Review: Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

61816951With her satire on Anglo-Irish landlords in Castle Rackrent (1800), Maria Edgeworth pioneered the regional novel and inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814). Politically risky, stylistically innovative, and wonderfully entertaining, the novel changes the focus of conflict in Ireland from religion to class, and boldly predicts the rise of the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie.

I can see why this book is so important in the history of women writers and political satire, however, I just found it quite a boring book. At least it’s a short boring book. There was little to interest the modern reader, and Thady Quirk was really not the most interesting of unreliable narrators.

Maria Edgeworth herself is a very interesting woman, and one whose works I would like to explore with more detail, in the vague hopes that it will be more interesting than this novella. Her writing really hasn’t translated well to modern life, and I think someone who was not familiar with the practice of rack renting and the absentee landlord system in place in Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries would find this book completely boggling without further context.

Thady tells his story with quite a dull narrative voice, though there are parts where he is comically thick. The story of his son’s rise to riches is pretty implausible, though I kind of felt like he was one of the more reasonable characters, since he didn’t seem like a total idiot… money snatching and devious, but not as thick or cruel as others.

Regardless, I was glad to get this book over with, which didn’t take too long, since it’s only around 100 pages long, with extensive footnotes. I felt like there could have been magic there, but it fell pretty flat in comparison to less heavy handed satires of society at the time.

2/5 stars.

Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

18300270Elinor is as prudent as her sister Marianne is impetuous. Each must learn from the other after they are they are forced by their father’s death to leave their home and enter into the contests of polite society. The charms of unsuitable men and the schemes of rival ladies mean that their paths to success are thwart with disappointment but together they attempt to find a way to happiness.

I have been wary of tackling this book for years, because I love the Emma Thompson movie version (Alan Rickman will forever be Snape and Colonel Brandon to me! Bless his soul.) I really didn’t want to be disappointed in the book, and had kind of tiptoed around beginning it at all. At Christmas time, however, I had a craving for Austen and thought that it was the perfect time to take on this book, leaving only Emma and Mansfield Park on my unread Austen pile. I’m frankly not looking forward to those two, because Emma seems like a character who will be really annoying and everyone seems to think Mansfield Park is the worst of the bunch.

This was reaaaaaaally slow for the first third, and I was having major trouble staying focussed on the book, which is so unlike me with an Austen! I was feeling pretty negative about it all, and disappointed in the flow of the book, so I limped along for a few days.

Slowly, I was totally immersed and couldn’t put it down! I was giggling at bits, reading out sections to my poor fiancee, who had no prior knowledge of the plot and the social etiquette being broken by the passage. It was absolutely hilarious at points!

Marianne was a difficult character for me to like, because she could be so rude and cruel to those who were kind to her, simply because she disliked some aspect of their character; mainly, that they offended her romantic view of the world. However, as the novel progressed, she became far more measured in attitude, especially after her climactic illness.

“And Marianne, who had the knack of finding her way in every house to the library, however it might be avoided by the family in general, soon procured herself a book.”

I don’t generally frequent homes with libraries, but I feel I would be the same!

Elinor was a far more relatable character for me, though I really wished in the beginning that she’d grow more of a backbone. She puts up with so much from her mother, sister and other relations, it’s no wonder she really wanted to get married and away from it all!

Austen has left the prolonged felicity of the couples in doubt, ending the book at a point that implies that the future is not necessarily stable. I like this about Austen, as she manages to combine the fairytale endings with stark reality, leaving there enough mystery for the future to get the reader thinking. I’d love to know how Marianne and Brandon got on, and whether Willoughby’s wife’s behaviour improved.

Overall, because of the slow start, i’d rate this book at the 3.5 star point. It’s far better than Northanger Abbey, but not as good as Pride and Prejudice. I felt like it was about on par with Persuasion, which I also very much enjoyed. Now I’ll have to go on to read the last two relatively soon, as I’m reading my way through the important classics from the 18th Century onwards!

 

#CCWomensClassics Review: Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton

15832465Barbara Baynton’s short-story collection Bush Studies is famous for its stark realism—for not romanticising bush life, instead showing all its bleakness and harshness.

Economic of style, influenced by the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists, Baynton presents the Australian bush as dangerous and isolating for the women who inhabit it.

‘The terror Baynton evokes,’ Helen Garner writes in her introduction to the book, ‘is elemental, sexual, unabashedly female.’

