For someone like me, whose job is teaching and educating teenagers and young people, it’s easy to sympathizze with the protagonist of this novel. Let’s see what she will get from you.
After reading much about Victorian stiff, inflexible education to young innocent children - often treated like little pets to be tamed if not worse - in Charles Dickens’s novels , i.e. David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, Hard Times , AGNES GREY has made me have a completely different vision of the issue.
Anne Bronte, like her most famous elder sister Charlotte, worked as a governess and used her personal experience to draw Agnes’s touching story. Charlotte Bronte had done the same in her works: her most famous heroine, JANE EYRE, is a governess (but a very lucky one!) and in SHIRLEY, one of her characters, Mrs Pryor, a former governess, complains about the difficult tasks and unfair treatment these unfortunate ladies often had to face.
AGNES GREY is a deeply moving account which seriously discusses the contempt and inhumanity shown towards the poor though educated women of the Victorian Age, whose only resource was to become a governess.
Would you ever bear to have to cope with such terrible pupils?
1. First experience – At the Bloomfields’
Master Tom Bloomfield , 7 years old
“Traps for birds”
“Why do you catch them?”
“Papa says they do harm”.
“And what do you do with them when you catch them?”
“Different things. Sometimes I give them to the cat; sometimes I cut them in pieces with my penknife; but the next I mean to roast alive.”
“And why do you mean to do such a horrible thing?”
“For two reasons: first, to see how long it will live – and then, to see what it will taste like.”
“But don’t you know it is extremely wicked to do such a thing? Remember, the birds can feel as well as you; and think how would you like it yourself?
“Oh, that’s nothing! I’m not a bird , and I
can’t feel what I do to them”.

Mary Ann Bloomfield, 6 years old

(…) “preferred rolling on the floor to any other amusement. Down she would drop like a leaden weight; and when I, with great difficulty, had succeeded in rooting her thence, I had still to hold her up with one arm, while with the other I held the book from which she was to read or spell her lesson.”

Do you think older pupils might be better?

2. Second position – At the Murrays’ household

“Miss Murray,otherwise Rosalie, was about sixteen when I came, and decidedly a very pretty girl; and in two years longer, as time more completely her form and added grace to her carriage and deportment, she was positively beautiful; and that in no common degree. (…) I wish I could say as much for her mind and disposition as I can for her form and face.”

“Miss Matilda Murray… She was about two years and a half younger than her sister: her features were larger , her complexion much darker. (…) As an animal, Matilda was all right, full of life, vigour, and activity; as an intelligent being, she was barbarously ignorant, indocile, careless, and irrational; and consequently, very distressing to one who had the task of cultivating her understanding, reforming her manners, and aiding her to acquire those ornamental attainments which, unlike her sister, she despised as much as the rest.”

Can you imagine how terrible it could be to teach such tyrannical pupils , especially if they had over-indulgent parents? Nightmarish. And it was not all: “The servants, seeing in what little estimation the governess was held by both parents and children, regulated their behaviour by the same standard.”
I found this novel by Anne Bronte extremely brave in denouncing the unjust treatment governesses had to undergo in order to get a living. Her social satire reminds Jane Austen’s ironic portrait of the country gentry and of their habits but Anne’s work is far more bitter. Impossible to smile at the deceitful ends of the two disdainful young misses Murrays whose selfishness will spoil any chance of happiness for poor, good – hearted, naive Agnes Grey.


Lucy said...

What an excellent topic! Love this post:) Those are just the kind of students that make you realize teaching has to absolutely be a calling!Thanks:)

Anonymous said...

We definitely have the same "to read" list!

Maria Grazia said...

@Ms Lucy & Deleilan
Thanks for dropping by and commenting to you both. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I'm still at the seaside and I can't use the Net so much.So I publish your comments with some delay and have very little time to read your blogs. I'm having a great relaxing time, anyway!

Connoisseuress said...

You know, when I read this book I found it strangely similar to the teaching aspects of the girl in the Professor by Charlotte Bronte. i think the similarities must be unobtrusive, because we don't see VERY much of...I think her name was Frances? It's a while since I've read the Professor, but I think it's the general air of being misused in a position. Of course, a governesses' plight is inifintely harder...