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Synopsis

Agnes Grey is the debut novel of English author Anne Brontë, first published in December 1847, and republished in a second edition in 1850. The novel follows Agnes Grey, a governess, as she works in several bourgeois families. Scholarship and comments by Anne's sister Charlotte Brontë suggest the novel is largely based on Anne Brontë's own experiences as a governess for five years. Like her sister Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre, it addresses what the precarious position of governess entailed and how it affected a young woman.

The choice of central character allows Anne to deal with issues of oppression and abuse of women and governesses, isolation and ideas of empathy. An additional theme is the fair treatment of animals. Agnes Grey also mimics some of the stylistic approaches of bildungsromans, employing ideas of personal growth and coming to age, but representing a character who in fact does not gain in virtue.

The Irish novelist George Moore praised Agnes Grey as "the most perfect prose narrative in English letters," and went so far as to compare Anne's prose to that of Jane Austen. Modern critics have made more subdued claims admiring Agnes Grey with a less overt praise of Brontë's work than Moore.


Agnes Grey is the daughter of a minister, whose family comes to financial ruin. Desperate to earn money to care for herself, she takes one of the few jobs allowed to respectable women in the early Victorian era, as a governess to the children of the wealthy. In working with two different families, the Bloomfields and the Murrays, she comes to learn about the troubles that face a young woman who must try to rein in unruly, spoiled children for a living, and about the ability of wealth and status to destroy social values. After her father's death Agnes opens a small school with her mother and finds happiness with a man who loves her for herself. By the end of the novel they have three children, Edward, Agnes and Mary.

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