Oh, dear. What a disappointing collection. It had so much promise, so much potential to be wonderful, but it failed. I have had a run of bad luck with Text Classics books, which I’m sure is not indicative of their value, but of my hopes and desires. They are all great examples of Australian Gothic literature, but are deeply flawed and uneven in quality.

If all the stories in this collection were as good as the last one, I would have enjoyed the experience and recommended it. “The Chosen Vessel” was gripping and frightening, and had me well within its clutches. Swagmen are an essential part of Australian colonial culture, and are almost always depicted as a jolly nuisance that one must feed, give work and tolerate. Baynton flips this on it’s head and turns him into a figure of terror. The “heroic” stockman is a figure of idiocy and religious fervour, not the lighthearted saviour of the usual kind. The villainy of the patriarchy is on show, from the husband who sneers at his wife’s fear to the swagman who feels he has the right to not only take her body, but her life.

Baynton knew too well the horrors of living alone in the bush, and how frightening it could be for a woman. Each woman in the stories is a different archetype, from the masculine Mary in “Squeaker’s Mate” to the timid governess in “Billy Skywonkie”. All face a myriad of terrors, not only in the stories, but before and after them. Baynton is not optimistic or positive about life in the bush for a woman, setting the role of a bushman’s wife as a hellish experience, contradicting the typical 19th century ideas of life on the land.

However, Baynton’s storytelling technique is at points nigh on impenetrable, her dialogue a complete mess and the narration confusing. I found myself backtracking over and over, having missed what on earth was going on, and jumping back to find my question is inexplicably unanswered. I’m not sure if Baynton actually intended this, or if it’s just me, or her fault as a writer. Action scenes were hard to follow, and I ended up skim reading stories like “Scrammy ‘And” because I simply couldn’t work out who was who and what was happening.

The dialogue is stilted and makes very little sense at times, even with reading it aloud and having a pretty decent knowledge of Australian slang, accents and older terminology. In her attempt to depict language as it sounded, Baynton has completely muddled it and made it far more difficult for the reader than necessary. The better stories are those with little dialogue, namely the first half of “Squeaker’s Mate, “The Chosen Vessel” and “A Dreamer”. The others are dialogue heavy, making them confusing and unenjoyable.

“I know who yer thort ’twas, Warder!” They were sitting side by side, yet he spoke very loudly. “Scrammy ‘and, ehm?” He had guessed correctly. “An’ yer thort yer see ‘im lars’ night!” He was right again. “An’ yer thort ’twas ‘im that ‘ad bin ramsakin’ the place yesterday, when we was shepherdin’. An’ yer thort ‘t must ‘ave bin ‘im shook the tommy!”

(Scrammy ‘And, pg.28)

That’s a pretty standard set of dialogue, which does make sense, but takes a little bit of interpreting. That, set over the length of a story, (and it does get worse) then over several stories, gets old really quickly. I don’t even mind a bit of phonetic dialogue, but Baynton has taken it too far.

Helen Garner, in her introduction, is tough but fair on the collection. She raises many of the points that I have, and critiques Baynton’s attitude towards the bush and humanity. I enjoyed the introduction more than half the stories, which is a first for me!

If you would still like to read them, and I do recommend the three that I mentioned as good earlier, you can find them here for free. I wouldn’t spend too much money on them, though they are published by Text Publishing, so a free pdf is a good idea, and one I wish I’d known about before purchasing the book.

These are a grim set of stories, but unfortunately I will not be recommending more than three of them and regret buying this. But hey, you live and learn and there are plenty more books on the shelf!

2/5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday (on a Wednesday…again): Favourite Books of 2015

91e47-toptentuesdayAgain, I’m terribly disorganised and didn’t get around to writing this post when it should have been written. I’ve been quite ill and totally exhausted, as well as trying to organise things for Christmas, so my poor blog has had to take a back seat.

I have read so many good books this year, and many of them will be similar to my TTT post last week, but so what… it’s time to wax lyrical about this year’s favourites!

  1. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovich
  2. Orkney by Amy Sackville
  3. Bid Me to Live by H.D.
  4. The Silk Worm by Robert Galbraith
  5. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters + The Lake House by Kate Morton
  6. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  8. The Female Malady by Elaine Showalter
  9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  10. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

 

Rivers of London is a damn good book. I’ve been at and at people to read it… most commonly my fiancee, poor bugger. It’s hilarious and very cleverly written. I’m trying to ration out the rest of the series, since I don’t want to devour them all and be left with no more left!

