Friday, 9 February 2018

Thoughts on Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7160173-agnes-greyThe title of this post is a tad misleading because upon finishing this novel my thoughts, and my sympathies, did not lie with Agnes Grey, but with Rosalie Murray. 

I cannot believe that Brontë intended for her readers to hate Rosalie. This is not to say that I believe that the novel endorses her behaviour, but whilst her flirting is occasionally presented as cruel, it is more often comic, not least because of Agnes' disapproval. Rosalie is young - bear in mind that her governess is only twenty two - and I think it's important to take that into account. I don't believe she's intentionally malicious, just a bit immature. This is perhaps best shown by contrasting her with her foil, Agnes. When asked what she thought of Mr Weston, Agnes says, 'I cannot pretend to judge of a man's character by a single, cursory glance at his face.' Rosalie, on the other hand, dismisses him at first simply because he's 'ugly'. Now, don't get me wrong here, Agnes does not develop all that much throughout the novel - she's a Victorian heroine after all, and they pop out of the womb pretty much perfect - but her first post at the Bloomfields stripped away much of her naivety. Rosalie still has hers. Yes, she's vain and a bit catty, but she doesn't have any real life experience. At one point, it is mentioned that her father won't take her to London to check out the social scene. It's probable that she's never left her small country town. It's a mark of naivety, I think, to judge a person by their looks alone.

At the end of the novel, Rosalie is married and miserable. Her husband is rich and it's easy to see the old aesop of don't marry for money in her fate, however it is important to note that Rosalie married the man her mother wanted her to. She was acting as the dutiful daughter, and isn't that what we expect of women in Victorian literature? Again, I feel the need to emphasise that Rosalie is young. At an estimate, I would put her at twenty. I was a good few months past that before I fully understood what people meant by attraction, and I think perhaps I'm biased because of this. I am nothing like Rosalie, and yet I found myself identifying with her. I don't read Rosalie as a bad Victorian woman. I read her as a girl who's married off before she gets a chance to discover who she is as person.  Rosalie does not transgress against society - not really - and yet society still betrayss her. It shoves her into a box and moves onto her younger sister. Literally. As Rosalie vanishes into the depths of Ashby Park, Matilda is being prepared for her own introduction into society.

This seems a good time to say a brief word about Matilda Murray. Matilda is an excellent example of a woman born in the wrong century. She's the earliest example I've read (which isn't necessarily to say the actual earliest example) of a tomboy. She's more interested in riding and hunting than suitors and society, and she's massively influenced by her father who has taught her a great deal of swear words, presumably by accident. Of course, this being a Victorian novel, Matilda cannot stay this way. The moment they're done ruining Rosalie's life, they're banning her from the stables and anywhere else she enjoys spending her time, but I thought it was an interesting archetype to see in a novel of this era all the same.

Tell me about a character you identify with.