Literature Spotlight: Agnes Grey

“It must be a great consolation to you, to have a home, Miss Grey,” observed my companion after a short pause, “however remote, or seldom visited, still it is something to look to.”

“It is so much, that I think I could not live without it…”

– Agnes and Mr. Weston from Agnes Grey, Chapter Thirteen, “The Primroses”

Guten tag, everyone! I hope you have all had a lovely week! Happy Advent! Today is officially the first day of the season of “expectation” known as Advent leading up to Christmas. I am so excited! Advent marks the beginning of my most favorite time of year.

I come today with the sole purpose of discussing the last book I finished: Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey, which is now one of my favorite Victorian novels.

Anne Brontë is so much less celebrated than her two sisters Charlotte and Emily, and I believe for accurate reason. While Charlotte and Emily fill their readers’ minds with rich stories full of romantic fantasies, frantic passions, and frightening mysteries (Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), Anne is a realist. She is determined to look at the world as it is, and thus to write about it as so.

Anne, much like Dickens, was a realist, determined on giving the reader the dirty, ugly truths of society, and letting those truths fall on the guilty, uninformed, and stupid mind. One of Anne’s novels, Agnes Grey, does just that. While Agnes Grey is no Jane Eyre, it is fair to say that Miss Grey taught me just as much (if not more) in her small two-hundred page story than Miss Eyre did in her nearly six hundred page novel.

I have had the privilege of reading many books throughout the years, and I have associated myself with many characters. I’ve seen myself mirrored in the characters of Hermoine Granger, Hamlet, Cassio, Pollyanna, Catherine Morland, and (for the win) Bilbo Baggins.

Bless his little Hobbit soul. 😆

But now I have found another character to whom I can relate: Agnes Grey.

This post will contain potential spoilers if you haven’t yet read Agnes Grey, which, if you haven’t, you totally should. As I mentioned before, it is a short book, and I finished it in about a week. I’ll be taking a different approach for this post and focusing on the character of Agnes and her motives. Basically, why I love her so much.

Let’s get started!

The most significant aspect of Agnes’s life is her need for people, and the people in her life that drive her forward through countless moments of rejection, seclusion, and loneliness are her family. Agnes lives for her family.

In the beginning of the novel, Agnes begins to aspire and dream about being independent in the world. She is a young woman ready to leave her stamp on the earth. Her family also needs money desperately, as her father is unable to work due to illness. Agnes is determined to help her family out of their current financial state, but she is also terrified at the thought of leaving them.

When she finally finds a family in need of a governess, Agnes is both elated and terrified to leave home. When the day of her departure comes, she weeps as she drives away in the coach.

But the morning brought a renewal of hope and spirits. I was to depart early, that the conveyance which took me, (a gig, hired from Mr. Smith, the draper, grocer, and tea-dealer of the village) might return the same day. I rose, washed, dressed, swallowed a hasty breakfast, received the fond embraces of my father, mother, and sister, kissed the cat, to the great scandal of Sally, the maid, shook hands with her, mounted the gig, drew the veil over my face, and then, but not till then, burst into a flood of tears.

The gig rolled on—I looked back—my dear mother and sister were still standing at the door, looking after me, and waving their adieux: I returned their salute, and prayed God to bless them from my heart: we descended the hill, and I could see them no more.

– From Agnes Grey, Chapter 1, “The Parsonage”

While Agnes’s love for her family is what makes her weep as she drives away, it is also her love for her family that is taking her away from her home. Agnes’s heart beats for her family, and this is what gives her the courage to keep going. Knowing that her hard work will improve their lives, she finds motivation in leaving home. Agnes is a young woman in need of people around her, and the only people who understand her and love her are her family.

This, for me, is where I find myself relating to Agnes. Especially since the story is written in first person, I felt particularly close to her as she described her own feelings. During my whole entire life, there has never been a single person outside of my family who has loved me fully or cared for my sensitivities or shown interest in my heart’s well-being as much as my family. Agnes and I have truly loving families—families that love unconditionally and always have enough of love to bring us home in the end.

Just like Agnes, I finally have to admit: I am a social person. And the friends I have are all here—with me—at home.

“The fact is I am too socially disposed to be able to live contentedly without a friend, and as the only friends I have, or am likely to have, are at home, if it—or rather, if they were gone—I will not say I could not live—but I would rather not live in such a desolate world.”

“But why do you say the only friends you are likely to have? Are you so unsociable that you cannot make friends?” [asked Mr. Weston.]

“No, but I never made one yet; and in my present position there is no possibility of doing so, or even of forming a common acquaintance. The fault may be partly in myself, but I hope not altogether.”

Agnes Grey and Mr. Weston from Agnes Grey, Chapter Fifteen, “The Walk”

Agnes says this as she is walking with Mr. Weston, the man whom she is in love with and later marries (spoiler alert!).

This brings me to the second part of my post about Agnes.

Agnes is a reserved, quiet, and yet gregarious and amiable young woman. She is first the governess of three young, spoiled children. Then she becomes the governess of two young ladies who, ironically enough, are (despite their age) just as spoiled and silly as the three toddlers. Being in their company all day long keeps Agnes closed up like a shell. She never shares her heart with them, and she takes their sometimes cruel jokes with a grain of salt.

However, Agnes’s true self can finally be seen popping out of it’s shell when she meets a young curate of a nearby parish named Mr. Weston. Besides her family, Agnes has never shared her heart’s sadness or despair with anyone. She even asks herself why he cares to listen and engage with her in such sentimental conversations.

“And why should he interest himself at all in my moral and intellectual capacities: what is it to him what I think or feel?” I asked myself.

And my heart throbbed in answer to the question.

– From Agnes Grey, Chapter Fifteen, “The Walk”

Agnes’s constant loneliness in the world away from her family allows her to realize a warm, sincere person in Mr. Weston. The rejection she meets among her fellows and her distinct personality set her apart from the rest of society. She finds herself different, and yet, she sees people similar to herself in her family…and also in Mr. Weston.

When true friends are lacking in Agnes’s life, she knows what she will look for in a husband. Because of the rarity of Mr. Weston, Agnes was able to see him through the fog of loneliness.

I also feel similar to Agnes in this way, because when I am not surrounded by friends my own age as I see most girls my age doing, I am surrounded by the like-minded souls of my family. And in their souls, I see what I will look for in a husband.

While I live in the most loving home, soaking up the kindred spirits of my family, I will learn what to look for when I meet him. And as I journey through the real world, living without a circle of chums around me, I will be filled with hope as I continue onward towards the future husband I await.

What did I learn from Agnes Grey, and why should you read it? As a Christian, Agnes taught me the value of solitude. She taught me the virtue in patience, and she showed me what it means to be set apart. She showed me what it means to be different and what it means to be alone.

And that it’s okay.

And in her darkest moments of loneliness, Agnes writes home and cries out to God.

Well, there it is, my lovely readers! Another spotlight post completed! I am so excited over these posts I’ve been writing. The list is getting longer on the spotlight page. I am anxious to see how many more I can complete before 2018 is over…

Right now I am currently reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s another Victorian novel (those are the most delicious of books), and I am truly loving the heroine of the story: Margaret Hale.

I’ll let you know all about it as soon as I finish reading it! And I need to watch the BBC mini-series. AH! Richard Armitage is Mr. Thonrton???

Alright, Meine Leiben (my lovelies), I will write soon! Stay updated, and if you haven’t already, please be sure to like this post. Leave a comment, because they always make my day. And, if you’re new to my blog, be sure to subscribe to get my posts right to your inbox.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Emily 🐻

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