affection for herself and us. That very affection was his greatest torment: it was for our sakes he had so ardently longed to increase his fortune—it was our interest that had lent such brightness to his hopes, and that imparted such bitterness to his present distress. He now tormented himself with remorse at having neglected my mother's advice; which would at least have saved him from the additional burden of debt—he vainly reproached himself for having brought her from the dignity, the ease, the luxury of her former station to toil with him through the cares and toils of poverty. It was gall and wormwood to his soul to see that splendid, highly-accomplished woman, once so courted and admired, transformed into an active managing housewife, with hands and head continually occupied with household labours and household economy. The very willingness with which she performed these duties, the cheerfulness with which she bore her reverses, and the kindness which withheld her from imputing the smallest blame to him, were all perverted by this ingenious self-tormentor into further aggravations of his sufferings. And thus the mind preyed upon the body, and disordered the system of the nerves, and they in turn increased the troubles of the mind, till by action and reaction his health was seriously impaired; and not one of us could convince him that the aspect of our affairs was not half so gloomy, so utterly hopeless, as his morbid imagination represented it to be.

The useful pony phaeton was sold, together with the stout, well-fed pony—the old favourite that we had fully determined should end its days in peace, and never pass from our hands; the little coach-house and stable were let; the servant boy, and the more efficient (being the more expensive) of the two maid-servants, were dismissed. Our clothes were mended, turned, and darned to the utmost verge of decency; our food, always plain, was now simplified to an unprecedented degree—except my father's favourite dishes; our coals and candles were painfully economized—the pair of candles reduced to one, and that most sparingly used; the coals carefully husbanded in the half-empty grate: especially when my father was out on his parish duties, or confined to bed through illness—then we sat with our feet on the fender, scraping the perishing embers together from time to time, and occasionally adding a slight scattering of the dust and fragments of coal, just to keep them alive. As for our carpets, they in time were worn threadbare, and patched and darned even to a greater extent than our garments. To save the expense of a gardener, Mary and I undertook to keep the garden in order; and all the cooking and household work that could not easily be managed by one servant-girl, was done by my mother and sister, with a little occasional help from me: only a little, because, though a woman in my own estimation, I was still a child in theirs; and my mother, like most active, managing women, was not gifted with very active daughters: for this reason—that being so clever and diligent herself, she was never tempted to trust her affairs to a deputy, but, on the contrary, was willing to act and think for others as well as for number one; and whatever was the business in hand, she was apt to think that no one could do it so well as herself: so that whenever I offered to assist her, I received such an answer as—'No, love, you cannot indeed—there's nothing here you can do. Go and help your sister, or get her to take a walk with you—tell her she must not sit so much, and stay so constantly in the house as she does—she may well look thin and dejected.'

'Mary, mamma says I'm to help you; or get you to take a walk with me; she says you may well look thin and dejected, if you sit so constantly in the house.'

'Help me you cannot, Agnes; and I cannot go out with you—I have far too much to do.'

'Then let me help you.'

'You cannot, indeed, dear child. Go and practise your music, or play with the kitten.'

There was always plenty of sewing on hand; but I had not been taught to cut out a single garment, and except plain hemming and seaming, there was little I could do, even in that line; for they both asserted that it was far easier to do the work themselves than to prepare it for me: and besides, they liked better to see me prosecuting my studies, or amusing myself—it was time enough for me to sit bending over my work, like a grave matron, when my favourite little pussy was become a steady old cat. Under such circumstances, although I was not many degrees more useful than the kitten, my idleness was not entirely without excuse.

Through all our troubles, I never but once heard my mother complain of our want of money. As summer was coming on she observed to Mary and me, 'What a desirable thing it would be for your papa to spend a few weeks at a watering-place. I am convinced the sea-air and the change of scene would be of incalculable service to him. But then, you see, there's no money,' she added, with a sigh. We both wished exceedingly that the thing might be done, and lamented greatly that it could not. 'Well, well!' said she, 'it's no use complaining. Possibly something might be done to further the project after all. Mary, you are a beautiful drawer. What do you say to doing a few more pictures in your best style, and getting them framed, with the water-coloured drawings you have already done, and trying to dispose of them to some liberal picture-dealer, who has the sense to discern their merits?'

'Mamma, I should be delighted if you think they could be sold; and for anything worth while.'

'It's worth while trying, however, my dear: do you procure the drawings, and I'll endeavour to find a purchaser.'

'I wish I could do something,' said I.

'You, Agnes! well, who knows? You draw pretty well, too: if you choose some simple piece for your subject, I daresay you will be able to produce something we shall all be proud to exhibit.'

'But I have another scheme in my head, mamma, and have had long, only I did not like to mention it.'

'Indeed! pray tell us what it is.'

'I should like to be a governess.'

My mother uttered an exclamation of surprise, and laughed. My sister dropped her work in astonishment, exclaiming, 'You a governess, Agnes! What can you be dreaming of?'

'Well! I don't see anything so very extraordinary in it. I do not pretend to be able to instruct great girls; but surely I could teach little ones: and I should like it so much: I am so fond of children. Do let me, mamma!'

'But, my love, you have not learned to take care of yourself yet: and young children require more judgment and experience to manage than elder ones.'

'But, mamma, I am above eighteen, and quite able to take care of myself, and others too. You do not know half the wisdom and prudence I possess, because I have never been tried.'

'Only think,' said Mary, 'what would you do in a house full of strangers, without me or mamma to speak and act for you—with a parcel of children, besides yourself, to attend to; and no one to look to for advice? You would not even know what clothes to put on.'

'You think, because I always do as you bid me, I have no judgment of my own: but only try me—that is all I ask—and you shall see what I can do.'

At that moment my father entered and the subject of our discussion was explained to him.

