Agnes Grey
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"Agnes Grey" Summary

By Anne Brontë

classics | 251 pages | Published in NaN

An alternate cover edition can be found here.Drawing heavily from personal experience, Anne Brontë wrote Agnes Grey in an effort to represent the many 19th Century women who worked as governesses and suffered daily abuse as a result of their position.Having lost the family savings on risky investments, Richard Grey removes himself from family life and suffers a bout of depression. Feeling helpless and frustrated, his youngest daughter, Agnes, applies for a job as a governess to the children of a wealthy, upper-class, English family.Ecstatic at the thought that she has finally gained control and freedom over her own life, Agnes arrives at the Bloomfield mansion armed with confidence and purpose. The cruelty with which the family treat her however, slowly but surely strips the heroine of all dignity and belief in humanity.A tale of female bravery in the face of isolation and subjugation, Agnes Grey is a masterpiece claimed by Irish writer, George Moore, to be possessed of all the qualities and style of a Jane Austen title. Its simple prosaic style propels the narrative forward in a gentle yet rhythmic manner which continuously leaves the listener wanting to know more.Anne Brontë, the somewhat lesser known sister, was in fact the first to finish and publish Agnes Grey under the pseudonym of Acton Bell. Charlotte and Emily followed shortly after with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.As Anne passed away from what is now known to be pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of just 29, she only published one further title; The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. As feminist in nature as Agnes Grey, Anne's brave voice resonates and permeates during one of the most prejudiced and patriarchal times of English history.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young governess navigates the challenges of working for difficult and unruly children while seeking to maintain her own dignity and integrity.


"Agnes Grey" is a classic novel written by Anne Brontë and first published in 1847. This novel provides an insightful look into the life of a governess in the 19th century, delving into the challenges and hardships faced by young women in this profession. Through the protagonist, Agnes Grey, the author presents a compelling narrative that explores themes of social class, morality, and the pursuit of independence. The story unfolds against the backdrop of Victorian England, offering a vivid portrayal of the era's societal norms and values.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

"Agnes Grey" is set in the English countryside and follows the life of the eponymous protagonist, Agnes Grey. The novel begins with Agnes' decision to become a governess in an attempt to contribute to her family's financial well-being. As she ventures into this new role, she encounters various challenges and experiences that shape her character and worldview. The story provides a poignant portrayal of the limitations placed upon women in the 19th century, shedding light on the struggles of individuals from different social classes.

Main Characters

The novel features several key characters who play significant roles in Agnes Grey's life:

Agnes GreyThe protagonist of the story, a young and empathetic woman who becomes a governess.
Mr. WestonAgnes' employer, a kind-hearted and understanding man who values Agnes' dedication and skills.
Rosalie MurrayA spoiled and self-centered young woman whom Agnes is tasked with teaching as a governess.
Mr. MurrayRosalie's father, a wealthy man who is indifferent to his daughter's behavior and character.

Story Points Over Chapters

Chapters 1-5

In the opening chapters, Agnes Grey decides to become a governess to assist her family financially. She secures a position with the Bloomfield family, where she encounters unruly and undisciplined children, as well as a lack of support from the family. Agnes struggles with the challenges of her new role and the mistreatment she experiences.

Chapters 6-10

Agnes leaves the Bloomfield family and takes up a new position with the Murray family. She faces a different set of challenges as she tries to instill discipline and moral values in her young charges, particularly Rosalie, who proves to be a particularly difficult student. Agnes also becomes acquainted with Mr. Weston, whose kindness and understanding make a positive impact on her.

Chapters 11-15

As Agnes continues her work as a governess, she grapples with the lack of appreciation and respect she receives. She witnesses the shallow and materialistic nature of the upper class, particularly through her interactions with the Murrays. Agnes begins to question her place in society and her own prospects for happiness.

