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An introduction to the life and literature of emily bronte

Because of the great imbalance in the ratio of women to men in England, with so many men living and working abroad in the far reaches of the British Empire, thousands of women were unable to marry.

This problem was compounded by the strong social stigma against women working and the extremely limited professions to which they were admitted.

Increasingly, out of desperation, women became governesses, accepting terms that would leave them exhausted, impoverished, and socially outcast.

But Agnes Grey is hardly a didactic novel. Abused by the children she is enjoined to teach, treated with derisive arrogance by the men and women who employ her, Agnes lives in a world without friends, adrift between the servant and the genteel classes, at home in neither. But it is the cruelty, vanity, and moral emptiness of the upper classes that the novel exposes most unsparingly.

In her first position, with the Bloomfield family, young master Tom is shown to be a budding sociopath who delights in torturing helpless animals and is spurred on in this activity by his elders, who either merely condone the behavior or actively applaud it.

In her second place of employment, with the Murrays, Agnes tries and fails to reform young Rosalie, who derives a similar enjoyment from causing pain. The beautiful Miss Murray delights in playing the coquet with her suitors, manipulating their affections for the sole purpose of dashing their hopes and reveling in the suffering she causes them.

The Bronte Sisters Reader’s Guide

In such a world, a governess is considered only slightly more human than a servant and only slightly more deserving of sympathy than a nestful of baby birds. Unlike the cold-hearted and self-serving characters that surround them, Agnes and Edmund exemplify the Christian virtues of compassion, charity, and brotherly love.

In their visits to the elderly widow Nancy Brown, both Edmund and Agnes demonstrate the ability—and the willingness—to feel the suffering of others and to do what is in their power to alleviate it. Theirs will be a relationship based on a higher purpose, their love for each other rooted in a more selfless love for all their fellow beings, human and nonhuman alike.

While his predecessor, Mr.

When Edmund is reunited with Agnes on the sands, it is Snap who leads the way to her. She was educated at home and, as a child, she invented—with her sister Emily—the imaginary world of Gondal, for which she wrote copious chronicles and poems. After attending boarding school for two years, she left Haworth at the age of nineteen to work as governess, first with the Inghams at Blake Hall and, from 1840—45, with the Robinson family at Thorp Green.

She drew heavily on her experience as a governess for her first novel, Agnes Grey, published under the pseudonym Acton Bell in 1847. In what ways is the book instructive? In what ways is it subversive?

  • In such a world, a governess is considered only slightly more human than a servant and only slightly more deserving of sympathy than a nestful of baby birds;
  • Why are Edmund and Agnes so drawn to each other?

How does it affect Agnes? What are the chief hardships Agnes faces as a governess? How does she feel about the injustices done to her? How does she respond to them? How are the upper and lower classes depicted in the novel? Rosalie says that her husband Sir Thomas has never forgiven her for giving birth to a girl.

What picture emerges in Agnes Grey of gender roles in Victorian England? In what ways are boys and men treated differently, and valued differently, than girls and women in the novel? What roles were available to women in Victorian England?

  • What contemporary issues might move her to write a novel similar to Agnes Grey?
  • Embittered by abuse and by the marriage of Cathy Earnshaw—who shares his stormy nature and whom he loves—to the gentle and prosperous Edgar Linton, Heathcliff plans a revenge on both families, extending into the second generation;
  • Almost everything that is known about her comes from the writings of others, primarily Charlotte;
  • In October, however, when her aunt died, Emily returned permanently to Haworth.

What does this statement suggest about the worldview of the English aristocracy? What are the immediate and ultimate consequences of such a worldview? Where do such beliefs come from? In what ways does Edmund Weston differ from the rector, Mr. Why are Edmund and Agnes so drawn to each other? In what ways are they an ideal, or perhaps idealized, match? How do their values, principles, and behavior set them apart from the most of the other major characters in the book?

Why does Rosalie derive such enjoyment from misleading and tormenting her suitors?

Emily Brontë

How are animals treated in the novel? In what ways do animals illuminate the moral characters of the human beings who interact with them? What contemporary issues might move her to write a novel similar to Agnes Grey?