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Literature / Agnes Grey

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Agnes Grey is a 1847 novel written by Anne Brontë, the least well-known Brontë sister. Her first novel, it told the story of her own experience as a governess.

The main character, Agnes, is the daughter of a minister who loses his money. She gets one of the only jobs available to women at the time, being a governess for rich families. The book recounts realistically what a governess had to put up with at the time.

Printed as the final volume to sister Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, it was given a fairly positive reaction but, as Jane Eyre had been published beforehand, a question of authorship was raised. Subsequent popular and scholarly interest in Anne's work had many reviewers saying if she wasn't a Brontë it would still be in print.


Tropes related to the book:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Rosalie admits part of what draws her to Sir Thomas Ashby is that he is "wicked."
  • As the Good Book Says...: Since Agnes is the daughter of a pastor who falls in love with a clergyman, Bible quotes come up a lot. Characters who use them well are shown to be very moral, pious, and studious. Characters who misquote passages are shown to be shallow, ignorant, hypocritical, and/or amoral.
  • Attention Whore: Rosalie Murray.
  • Authority in Name Only: Agnes learns the hardest part of being a governess is she's expected to educate unruly, hedonistic, disobedient children, but she is not allowed to actually discipline them if they ignore her or their studies.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Rosalie Murray with Sir Thomas Ashby. Anne Brontë later recycled this plot (with a much more sympathetic character) in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
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  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Anne Brontë is not subtle about holding this view. Only cruel and unsympathetic characters mistreat animals while kind and sympathetic characters are always pointedly shown to be kind to them instead.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Agnes ponders this trope a lot.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The Bloomsfield's younger daughter and the Murray's youngest son act like perfect angels to their parents but little monsters to Agnes, and they often get her in trouble by pretending she abused them to their parents.
  • Bratty Half Pints: The Bloomsfield children, naturally.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Agnes internally laments that Tom Bloomsfield and Rosalie Murray are very quick, clever students when they put their minds to it, but they prefer hedonistic indulgences instead.
  • Character Title: No two guesses who the main character is.
  • Creepy Child: Tom Bloomfield loves torturing baby birds and small animals... and then his parents get mad at Agnes for interfering with their son's fun!
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Agnes. She's the baby of her family and is so sheltered by her well-meaning but somewhat condescending mother and older sister that she longs to see the world and test her abilities. She becomes a governess, hoping to find meaning by teaching children.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Rosalie Murray prevents Agnes from seeing her Prince Charming Mr. Weston by giving her too much work to do.
    • Rosalie Murray also despises her own daughter because she knows by the time the girl grows up she will eclipse her as the Fairest of Them All.
  • Emotionless Girl: Agnes has to become this in order to survive being in charge of the 3 sociopathic Bloomfield children.
  • Fallen Princess: Agnes's mother; possibly a Rebellious Princess since she fell of her own free will in order to marry her husband.
  • Female Misogynist: Rosalie Murray is not subtle about seeing most women as obstacles for the endless male attention she craves. She also hates her own daughter for not being born a boy. (Partly because she knows her daughter will eclipse her beauty and male attention when she grows older, which Rosalie is already jealous of.)
  • Friend to All Living Things: Agnes Grey in spades. Part of what draws her to Mr. Weston is his kindness to animals too.
  • Gold Digger: Following her materialistic mother's advice, Rosalie Murray marries Sir Thomas Ashby for his money and title. This backfires on her spectacularly.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Mr. Bloomsfield yells and swears over every little thing. Even asking his wife what kind of fish she ordered for dinner and her not being able to provide a specific answer sets him off.
  • The Hedonist: Tom Bloomfield is a young, violent version; Rosalie Murray is an older, more devious version. Rich, aloof parents in general seem determined to raise their children to be this by never disciplining them and refusing to permit anyone else to.
  • Heir Club for Men: Half the reason Sir Thomas Ashby and Rosalie Murray are disappointed to have a daughter.
  • Hidden Depths: For all Rosalie's vanity, frivolity, and heartless coquetry, deep inside there is a brilliant young woman who is capable of real empathy, affection, and even love. This frustrates Agnes all the more that her mother encouraged her vices so they overtook her character.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Mr. Hatfield for Rosalie Murray.
  • Hurting Heroine: Poor Agnes. She has to put up a lot as governess.
  • Hypocrite: Mr. Hatfield, the Horton rector.
  • Idle Rich: Pretty much every family Agnes works for.
  • Inherent in the System: Most rich children grow up to be hedonistic, amoral twits because their rich parents hire social inferiors to raise and educate them, then encourage their children to disrespect their nurses and governesses as social inferiors. They refuse to discipline them when they slack off in their studies but won't let anyone else do it either and thus ensure their kids grow up to be just as spoiled, ignorant, and amoral as them to continue the cycle.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Contrary to how children were depicted in literature at the time, Anne Brontë pulls no punches in exposing how horrible children can be from her time as a governess.
  • Kick the Dog: We know Mr. Hatfield is no truly pious Christian because he kicks Nancy's cat and Agnes's dog. Mr. Weston, on the other hand, treats said cat and dog quite tenderly and even rescues each of them once.
  • Lack of Empathy: Literally every rich person Agnes has the displeasure to work for or be acquainted with.