Orkney was my first Amy Sackville novel, and not my last, as I also read The Still Point recently. The prose is gorgeous and I loved the slowly unravelling story, laced with mysteries and unspoken, unseen moments.16057621

Bid Me to Live is a very special book to me. I fell in love with H.D.’s work whilst reading it, and it’s changed a lot of my thoughts about how and why literature is written. The Female Malady comes in here too, because it utterly changed my perception of the way women have been treated as humans and as writers- same goes for A Room of One’s Own, which I read on New Years Day, not realising how important it would be to my year.

I haven’t yet finished reading The Silk Worm, but I already know this is one of my favourites for the year! It’s sucked me straight in and I’m very sure I’ll break my moratorium on unmatched series sizes to get the third book tomorrow.24661340

Fingersmith took me way too long to read, having lost my copy halfway through, but once I found it again I chomped the rest down in one very satisfying gulp! The Lake House by Kate Morton is getting thrown in here too, because I seriously can’t choose between them. It’s all too hard!!!

North and South was a wonderful novel, and I’m sure to be reading more Gaskell soon. An honourable mention also goes to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, who sadly missed out in favour of Gaskell!

The Bell Jar came at the perfect moment for me, so though I am sad I spent so long without it, I am glad I read it at a time when it would speak to me so perfectly.

Reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was an effort, since it was one of my forays into audiobooks, but the story and the magic of it sucked me straight in. Jim Dale’s narration was spot on, and was really what got this (somewhat flawed) book over the line for me.

Coming in last place is Between the Acts, simply because I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of reading it. It was a bit like having your guts smashed and put in a blender. However, it was one of the most heart 526033rending and gorgeous books I’ve ever read, beating Jacob’s Room on that point alone. The desperation and sadness in this novel isn’t just an undercurrent; it is the whole feeling and it slams the reader so hard it hurts.

I know I’ve put a few sneaky extras in here, but it was WAY too hard to choose ten favourites out of the 99 books I’ve read so far this year!

Yep, I’m one book off my goal of 100 books read in 2015, which I’m fairly sure beats all my other goals by about 20 books!

Top Ten Tuesday (on a Wednesday!)- Ten Authors I Discovered in 2015

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I have been very much off the ball, and didn’t think I’d do this week’s TTT, but I have decided against it and want to discuss some of my favourite new -to-me authors I’ve come across this year!

As usual, this list is in no particular order, because really, they’re all very wonderful and deserve some love.

  1. Amy Sackville  

I first read Orkney in August on a recommendation from Kirsty @ the Literary Sisters, and absolutely adored it. I then read The Still Point in the last few weeks and loved that as well, though I think Orkney still has my heart.

      2. H.D. hdpoet

H.D. has literally changed my life, and changed how I view reading and writing. She has challenged me to the point of tears, but she is rewarding to the point of euphoria. I absolutely adore her as a woman, but her novel Bid Me to Live is one of my favourite books EVER. I also read Asphodel this year, which was an incredibly tough book, but again, rewarding. Her poetry is lovely, and I’ve been pacing myself well, only reading Sea Garden this year, though I have bought beautiful first editions  of The Walls Do Not Fall and Tribute to the Angels. 2015-10-17 17.08.35

3. Deborah Harkness

I’m about to start the second book in the All Souls trilogy, hopefully today, but so far I’ve really enjoyed her style. Yes, it’s not top quality literature, but it’s been an enjoyable ride and I’m glad to have got into her work!

4. Elizabeth Gaskell

Oh, how I loved North and South! I devoured it, and my (already high!) expectations were well and truly surpassed. I also read The Old Nurse’s Storya short ghost story which was also quite fun.

5. E.M. Delafield

I can’t wait to read some more of the Provincial Lady next year! I loved Diary of a Provincial Lady, and now have all the rest of the series, so I’ll get cracking on it soon enough!

6. Ray Bradbury

I’ve been recommending Fahrenheit 451 to anyone who will listen since I read it in February. I loved his dystopian future, and the creepily prophetic nature of the story.

7. Marghanita Laskim-laski

The Victorian Chaise-Longue was wonderfully creepy, and I’ve found myself pondering the ending well after I finished. I’m very excited to read more of her work, as I’ve heard even more wonderful things about her other books.

8. Ben Aaronovich

Another series I’ve been recommending EVERYONE is the Peter Grant series, beginning with Rivers of LondonI’ve read the first two books, and both have had me giggling my head off like a crazy lady. For those who are trying to read books with diverse characters, this is one to go for, as Peter is half West African.

