Posted by Susie on September 22, 1997 at 17:23:54:
In response to Helen, Jane, Agnes, written by Helen on September 22, 1997 at 10:37:36
] ] Confession time: I haven't cried yet (even over the death of Helen Burns) but am having serious trouble putting this book down. I had forgotten what a compelling read it is, and how it grips one from the first page. I read Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte while on holiday, and although covering similar territory (trials and tribulations of a young governess)and providing an interesting picture of the social set-up, it is not nearly as powerful. It seems to be something to do with CB's insight into characters and emotions that engages the reader so immediately - would you agree?
] I love both books, for different reasons: Agnes Grey is not "powerful" or thrilling, but it achieves a kind of serenity and perfection of tone which sometimes I long to read. And she is a lot better at creating rounded characters: Rosalie is surely a lot more realistic a portrait of a spoilt rich girl than Blanche Ingram will be. I think Jane Eyre is the first "having it all" book - she really believes she has the right to an emotionally fulfilling life, but Agnes Grey is about making a satisfactory life for yourself when you think you can't have it all - sometimes this can be an equally inspiring role model.
I take your point about the acute observation of character in Agnes Grey and its quieter tone; it certainly doesn't grip one emotionally in the way that Jane Eyre does from the first pages. I suppose the difference lies in a difference of emphasis; Anne Bronte as cool realistic observer of personality and social mores, Charlotte more as the passionate and sensitive portrayer of inner emotions and motivations; Agnes coming to terms with her lot and finding peace within the status quo, Jane aspiring to a greater liberty, a proto -feminist:
"Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them , or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."
Radical stuff for 1847, eh?
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