31 July 2010


So Anne "The One Who Didn't Glorify Byronic Douchebags" Brontë's Agnes Grey really started out strong: the eponymous heroine (O how I love this phrase. Also when it employs the word "titular," although it always makes me giggle) becomes a governess to help support her family after her clergyman father loses a ton of money in a dodgy investment. The first family she's placed with--the Bloomfields--are masterfully demonic, the parents simultaneously indulgent and distant, the three children (as is to be expected with such an upbringing) gleefully obdurate little sociopaths, led by an heir who enjoys torturing baby birds. It's a great portrait of the plight of the hired caretaker: all the responsibility for the children's progress, no authority to enforce it.

This theme carries through the beginnings of her second position, with the rich and vulgar Murrays; Agnes describes her job as being "to render [the girls] as superficially attractive, and showily accomplished, as they could possibly be made without present trouble or discomfort to themselves . .. to study and strive to amuse and oblige, instruct, refine, and polish, with the least possible exertion on their part, and no exercise of authority on mine." Again, frustrations familiar to any teacher. But then, the parish gets a new curate, full of informed abilities--we are told many times of his marvelous, simple, humble sermons, but never hear a word. Miss Grey gets all gushy, and the book turns into Mansfield Park, the only boring Austen novel.

I know that in the long run, the broody, tortured male leads of Jane Eyre and especially Wuthering Heights (which can more or less be blamed for the more disgusting in-the-name-of-love excesses of Twilight) are worse romantic ideals for ladies than the sedate, nice-to-poor-old-ladies-and-kittens Mr. Weston of Agnes Grey--and Agnes is no flashy dame herself, so I'm sure she is as happy as Austen's Fanny Price is with Mr. Snoozeville Edmund. But good and kind do not equate to dull; it's still hard to find books that recognize this fact.


  1. Well, then again, who can resist a good curate? Certainly not me, if I'd ever met one. SJC is doing a seminar on Mansfield Park -- did you get that calendar? -- in it, Ms. Adams admits that Fanny is "lacking Elizabeth Bennet's intelligence, Emma Woodhouse's spirit, and Anne Eliot's fortitude [and] appears to some readers as passive and bland." Oh man, sign me up!

  2. I finally looked up the difference between a vicar, a rector, and a curate! It has to do with the way they're paid--curate being the poorest, who only has a salary paid by the rector. #themoreyouknow

  3. Read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It's made Anne my favorite Brontë sister, just as Mark predicted. I actually had trouble putting it down, and wasn't sure what was going to happen!


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