9. Allen Ginsberg

Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems was my introduction to the Beat Generation, and one that I do not regret. Having read it has come in handy over the last few months, and I really want to go back and re-read it again… there’s so much more to it. Very dirty, very gritty, but fantastic.

10. P.G. Wodehouse

Ahhhh, Jeeves. Such fun. I will need to read far more of his work, but I’ve had such a good introduction.

 

There are a few more authors that I wish I could have mentioned here, but since I’ve read them before 2015 I couldn’t. However, this year has been the year I’ve really appreciated and fallen in love with their work. These writers are Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Sarah Waters and Henrik Ibsen. There are so many writers that deserve mentioning, but I just can’t list them all! However, here is the link to my 2015 Goodreads reading list, so if you’d like to pop over there and have a look at what I’ve been up to, and maybe become my friend, that’d be fabulous!

 

Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell’s compassionate, richly dramatic novel features one of the most original and fully-rounded female characters in Victorian fiction, Margaret Hale. It shows how, forced to move from the country to an industrial town, she develops a passionate sense of social justice, and a turbulent relationship with mill-owner John Thornton.

I have seen the BBC Mini series several times, but for some reason had not tackled the book yet. I guess that I was slightly worried that it wouldn’t measure up to how much I love the series, and would thus disappoint me. I was entirely wrong. This book made me run the gamut of emotions, including a spell of hysterical sobs which made my partner think I’d had some kind of awful news delivered to me!

I loved Margaret Hale, for all her sass and fortitude. She definitely had balls, and wasn’t afraid to tell people where they were wrong. I did become annoyed with her by the end, as she really did make life far more difficult for herself and others the was strictly necessary… I wanted to shake her and say “Come on! Just TELL them!”

Thornton was far mellower than the Prince Broody McBroodypants that Richard Armitage portrays him as in the screen adaptation, and I can see why they made the change. He obviously has his major flaws, but mostly he makes Margaret look a bit bitchy, when you really think about it. Neither of them gave the other a chance though. I found their romance really quite sweet, and liked how Gaskell gave us both sides of the story.

Mostly, I found the contrasts between the South and Milton to be fascinating, and loved how Gaskell slowly makes Margaret understand that farm life isn’t all haystacks and baby alpacas. It was a tough life for farm labourers in the 19th century, and Margaret shows at first an idyllic wilful blindness to what is placed before her, simply because she finds country life so charming. Watching her development from naïve young girl to a much wiser woman was great.

I wish that I hadn’t left reading this for so long… It’s probably going to be in my top reads of 2015 and has influenced how I have read other 9th century women’s fiction (I read The Three Miss Kings immediately afterwards and saw many parallels) as well as how I look back at other novels I’ve read in the past. I’ve seen several critiques of the novel and disagree with most of the criticisms levelled at it, particularly those that believe the book to be a simple mimicry of other writer’s work. Of course, it is similar to others, but I wouldn’t call it mimicry, as every writer has their influences, and it probably didn’t help that Dickens himself edited the work!

North and South is a wonderful, thought provoking novel that isn’t afraid to tread on a few toes. I did find the preaching sections a bit tiresome, but they are an important part of the novel. The gender and sexual politics running throughout the novel are fascinating and give the novel a good dollop of tension, which is very much needed in a novel like this. It’s also far sexier than it is given credit for, with a healthy streak of sexual tension running through the novel.

I wished the ending was a bit more drawn out, ie. I’d have liked to have seen a bit more of the romance. It was cut off very abruptly, which bothered me somewhat… The book is over 500 pages, so surely we should be rewarded for sticking through all that love/hate stuff and get some kisses! I have no idea what Gaskell had to cut out to fit into Dickens’ word limits, but she was suitably annoyed at having to cut her story short, and that is possibly why it is how it is, even with the re-editing to put in missing sections not published in the initial serials.

Overall, this was a 4.5 star read for me, losing half a star only because of the ending feeling so rushed. It takes a very special book to make you truly forget the world around you… Especially when that world involves a noisy television and people trying to talk to you!

4.5/5 stars

Review: The Catcher in the Rye

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two haemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

I know that most people have strong reactions to this book. It seems to either be adored or abhorred. I somewhat expected to hate it, if I’m perfectly honest. I didn’t expect to feel rather ambivalent about it all though. It’s rare for me to feel totally “meh” about a “classic” novel, because I just tend to have strong opinions.

