Agnes Grey Summary

Anne Brontë

Agnes Grey

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Agnes Grey Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë.

Agnes Grey is the first novel written by Anne Brontë, who at the time wrote under the male pen name, Acton Bell. It was first published in December of 1847 and republished in 1850. The story is closely based on Brontë’s own experiences working as a governess, and how it affected her life. Significant themes include issues of oppression, abuse of women (especially governesses), isolation, empathy, and the fair treatment of animals. Agnes Grey is a coming of age story, somewhat following the style of the bildungsroman. The book has been favourably compared to Austen.

The novel begins with the Grey family, a modest but impoverished family. Mr. Grey is a minister and Mrs. Grey a woman who left considerable family wealth for love. Mr. Grey tries to help his family get out of debt by investing in a merchant, but the merchant dies in a ship wreck, and the remainder of the Grey money is lost.

Agnes, her sister, Mary, and their mother try to keep expenses low. They try to bring in extra money, but everyone treats Agnes like a child who cannot help, and it frustrates her. She decides to prove herself and aims to get a job as a governess. With a well-placed recommendation from a family friend, she gets a job, and her parents eventually approve. Negative omens litter her departure as she heads to Wellwood house and the Bloomfield family she will be working for.

The Bloomfields are extremely rich and extremely mean. Agnes had not expected anything like this, and her naïve optimism is shaken. Mrs. Bloomsfield spoils her children beyond reason, and Mr. Bloomsfield constantly criticises Agnes for things beyond her control. The children are undisciplined and rude, and Agnes gets into constant trouble for not being able to control them. She is not given any means to punish them when they act out, so they continue to do so. Tom, the oldest boy, is quite evil, and tortures small animals for fun. In less than a year, Agnes is fired and must return home.

Agnes begs her mother to help her find another job. The family she finds— the Murrays—is even richer than the Bloomsfields. There are two boys, John and Charles, who go away to school soon after Agnes arrives, but two girls, Rosalie and Matilda, remain. Matilda is a rambunctious tomboy, and Rosalie is a flirty, manipulative child, but they are not as bad as the Bloomsfield children. Agnes’ position is difficult but sustainable.

Agnes visits Nancy Brown, and old and nearly blind woman, occasionally to read the Bible to her. On her trips there, she meets Mr. Edward Weston, and the two begin a friendship. He surprises Agnes on a walk. He picks wild primroses for her, and Agnes saves one of them in her Bible. Weston shares that his mother has recently passed away. Rosalie Murray, recently introduced in society, notices this new relationship with curiosity.

Rosalie becomes engaged to Sir Thomas Ashby. He is a wealthy baronet from Ashby Park, and Rosalie, brags constantly to Agnes, asks her to keep the secret, as she still plans to flirt with other men before she gets married. The two young women go for a walk, and run into Weston. Rosalie flirts with him as well, and Agnes is irritated.

Mary has been married to Mr. Richardson, a parson nearby. Mary sends a note, telling Agnes their father is dying, and that she must return. Agnes gets there too late, her father has died. She and her mother decide to open a small school, and Agnes does not return to the Murrays or Mr. Weston.

Sometime after, Agnes is surprised to receive a letter from Rosalie. The previously competitive, bitter girl has been married, very unhappily, and asks Agnes to come visit her. Agnes is shocked at the change between the girl she knew and the young women before her. Rosalie despises Ashby and her mother-in-law, and explains that he is very jealous and angry. Rosalie also tells her that Mr. Weston has left the area, and Agnes is deeply upset, thinking she will never see him again.

Agnes eventually leaves Ashby Park and Rosalie, and returns home to her mother and the school they are working on. Time passes, and several months after her return, Agnes is out for walk. She strolls along the seashore and runs into Mr. Weston. Agnes is shocked, and Mr. Weston explains that he had been looking for her since she left. Weston is introduced to Agnes’ mother, and they get along well. Agnes happily accepts when Mr. Weston proposes to her. At the end of the book, Agnes has been married to Edward and is very happy. The two have three children together, and the outlook is optimistic.