Chapters 16-20

Agnes faces personal challenges as she navigates her feelings for Mr. Weston and her growing disillusionment with her position as a governess. She experiences a sense of isolation and alienation, feeling disconnected from those around her. Agnes also witnesses the consequences of Rosalie's behavior and the impact of societal expectations on women.

Chapters 21-25

Agnes' experiences lead her to contemplate her future and the possibility of finding fulfillment beyond the confines of her role as a governess. She confronts the realities of social inequality and the limited options available to women of her time. Agnes grapples with her desire for independence and the constraints imposed by societal norms.

Chapters 26-30

The novel reaches its climax as Agnes is faced with pivotal decisions that will shape her future. She experiences personal growth and resilience in the face of adversity. Agnes comes to understand the importance of self-worth and the pursuit of a meaningful and authentic life, despite the challenges and obstacles she encounters.

Main Events

  1. Agnes' decision to become a governess.
  2. Agnes' challenging experiences with the Bloomfield family.
  3. Agnes' transition to the Murray family and her interactions with Rosalie.
  4. Agnes' growing disillusionment with her role as a governess and her feelings for Mr. Weston.
  5. Agnes' contemplation of her future and her desire for independence.
  6. Agnes' personal growth and resilience in the face of adversity.

Themes and Insights

Social Class and Gender Roles

"Agnes Grey" delves into the constraints imposed by social class and gender roles in 19th-century England, highlighting the limited opportunities available to women from middle-class backgrounds. The novel offers insights into the challenges faced by governesses, who occupied a precarious position in the hierarchy of the time, often subjected to mistreatment and disrespect.

Morality and Virtue

The story explores themes of morality and virtue, particularly through Agnes' efforts to instill values in her charges and navigate the moral shortcomings of the upper class. The novel sheds light on the contrast between genuine integrity and superficial appearances, revealing the importance of inner virtue over outward displays of wealth and status.

Independence and Self-Realization

"Agnes Grey" also delves into the pursuit of independence and self-realization, as Agnes grapples with her desire for autonomy and fulfillment beyond the confines of societal expectations. The novel offers insights into the resilience and inner strength required to assert one's individuality in the face of societal constraints.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers of "Agnes Grey" are presented with a compelling and thought-provoking narrative that offers a poignant portrayal of the challenges faced by women in the 19th century. The novel provides valuable insights into the societal norms and values of the time, while also offering a timeless exploration of themes such as morality, independence, and the pursuit of self-realization. Through Agnes Grey's journey, readers are invited to contemplate the enduring relevance of these themes in contemporary society.


"Agnes Grey" stands as a timeless work that continues to resonate with readers due to its exploration of universal themes and its vivid portrayal of 19th-century England. Anne Brontë's insightful narrative offers a window into the challenges faced by women of the time, while also providing valuable reflections on morality, independence, and the pursuit of authenticity. The novel's enduring relevance ensures that it remains a compelling and enriching read for audiences across generations.

Agnes Grey FAQ

  1. What is 'Agnes Grey' about?

    Agnes Grey is a novel written by Anne Brontë that follows the story of a young governess who works for wealthy families and experiences the challenges and mistreatment faced by those in her profession.

  2. Who is the author of 'Agnes Grey'?

    The author of 'Agnes Grey' is Anne Brontë, who was a member of the famous Brontë literary family and wrote this novel in the mid-19th century.

  3. What genre does 'Agnes Grey' belong to?

    'Agnes Grey' is considered a classic novel and belongs to the genre of Victorian literature, focusing on social and moral issues of the time.

  4. Is 'Agnes Grey' suitable for young readers?

    While 'Agnes Grey' is a classic novel, it may contain themes and language that are more suitable for older readers due to its portrayal of the challenges faced by the protagonist.

  5. What are some major themes in 'Agnes Grey'?

    Some major themes in 'Agnes Grey' include the struggle for independence, the mistreatment of governesses, the role of women in society, and the pursuit of personal happiness.