I didn’t hate Holden though. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with him, but I understood why he was how he was. The trauma of your brother dying, and being sent away to school, taking you away from your baby sister who you love, would be a really horrible thing for any teenager to deal with. It seems Holden’s parents didn’t think too hard about that little issue… and the way Holden puts it, they don’t think about him very much at all. I don’t think that’s entirely true, but he is really alienated from his family, his peers and the adults who are trying to guide him. His bursting into tears whilst under pressure shows that there’s more going on underneath this cynical exterior.

Holden is really the biggest “phony” in the novel, and that’s pretty much the point, or so it seemed to me. He’s extremely hypocritical; for example, swearing in front of his sister, then getting angry that someone wrote swear words on the school wall… as if that’s somehow different. He’s obsessed with innocence, yet he isn’t innocent himself.

I just didn’t really care about what happened all that much, I didn’t care if Holden went home or went to Seattle or whatever. It all just fell flat and I was thrilled to finally reach the end of the book. I don’t think that that’s really the best impression a book could have.

I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, I don’t think I am Holden or that he’s a useless whiner. It is what it is, and that is definitely not the book for me.

2.5/5 Stars

Women’s Classic Literature Event for Classics Club

“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature … Continue reading

Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando ‘The longest and most charming love letter in literature’, playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf’s close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Spanning three centuries, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth’s England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces his experience with first love as England under James I lies locked in the embrace of the Great Frost. At the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Costantinople, awakes to find that he is a woman, and the novel indulges in farce and irony to consider the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the novel ends in 1928, a year consonant with full suffrage for women. Orlando, now a wife and mother, stands poised at the brink of a future that holds new hope and promise for women.

Because I’m a gossip and a sneak, I’ve always been rather interested in Virginia Woolf’s relationship with Vita Sackville-West. Two big names in literature and society, two strong women, two LGBT women masquerading as straight in a world that wouldn’t like them much if they knew the truth… what’s not to be interested in? That’s why when this gender bending, time jumping novel got assigned to me at university this year, I was pretty excited. I thought, “hey, here’s a Woolf I can really sink my teeth into. This sounds awesome!”

Alas… no. I found it to seem too smug and self-congratulatory, I found the casual racism jarring (though, it is Woolf, I should probably be used to it by now) and it just overall felt wrong. Maybe I’ve just read too much Woolf this year. Maybe I just really find some of her thoughts quite unacceptable. Maybe it’s just my love/hate relationship with Virginia shining through. I prefer her critical work, like A Room of One’s Own and The Common Reader, which I recently read, to her fiction. In these books, she has a fire in her. I don’t see it as much in her fiction.

Orlando is split into two sections- his time as a male and her time as a female. I found the transitioning period the most interesting, when she was learning what it is to be a women- what she must forgo, what is suddenly unacceptable, what her clothes will do to her ability to be free. This was the most fascinating part of the novel, and I think Woolf nailed it.

[She found herself] dragged down by the weight of the crinoline which she had submissively adopted. It was heavier and more drab than any dress she had yet worn. None had ever so impeded her movements. No longer could she stride through the garden with her dogs, or run lightly to the high mound and fling herself beneath the oak tree. Her skirts collected damp leaves and straw. The plumed hat tossed on the breeze. The thin shoes were quickly soaked and mud-caked. Her muscles had lost their pliancy. She became nervous lest there should be robbers behind the wainscot and afraid, for the first time in her life, of ghosts in the corridors.

Orlando doesn’t weaken as a woman, but the reality of what she must fear now, as opposed to her time as a man, renders her jumpy. The thought of a robber, who previously offered no threat but to the purse, now becomes a sexual menace. The ghosts that wander the hallways are now the people she knew when she was a young man, since she has an unnamed and undiscussed ability to continue living through the centuries. This isn’t submission- it’s self preservation.

The novel opens with Orlando hitting the shrunken head of a black man with a stick, and personally, I found this decapitated piñata image, with its racial overtones, pretty foul. To open a novel like that put a bad taste in my mouth and really didn’t help me to want to like Orlando. The race stuff continues with his experiences with a Russian princess, and then during his time in Turkey. I know Woolf herself was quite racist and classist, making it a bit of a challenge for me to get along with her as a personality, but this is the worst of it that I’ve seen in her fiction. Satire or not, I found it distasteful and cheap, well below her ability as a writer.