  • The Lad-ette: Matilda Murray, which, needless to say given the setting, does not go over well for her.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Rosalie Murray marries Sir Thomas Ashby for his title and money, thinking his horrible personality and looks are no big deal and she'll be able to reform him anyway. Within a few years, she's thoroughly miserable in her Awful Wedded Life.
  • Like Goes with Like: Agnes is drawn to Mr. Weston because they are both kind, humble, pious, average-looking people who love animals. He returns her affections.
  • Love Hurts: Agnes to Mr. Weston, when it seems clear to her he'll never return her affections. She's later proven wrong.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Rosalie Murray, bordering on The Vamp.
  • Marry for Love: Agnes tries to get Rosalie Murray to accept this; she fails.
  • Mercy Kill: Agnes is forced to crush a nest of baby birds with a large stone to save them from being tortured for hours on end by Tom Bloomsfield. It devastates her, to say the least.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Pretty much every rich man Agnes encounters, to some degree. Sir Thomas Ashby is especially notorious for his "wicked" ways (drinking, gambling, womanizing, etc), but Rosalie Murray marries him, thinking she can change him. The predictable aftermath happens, and she is miserable indeed.
  • Never My Fault: The Bloomsfields refuse to discipline their unruly, sociopathic children (and refuse to let Agnes do it either), but they then blame Agnes when they fall behind in their studies.
    • Matilda Murry says this almost verbatim when called out for swearing and blaspheming so much. She always retorts that it's not her fault, blame father for teaching her.
  • Nice Guy: Mr. Weston. In striking contrast to other Brontë love interests he's remarkably stable, good-natured and compassionate.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Mr. Weston doesn't treat Agnes like she's invisible just because she's a governess.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Rosalie Murray's marriage to Sir Thomas Ashby.
  • Nouveau Riche: The Bloomsfields are tradespeople who gained wealth through mercantile success rather than through inheriting it like the Murrays.
  • Odd Friendship: Or rather, the closest thing to friendship someone like Rosalie Murray can have with her governess. Agnes finds she likes Rosalie despite her thoughtless vanity, and Rosalie often confides in Agnes because of how honest and dependable she is.
  • Only Sane Woman: Agnes. Frequently.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: The backstory and a running plot thread: when Agnes's mother chose to marry a poor parson, she was disowned by her father. Despite annual visits with her daughters to her childhood home, they never even saw him.
  • The Pollyanna: Agnes keeps her pluckiness through the entire book despite all the crap she puts up with.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The preface for her second novel (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) mentions that "...the story of ‘Agnes Grey’ was accused of extravagant over-colouring in those very parts that were carefully copied from the life, with a most scrupulous avoidance of all exaggeration..."
  • Rich Bitch: Rosalie Murray — how else would you describe a girl who has every man in town except one wrapped around her finger, and not only determines to make that one want her despite not caring the least bit about him but deliberately strives to keep a girl she knows has genuine feelings for him from getting to see him?
  • Samaritan Relationship Starter: Agnes hears a lot of good things about Mr. Weston, but the first time she really meets him is just after rescuing Nancy's cat from getting killed by the gameskeeper. He stumbled upon said cat because he was his way to visiting Nancy to check in on her due to her poor health and read the Bible to her to lift her spirits. This is, incidentally, when Agnes first develops feelings for him.
  • The Scapegoat: Unruly children falling behind in their studies because they refuse to learn and their parents refuse to discipline them or let anyone else do it? Blame the governess!
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: After Mr. Grey's death, his wife receives a letter from her father telling her she can come back and her daughters will be heiresses if she will just say that she regrets marrying. All three Grey women (she would have done it had her daughters wanted the money) tell him to go to hell.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Agnes Grey is drawn to the rather rough and solemn-looking Edward Weston because he's very kind, studious, and pious. Her older sister Mary similarly falls in love with and marries a kind, studious pastor (much to Rosalie's disgust).
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Mr. Bloomsfield and Mr. Murray both swear and blaspheme like crazy, which horrifies Agnes. Matilda Murray also picks up this habit from her father, much to her governess's, mother's, and sister's chagrin.
  • Spoiled Brats: All of the children she ends up being a governess to.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Matilda and Rosalie Murray.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Only Agnes sees something wrong with Tom Bloomsfield delighting in torturing small animals like baby birds.
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: Agnes eventually reaches this conclusion.
  • Truth in Television: The book is a honest account of the life of Governess. Written by a former Governess, that book cover at the top of the page is a well known painting depicting the unfair world the Governess dealt with. But even if they had decent students, their life was a lonely one. Other artworks display the Governess as a invisible figure and an outcast to the household. note 
  • Two Words: I Can't Count: Rosalie Murray describes Mr. Weston negatively. Her animosity leads her to describe four negative traits instead of the three she announced. She corrects herself immediately after.
    "I can give you his description in three words ... an insensate, ugly, stupid blockhead. That's four, but no matter..."
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: Rosalie Murray thinks she has Mr. Weston wrapped around her finger as securely as every man in town, but Agnes is the one who he walks to the carriage with his umbrella.
  • Unholy Matrimony: When it looks like Rosalie might be starting to fall for Mr. Hatfield, Agnes reflects that since they're both young, attractive, and fashionable but shallow, hypocritical, unkind people, they're perfectly suited for each other. However, Rosalie breaks his heart and marries the far worse Sir Thomas Ashby instead.
  • When He Smiles: Mr. Weston is rather average and solemn-looking, but when he genuinely smiles, Agnes finds it very warm and pleasant.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Agnes and Edward Weston. They do, after falling out of touch for a spell.