'What, my little Agnes a governess!' cried he, and, in spite of his dejection, he laughed at the idea.


Excerpted from Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I. The Parsonage
II. First Lessons in the Art of Instruction
III. A Few More Lessons
IV. The Grandmamma
V. The Uncle
VI. The Parsonage Again
VII. Horton Lodge
VIII. The "Coming Out"
IX. The Ball
X. The Church
XI. The Cottagers
XII. The Shower
XIII. The Primroses
XIV. The Rector
XV. The Walk
XVI. The Substitution
XVII. Confessions
XVIII. Mirth and Mourning
XIX. The Letter
XX. The Farewell
XXI. The School
XXII. The Visit
XXIII. The Park
XXIV. The Sands
XXV. Conclusion

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Agnes Grey 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Today's society is given to speed: cars, movies, the ever popular video games; so a book of quietude won't attract very many. Too bad. Agnes Grey is well written, containing words which have gone out of style and words in their correct usage. An astute observation will bring out the fact that we have all become Miss Agnes Grey, plodding through life, awed by our betters and, often, afraid to see our own worth. The writing contains no swash or buckle. Nothing much "happens", and yet the tale progresses from beginning to end - and a tiny bit beyond, in a beckoning manner: come look over just the next hill, won't you? It is a cozy fireside chair, a small table holding a pot of tea and biscuits with, perhaps, a small dog or cat curled up close by. If you are at a loss to picture such a quiet retreat then I recommend you visit with Miss Agnes Grey and discover what you've lost. With a minimum of effort I think you will find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A delight to read, like all Bronte works. ~*~LEB~*~
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unexpected and involving -- this is the first novel I've read by "the other Bronte", and it was both a big surprise and an engrossing read. Anne Bronte, of course was the youngest of the Bronte sisters; she wrote two novels before her death at the age of 29. She has nothing like the literary reputation of her two sisters, Emily and Charlotte. Some would argue that had something to do with Charlotte's comments after Anne's death, but it also reflects a very different style.For me, the surprise in "Agnes Grey" was how little it reminded me of the work of Charlotte and Emily. There's much in common (especially with Charlotte), most of which reflects the Brontes' own lives -- an initial setting in Yorkshire, a close if impoverished clerical family background, a strongly moral view of life. But "Agnes" is far less dramatic than the works of the elder Brontes, far more concerned with social distinctions, and far more focussed on marriage. The mood is very different; realistic rather than romantic, and social rather than isolated. And the style is also very different; very clear, very objective, and decidedly (part of the time) ironic. All in all, "Agnes Grey" reminds me more of Jane Austen than of the elder Brontes, especially the Jane of "Mansfield Park". Like Fanny Brice in "Mansfield", Anne Bronte's Agnes is an outsider and social inferior in her milieu, and is also much involved with personal morality. She can in fact lapse into priggishness, but not too often, and there are hints of potentially radical social views beneath the mid- Victorian morality. Many of the minor characters (particularly the nasty ones) are one dimensional, but the dimension is brilliantly sketched out. For me, this was an engrossing read, and I would recommend it to readers who enjoy Victorian literature, but have not yet experienced Anne Bronte. I shall put her other novel, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" on my to-read list.
AshRyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a novel that follows the plight of a young woman forced into the position of a governess to make ends meet, Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey has of course often been compared with her sister's more famous novel Jane Eyre. And as a love story, it has also been compared with the novels of Jane Austen. It even reminded me a little of the cautionary morality tales that had been popular up to that time, such as Defoe's Moll Flanders.Personally, I enjoyed it more than Pride and Prejudice, but not as much as Jane Eyre. It just doesn't have the same scope and depth. That said, it is a nice little novel, and interesting, and sometimes very funny. Well worth reading.
TheNovelWorld on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Somewhere in the middle of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Agnes Grey lacks character development and plot.
Aleksandra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some consider Anne Bronte the least "creative" of the three sisters and say that her style is less aesthetically pleasing. I, however, like her work far more than that of Charlotte or Emily. "Agnes Grey" is a touching story told in a language that is as concise as it is vivid. Kudos to Anne Bronte!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed previous Bronte sisters book, and had been delighted to see this one offered through Early Bird Books. I was determined to finish it, because after all she was a Bronte, and the book was free. How could I squander that opportunity to read a book by the lesser-known sister? But I didn’t enjoy the experience for much of the book, because I found the protagonist’s consistenly negative attitude to be off-putting. However, I came to appreciate her, when she started taking up for “the cottagers,” who were local poor people with varying difficulties including blindness. She even spent some of her free time reading to a partially-blind cottager. Regardless of your feeling about the book, I believe that all readers of “Agnes Grey” would agree that along with her sisters, Anne Bronte was also a very gifted writer.
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Catnap and torture Shatter Karma Talon Panther Dismay and Ender at hamlet result two. Thanks
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To be honest, not a whole lot happens in this book as far as plot goes, but I surprisingly liked it. The narration was not thick and heavy. It almost sounded as though a person from today was talking, the way some things were worded. The main character (who does most of the narration throughout the book) was able to get her points across clearly in a way you could understand quite well. I was able to identify in many ways with circumstances the character found herself in. Many times I stopped after reading something and thought, "Someone back then thought that, too?" The only thing I wish the author would have included is a scene at the end where Mr. Weston tells Agnes what it had been about her that attracted him to her (like personality, wit, etc.?-- sort of like at the end of "Pride and Prejudice"). There is never a reason given anywhere in the story, so we're to assume that it is because Agnes is the heroine of the book (which is NOT a good enough reason!). I know several people have expressed a wish see this done as a movie, but frankly I don't think it's filmable. It's great as a book, but as a movie (unless the director took great liberties with the storyline) would be flat and dull. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in all things Bronte-- it's a sweet story.
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