Monday, March 1, 2010

DO something, lady! (Or, why I would not have been a good Victorian woman.)

By some weird stroke of weirdness, I read Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte at the same time I’m in the middle of Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn (which is a non-1001 book!). It was a striking contrast to see how children are treated in Agnes Grey (mostly like property that must be bent to the parents’ will) when compared to the ideas Kohn has about raising children!

I think this might be the first book I’ve read by a Bronte sister. While it was a good story, I was underwhelmed. I didn’t think the book fit together well. The stories from the first position she takes as a governess seem kind of unrelated, there is very little discussion of how she ends her governess position at the Murrays (I’d think it would be hard to give notice and I was interested to see what Mrs. Murray would have said about Agnes’ plans with her mother), and it all wraps up just a little bit too neatly at the end for my taste.

Also, I don’t know whether it is simply a function of how women were treated/expected to behave at the time Bronte was writing, or what, but I really didn’t like Agnes very much. I found her to be way too navel gazing and not self-determining. She just kind of sat around and waited for things to happen to her. I kept wanting to yell at her, “DO something!” Unfortunately she never really did.

You know what I like about this project? Seeing the portrayal of the lower to middle classes in European society. So much of the history I learned in school focused on whatever the lords and upper classes were doing – and I didn’t have a great idea of what everyday life for everyday people was like. This book was cool for that reason, and that’s another reason why I liked Adam Bede, too.

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