I also felt like the narration was a bit smarmy and self congratulatory, like “Oh, I’ve written a clever novel, look at me!” Sackville-West’s son calls it “the longest and most charming love letter in literature” but I just don’t see it. Yes, she does some very clever things with time, literature and the way that gender is written, and there’s some pretty awesome moments, but something just felt awry in the narration. It turned what could have been a 4-5 star read to me into a 2.5-3 star, and that’s pretty disappointing.

So in all, Mrs Dalloway is still winning as my favourite Woolf novel, closely followed by Between the Acts. I still have quite a few on my shelves and on my Kindle to get through, which will be either a slog or revelatory- who knows!

2.75/5 stars

Vault Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

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At age 19 Anne Brontë left home and worked as a governess for a few years before becoming a writer. Agnes Grey was an 1847 novel based on her experience as a governess. Bronte depicts the precarious position of a governess and how that can affect a young woman. Agnes was the daughter of a minister whose family was in financial difficulty. She has only a few choices for employment. Agnes experiences the difficulty of reining in spoiled children and how wealth can corrupt morals.

I think if I had to pick a Brontë sister to have tea with, I would pick Anne. She seems to have such spunk and takes more risks with her subject matter than Charlotte and Emily. I shudder to think if her previous employers read this book- in this day, she would probably have been sued for libel! I also feel infinitely sorry for Anne. She’s been largely forgotten by history, mainly due to her sister’s interference. Charlotte disapproved of Anne’s subject matter- particularly that of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and blocked further publication of the novel. Agnes Grey was sent to the sidelines, dwarfed by Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. 

Agnes Grey is a clergyman’s daughter. Her father lost his money, and in an effort to support her family, Agnes seeks employment as a governess. Her first situation is close to home, educating the children of a Mr and Mrs Bloomfield. Poor Agnes! The children are absolutely foul, Tom in particular. I’ve never come across such a vile creature! He delights in tormenting Agnes, beats his sisters and, most disgustingly, abuses small animals. The child literally rips baby birds limb from limb. I felt like leaping into the book and going all apeshit on the situation.

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After surviving this, Agnes is fired for not adequately educating these wild animals. Quite frankly, Agnes should have slapped the mother, shot the father and uncle and left the damn kids in the snow to freeze. The world would have been a better place. The repeated references to animal cruelty throughout the novel made me feel quite revolted and uncomfortable. It shows the attitudes of some people at the time but I found it quite upsetting as an animal lover.

She then takes on a situation further from home, for the older Murray girls. Agnes is again bullied terribly by these girls and fails to educate them or instil much wisdom into the incorrigible girls. This shows the utter isolation many governesses felt- they were not equal to their charges, but not a servant. They were stuck in a limbo of classes, unable to move higher without marrying above her station.

I can almost hear Jane Austen in some sections of this book, particularly in the descriptions of the Murray girls’ behaviour. Rosalie makes Mrs Bennet seem sensible and even Lydia would have been scandalised by Matilda!

Luckily, Agnes gets a happy ending- much more than Anne did. There is some thought that this novel is partially autobiographical, and I can see why. I felt Agnes was probably not a good governess, but her situations were pretty hopeless. I was hoping she would grow a bit of a backbone, but was disappointed. I think Anne must have put a great deal of herself into Agnes, so perhaps that explains Agnes’ sometimes snarky inner monologue while remaining rather meek. Even Charlotte likened Anne to a nun, which I think was a bit unfair. Give the poor girl a break, Charlotte!

This book is deep into the moralising. If you thought Jane Eyre was heavy on the morals, Agnes Grey will shock you. I don’t enjoy this kind of thing but realise that this was an important part of Victorian literature. I just skipped those passages. Unfortunately, the moralising infiltrates the love story aspect of this novel and, for me, ruined the ending. I wish I hadn’t read the last paragraph.

The love story was also a bit of a disappointment. I would have liked to spend more time with Mr Weston. Agnes fixates on him a great deal but there isn’t much to show that he loves her until right at the end. Even then, it’s rather truncated and REALLY lacks passion. Anyone up for some elbow touching lovin’?

No?

Oh.

Okay.

I liked Agnes Grey, though it made me feel rather uncomfortable in parts. It’s a rather short novel but felt much longer than it was. It’s an interesting look into a first Brontë novel, especially if you’ve not read anything by Anne before. I hear The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a vast improvement on Agnes Grey, so I’m looking forward to reading that in the future. I wish Anne had lived longer in order to have her happy ending, but I suppose we must be happy with Agnes’ triumph.

3 stars